As the kids get older, there are some things, thankfully, that get easier. One of these is doing errands — alone. This is, in fact, so far the only hope I can offer new parents: Someday, you will go to the grocery store alone, and it will feel like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” No arranging babysitters. No car seats. No screaming, “He’s breathing on my side of the car, Mom! Tell him to breathe on his own side!”
Of course, this type of freedom only comes when you have a child who’s old enough to be your free babysitter. I’m sorry, I mean, once you have a child who’s old enough to have the opportunity to care for his younger siblings and learn things such as responsibility and time management. The universally accepted age for this privilege is 12 or 13, but it depends on the child and the age of his would-be charges.
My brothers, Van and Will, were certainly old enough (14 and 11) to babysit me when I was in first grade, but I suspect Mom has had second thoughts 30 years later when she hears the stories.
One time, Will chased me around the room with the sprayer from the kitchen sink. To get him back, I threw a whole bucket of water on him in the foyer. We had wood floors.
Another time, Will let me hide in the bushes with him to spy on and identify neighborhood pranks who planned to egg our house. It was 10 p.m. on a school night. I was barefoot and in my pajamas. Mom never knew.
I also remember Van and Will calling me into the living room like it was an emergency: “Sarah, quick! Get in here! Hurry!” I’d come running and sliding down the hall, scared out of my mind — the type of running you do when the Boogey Man is chasing you — only to get to the living room and have Will say, “Can you change the channel for us.” This was before remote controls, back when younger siblings were the remote control.
But my favorite memory is the time Van and Will were babysitting me, and they threw my dress-up purse onto the roof of the house.
I watched in disbelief from the sidewalk, standing in my dress-up high heels and fake fur coat.
“That has mom’s jewelry in it, you know,” I told them.
The boys ran — like the Boogey Man was chasing them — to get a ladder from the garage. When mom got home, both my brothers were standing on top of the two-story roof.
The purse, of course, did not have jewelry in it.
It’s scary when I think about that through the lens of a parent, but those are some of my fondest memories of my brothers. For years, moms and dads intervene and choreograph their children’s lives and relationships with one another. Then that crucial day comes when Mom goes to the grocery store alone, and the siblings left behind really start to bond. This is when they form memories of their own, separate from mom or dad.
Except, my oldest son/free babysitter has a cellphone, so I’m not as blissfully unaware as my mom might have been back in the 1980s. I get regular updates from home, which are by themselves entertaining. Some of my favorite texts with Ford while he was babysitting:
Me: Everyone doing OK? I’m almost done at the store.
Ford: Everyone’s fine. Lindell wants to know if you got chocolate Krave?
Ford: Also, he has bubble gum stuck to the back of his neck.
Me [after my phone rang during a meeting]: You’re only supposed to call me if it’s an emergency.
Ford: I know, Mom.
Me: Is this an emergency?
Ford: Sort of. Are we allowed to play Wii?
I save these texts because they are like dispatches from the relationships my boys are forming as brothers. They are tiny windows into the stories they will share with their children and spouses when they are grown. But they are also solid reminders of how much my boys are learning and growing, how they are caring for one another, yadda, yadda, yadda. OK, they will also be great items to display at their weddings, where we all laugh about how so little has changed.
Ford: Mom, I’m really sorry. I gave Lindell soda, and it had caffeine in it.
Me: I bet you are sorry.
Ford: He’s really wild. Am I in trouble?
Me: What you are about to experience will be punishment enough.
Ford [an hour later]: I can’t believe how crazy he got from caffeine.
Me: Ford, how many times have I told you, you don’t feed the gremlin after midnight. And you never get him wet.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.