“Calvin,” I said, trying to channel my inner Mary Poppins as his little hand clenched my cashmere sweater and started pulling, “Give me the corn holder. It’s very sharp and you shouldn’t be running around with it.” He’d snatched the pronged apparatus out of my hand a few moments earlier and had insisted upon inserting it into the cob himself – but not before running a few laps around the dinner table.
“No,” he said, lips pursed. He pulled away from my arms and took off. “You’re not going to get it!” he taunted.
“Calvin, If you don’t hand it back to me, you’ll get no dessert,” I yelled in a last ditch effort. Too bad the kid didn’t seem to have a sweet tooth. His sisters – Rose, eight, and Kasey, five – giggled in the background. I swore to myself this was the last time I was babysitting for these hellions again. It was the fifth time I’d made this promise to myself in as many weeks.
I’d started babysitting again, at late age of twenty-seven, when I lost my job as an Assistant Editor at Maxim, and found myself working sixteen hours a week for the Kellys, at $10 an hour. It was clear from the start that all three kids – while adorable, personable, and creative – were a handful, Calvin most of all. While Rose was seeping into girlish self-absorption (she suddenly decided she was a vegetarian) and Kasey was a wild-at-heart troublemaker (I could already picture her big blue eyes batting away as she explained just why she had to sneak out of the house at midnight), the boy was especially trying. If any child was going to make me question bringing one of my own into the world, it was Calvin.
He was shy compared to his rambunctious older sisters, who were in constant competition for the spotlight. And when he was happy, he was a joy to be around. Proud when he succeeded in penning the perfect “Z”; gleeful when he beat me in a cutthroat game of Ants in Your Pants; boyishly hyper when his collection of paper airlines took flight. But when Calvin became upset by something, he went into fits of hysterics that went beyond the usual post-toddler temper tantrum. He was sensitive to being touched – I eventually gave up on giving him a bath as the sound of the faucet made him scream like he was being attacked by a swarm of bees – but even picking him up from school was a test of my negotiation skills. Calvin would not hold my hand, or any babysitter’s hand, to cross the street. The only palms he would clasp were his parents’ or sisters’. Rather than hold my hand to walk to Central Park and play T-ball, he would sit with his arms folded across his chest in front of Kasey’s school, a deep, sad frown on his face.