The most stressful part of faux parenthood was not that the children were difficult or the job was physically demanding (though it was a workout). It wasn’t that I had to be constantly on my guard (though I did).
For me, the hardest and most draining part was the anxiety of knowing that the lives of two of the world’s greatest children were almost exclusively in my hands. In my overactive mind, everything I did—every thing—had the potential to go terribly wrong and end in tragedy.
Driving down the street with the boys for a quick QT slurpee run: we get T-boned at an intersection and they die from the impact.
Going on a walk with the boys in a wagon: Ginger, only one and still top heavy, leans over to pick a flower along the way and falls on his red little head, breaking his neck and dying on the spot.
Leaving the house for any reason at all: I forget to pack one of: a) sippy cups b) diapers c) snacks d) hand sanitizer or e) all of the above, the children die of complications from a) dehydration b) diaper rash c) starvation d) general germiness or e) all around faux parental negligence.
Dinner time: I feed one or both boys food that’s past expiry. They vomit through the night and then die.
Taking a shower: Captain Angry Eyes sneaks out of his room, opens the bathroom door to ask if he can have ice cream, forgets to close it in his exhilaration when I say of course (what are aunties for if not to say of course to ice cream?), and Ginger toddles in and drowns in the toilet while I’m lathering, oblivious.
Babies can drown in as little as two inches of water, you know.
Related: Frolicking in the irrigation: I run splash laps with Captain Angry Eyes and while I’m distracted Ginger trips face-first into the flooded back yard just as the dog comes over to investigate and sits on him while he’s down. He drowns.
Related: Playing with the dog: The dog eats Ginger’s face off. He dies (or lives, faceless).
Not only was I worried I would fail at faux parenting, but also I was worried every minute of the day for four and a half days straight that my failure at faux parenting would result in the death of one or both of my precious nephews.
The thought of either child dying on my watch ate away at my soul. And of course, any child dying on my watch is just a horrible thought, but my child/death anxiety was compounded tenfold—twenty even—by the fact that I love these boys so much I almost can’t breathe sometimes. Love-induced asthma.
So you see, when I wrote that “I have cried–wept–no fewer than six separate times today,” what I meant was this:
I did the absolute best job I possibly could of watching those boys while their parents were gone. We went on outings, had three square meals plus snacks a day, played in the backyard, read loads of books, indulged just a little in ice cream and Wii…but no matter what we did or how we did it, I could not shake the steady shadow of despair that lurked around every corner.
When my one-year-old nephew cried one night for no apparent reason I cried right along with him. When in the throes of tiredness and teethingness he crumpled to the floor and wailed, knocking his tiny little gums against the carpeted floor, I felt my heart break. His pain was my pain. When my four-year-old nephew face planted off a swing at the playground and screamed out of pain or embarrassment or both, I wanted to punch the older kids in the face for laughing at him. I wanted to erase his memory of it ever happening.
On the long drive home from Mesa back to Mayberry I re-read Catching Fire and came across this quote that summarised my experience of faux parenthood almost perfectly: “My mother has to save the strongest [medicine] for the worst pain, but what is the worst pain? To me, it’s always the pain that is present. If I were in charge, those painkillers would be gone in a day because I have so little ability to watch suffering” (Collins 115).
I was like that with my nephews. I had so little ability to watch their suffering. I wanted to pick them up and shield them from every pin prick, every disillusionment, every disappointment and hurt they will ever face throughout their lives.
But I couldn’t. I can’t.
All I can do is watch. Wait for the worst to happen.