Sunday, June 24, 2012

This is why I don't have eight children

For those who haven't heard, I babysat eight children Thursday, ages two to twelve. On rare occasions I work for one of the companies that my husband works for here in Florence. This is one of those rare times. I'll give you the highlights of the day. Since I'm here to give you these highlights it is safe to assume (and therefore not a spoiler in any way) that I survived relatively unscathed.

First I had to get up before 7am. I'm just not used to this anymore. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't as much fun as I remember getting up early used to be. I like to think that I'm maturing.

A van with the owner of the company (an American) and the driver and the tour guide for the day (both Italians) picked me up and we headed out of Florence and up into the mountains. Thus began forty-five minutes of guy talk in a curious mix of Italian and English that I think I will call Itanglish. Some of the English was for my benefit, while most of it is just the way the company owner talks. One sentence can switch between English and Italian several times. Between the switchback roads barely wide enough for the van and the constantly changing languages I was getting pretty dizzy.

We arrived at Greve in Chianti, which is where we picked up the other van and the woman who is supposed to help me babysit. I leaped out of the van to escape the flood of words and to feel solid ground again. The owner introduced me to my new associate, lifted and eyebrow and asked "Cafe?" I nodded and said "Oh my God, yes!" in what I hoped was a totally casual I-can-take-it-or-leave-it tone and headed across the piazza towards the smell of coffee.

I savored every drop of my cappuccino and scraped every last bit of foam off the side of the cup. Good thing too. My eating and drinking for the rest of the day was pretty sparse. I was getting ready to pay for my coffee when my new associate, a nice girl named Elena, said "No! The American will pay." Which kind of made me feel good once I realized she didn't mean me. I was one of them, not one of the Americans. Awesome.

Another fifteen minutes of Itanglish and goat paths, sorry, hairpin turns got us to the villa. A truly beautiful place in the middle of nowhere with a view that really is breathtaking. But I was distracted from all this by the lack of English I was finding in the woman who was supposed to help me watch these eight children. Because I think, rightly so, that it's almost impossible for someone with only a few words of English to care for eight kids from Utah for ten hours. Or maybe I'm just being a hard ass. No, I'm not. She should have English, have children herself, or at least have watched a child at some point in her thirty-some years. So far she was batting zero.

And this moment, as I meet the parents, is the first time I hear anything about the kids, other than their force in numbers. I get ages, names, preferences, etc all without the benefit of having the children there because they're all still sleeping.

At nine in the morning on a day when all the adults are leaving no one thought it was important enough to wake the kids up, say good bye and introduce me to them. I wasn't worried about the big kids, but the younger ones could very well freak out at waking up to a complete stranger, in a strange house and country where every routine and comfort is gone.

But they seemed confident in their kids. It could have been simply a desperate need to get away for a day too. I don' t know them. I had to trust the man that hired me, who I haven't learned to trust yet, that everything would be fine. To use a very Minnesota phrase, I was afraid I had really got myself into a pickle here.

I probably had that unflappable look on my face. The one I don't know I have. The one that makes me look completely confident when I'm not. The one that says "Bring it on...snakes, spiders, elderly Italian women, a four way fight over the remote control, volcanoes. Bring. It. On." Reliable sources tell me it's there, and it's awe inspiring. It must go. If they could see behind that unflappable look they'd see abject terror and clutch their children to their breasts and refuse to leave me alone with them. Clearly I have the world fooled.

So I went off to search the three buildings to find children, trailing a noticeably uncomfortable and confused Elena behind me. I located all their positions and most of them were still sleeping. By ten we had them all up except for two. We had the six year old twin boys, who if we were playing the odds should have been terrors but weren't. Another family of two boys aged ten and twelve who also got along great. The still sleeping duo who were two and five years old were really sweet once we got them awake. And the fourth family had a boy age eight and a girl who was twelve.

That's right. Eight kids and only one girl. Until I met them I was mentally counting the band-aids in my bag and finding all the available bathrooms for emergencies. Once I met them I realized that today was going to be far better than I thought it would be. Even if Elena kept saying "O Dio," and muttering to herself that this was just too many names to remember.Asking me to confirm that I, too, would not remember a single name. I lied so she would calm down. I remember them all; their names, their ages and what they like to eat.

All the kids were great. Their parents are all friends so they know each other pretty well and they all took care of each other and themselves cheerfully. I think I was really there because the rule is that no one goes to the pool without an adult. Otherwise they could have done it on their own. Or maybe I provided more guidance than I think I did. Yeah, let's go with that.

Everyone, from the twelve year old to the two year old had their own piece of handheld technology. iPods, iPads and Kindle Fire. I'm not a fan of technology and kind of like to have the rule that games and the TV are reserved for emergencies. But then again, I don't usually watch eight children at a time.

One iPod went into the speaker dock and we listened to music (I Like Trains was repeated a lot) while they played games in the coolest room in the house. It wasn't like I expected though. Instead of each kid holding their technology of choice and ignoring everyone else, only two or three of them played at a time. The other kids piled around them. The twelve year old killed zombies with someone perched each arm of the chair while another kid laid across the back of the chair and a fourth and much smaller spectator draped himself over his knees. The other three boys huddled over an iPad and all three had their fingers on the screen in a team effort to win at, I think, a car race. All this totally disproves my theory that hand held games keep kids alone instead of interacting with others. I should send my kids an e-mail and apologize.

When it came time for the pool I got everyone into suits and sunblocked in record time. We got to the pool and jumped in. Well, the kids and I jumped in. When Elena took off her clothes she had on a bikini clearly made for sunbathing and not much else. Maybe sipping spritzers under an umbrella. Definitely not for rough housing in the pool with eight children.

It was fine, though. I don't mind getting my hair wet and I'm used to having kids hang off me, they're actually lighter in the water. So she set up her chaise lounge for maximum sun exposure while the rest of us splashed and yelled and screamed and raced and had a thoroughly great time. Her moment to shine was when we all got out of the pool and she rushed around madly wrapping us all in towels so we wouldn't catch a draft in the 90+ degree sunshine.

It was a great day, and the only reason I was really happy to see the parents was because they had eaten almost everything in the house. All that was left were things they didn't want like pasta salad and wine. I think I was wise not to push the wine but I sure tried to get them to eat the pasta.

This was the other area where Elena really stepped up in her own way. No ever ate without a napkin and the littlest one had his face washed after every bite, it seemed. These are things I never think to do. Well, unless the mess is super big and the face unrecognizable. For me it's just not worth the fight. She seemed to enjoy it. Judging from the googly-eyed looks she was giving the two year old, children are pretty high on her list of things to do in the near future. This is Italy, so of course she'll have to marry her boyfriend of over ten years first, but right after that...children.

All in all, a good day. I met some very wonderful people, earned some money and got to swim on one of the hottest days of the week. Win-win-win. Plus, I didn't get car sick on the way home and I think I understand Itanglish better than Italian OR English. Scary.


  1. You are so great. I love to read of your adventures and how you try so many wonderful things. Each new thing is marvelous - and so are you!


    1. Thanks Linda. I'll try to remember that they are all adventures. Sometimes I think of them as trials. I shouldn't do that. Thanks for reminding me!