|What to do with your "big boy" underpants.|
Dear Mrs Berkley*
I am writing to apologise. Many years ago (let's not fret over exact numbers), you were gracious enough to rely on me as the babysitter to your three lovely children. I was grateful for the spare pocket money and, to be frank, except for the one night when little Maria sobbed her confusion out from the far back corner under her bed, your children were delightful. They were sweet, confident, and full of beans. They loved being read to and they were a dream to put to bed. A fact I now appreciate in a way I couldn't then.
And that is why I write to you today. I think it's called the lessons of hindsight. You see, when I was babysitting all those years ago, I hadn't yet had the privilege of having my own children. Indeed, I hadn't yet had even the sole responsibility for a cat. I had no idea what your life was like, what challenges each day might bring. I also didn't really know how much pee and pooh a child could create in any given day and, I'm ashamed to say, I judged you.
Chances are, you don't know that in the early years, with young children everywhere and a shaggy dog to boot, there was an undeniable essence of pee wafting subtly through your house. Undoubtedly made worse by hot, sticky Townsville nights, the smell, invisible yet insistent, greeted one warmly at the front door and followed along loyally for the duration. Of course, I couldn't understand then, as I do now, what unpredictable fountains of pee children are. Nor could I understand how impossible it is to find every last spilled drop. And I definitely couldn't understand how this might multiply exponentially with the more children you have. I still don't, but I have a better chance at guessing now.
What I'm trying to say is that, despite your tidy though humble home, despite the great generosity you exhibited by thinking of me as a good babysitter, and despite the sweet and charming ways of your children, I thought your place a little, well, grotty. And, I'm ashamed to say, I thought that lingering pee smell meant your** housekeeping skills were in need of a little spit and polish themselves. Forgive me now, Karrie. Please. I knew not of what I judged.
As I head into potty training my own dear son, I remember you and your gaggle of children and, finally, I understand. I realise that what I took as a personal housekeeping failing of yours, was actually just the very best you could do with the odds stacked high against you. I think of you as I launch myself across the lounge room to grab my dribbling son from off the couch. I think of you as he enthusiastically dances his pee-filled potty to the toilet, sloshing merrily with each proud pirouette. I think of you as, "I need to use the potty, Mummy," is uttered belatedly, in his car seat, miles from the nearest public loo. I think of you as I walk through my own front door and wonder, just for a minute, is there a…smell?
I am sorry.
I just hope my own babysitter (and anyone else who walks through our door) can offer me the grace I couldn't offer you. There is pee everywhere, Karrie, and I'm doing my very best to catch it, clean it and deodorise. I am reminding myself daily that this too shall pass, that children learn soon enough, and that houses can one day return to normal.
I hope you are well, wherever you are. If ever you think of me, please wish me luck.
* All names have been changed to protect the innocent.
** The other issue of my sexist assumption that the housekeeping was purely your responsibility and not a shared one with your husband is for another letter...