After yesterday’s post, I thought of so many other stories from the Fresh Air Fund trip. But SOLSC is almost over, so I’m going to tell the big, dramatic one that comes with a sweet little one embedded in the middle.
First let me be clear that I have always been a terrible babysitter. My very first job as a babysitter when I was a kid, I fell asleep on the couch … so deeply asleep, that I didn’t hear the parents knocking on the door or ringing the bell to be let into the house at the end of the night (no, I have no idea why these adults didn’t have keys to their own home). They had to go to the back of the house and rouse one of their children by banging on his window so he could let them in. I didn’t wake up until they came into the living room and gave me a little shake. (They hired me a few times after that, another unexplainable thing about them.) I was a babysitter all through high school, and trust me when I say that I never got much better at it.
After college, when I was living in Connecticut, I was a chaperone for a church youth group trip to see the tree at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. I had six teen girls I was supposed to keep and eye on. I lost four of them. I’m not kidding. Yes, it’s true that the four friends made the decision to not stay close to the group, which led to them losing us in the crowd, but it was my job to notice them disappearing, and I didn’t. They were fine — as soon as they realized they’d lost us, they went back to Grand Central and took the train back to Stamford. In those no-such-thing-as-a-cell-phone days, that was a super smart thing for them to do … but it made for some scary time for me and the other chaperone. We imagined all kinds of awfulness befalling them, cut short the outing for the kids we hadn’t lost, enlisted the search-party help of Radio City security guards and several police officers, and finally gave up searching and dragged ourselves back to Connecticut … only to get off the train and find one of the “missing” girl’s dads waiting to a) let us know all the girls were safe and sound and b) chew us out for being such crappy chaperones.
I say all that to make it as clear as possible why I should never be entrusted with the care of anyone’s child. I mean, no child has ever been harmed in my care, but that’s surely more about divine intervention than about my skill as a caretaker.
And then I decided to fly off to Grand Cayman with ten kids and two other adults. Because I don’t learn from my own mistakes. Or I just really believe in the reliability of divine intervention.
The kids were all going to be staying with host families, and the chaperones were all going to be staying at a fancy beachfront hotel. The kids wouldn’t meet their families until dinner the first night. The plan was for us to check into the hotel, for each chaperone to take three or four kids to our rooms and change into swim gear and go hang out in the pool or on the beach for a bit and then go back to our rooms and get everyone ready for the swanky dinner at which they would meet their host families.
The three boys on the trip immediately voted for being assigned to me. “We already know we like you best,” was the explanation given by Bradley, an 11-year-old who’d get to celebrate his 12th birthday on the trip. As I said in yesterday’s post, children can spot me a mile away. While it may have been true that the boys liked me, it’s more likely that all four boys sussed that I was (am) a total pushover and chose me for that specific reason.
In my room, they proceeded to lose their minds — dancing on the bed, emptying the contents of their suitcases all over the floor, trying to lock each other out on the balcony, trying to guess the combination of the room safe and succeeding in making sure it would stay locked by guessing wrong combinations in rapid-fire succession, unpacking the mini-fridge. All in the few minutes it took for me to change into my swim gear in the bathroom.
They all opted for the pool over the beach, as did the other kids and chaperones. I checked in with the other women and we agreed that I’d take a short walk on the beach and then come back to the pool. Gorgeous beach, gorgeous afternoon, way too many people, but really lovely place.
Back at the pool, there were all sorts of shenanigans and everyone was having a great time. And then it was time to gather the kids and go get ready for dinner. I got the boys together — Joshua (of SpongeBob fame), Bradley, and Rafael, the youngest of the kids on the trip) — and we headed back into the hotel.
And then I lost Joshua and Bradley.
From one moment of walking and talking with all three kids to the next minute of only talking to Rafael, Bradley and Joshua vanished. And then it was my turn to lose my mind. And to lose my mind while trying not to freak Rafael out. We retraced our steps, we looked down every path that branched off the path we’d taken, we wandered the whole of the first floor of the hotel.
I went to the front desk to report the boys missing and get some help searching. (And here is the sweet story I promised at the beginning). As we waited to speak to someone, a man beside us at the desk was changing money. Quite a lot of money. He was counting through a stack of beautiful Caymanian money, and Rafael pointed and laughed.
“Look at all that play money,” he said.
“Oh, no, sweetie, that real money. It’s the money they use in this country.”
He looked at me, open-mouthed, his eyes big. “Other countries have other money? Wait til I tell the guys.”
I love that, even though Rafael knew the other boys were lost, he wasn’t freaked out and could still find something to be amused by. I love that the concept of money other than the dollars he was familiar with was so mind blowing. And that it would be a cool thing to tell Joshua and Bradley. And that he was so sure that we would absolutely find Joshua and Bradley. I wasn’t sure of that. I was pretty certain I had really and truly lost my charges that time, but they were little kids instead of teenagers and couldn’t just go to Grand Central take the train home.
We did, of course, find Joshua and Bradley. After getting the hotel staff searching, the concierge suggested I take Rafael upstairs so we could get changed and then come back down. I took my brave-faced-but-terrified self upstairs and, as Rafael and I walked toward the room, Joshua and Bradley jumped out from the hiding place they’d been waiting for us in and scared the crap out of us both.
Because yes, as we’d left the pool, Bradley had had the idea of running ahead and hiding so they could scare us. How did I not notice them running ahead of us? How did no one see these two boys hiding in the hallway and bring them downstairs? Why did they stay there for so long? Joshua said they were sure Rafael and I would come up at any moment, so they kept hiding … but they did wonder what was taking us so long.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as terrified as I was when I thought I’d lost those boys. How could I go back to New York and tell their parents they’d never see their beautiful babies again? Ugh. Such a complete nightmare. And yes, I was furious with both boys … and I was also so happy to see them, so happy they weren’t in the hands of some terrible, kidnapping adult, that my anger dissolved.
The boys turned my hotel room inside out during the shower and dress for dinner portion of the day. Such a disaster that I left and obscene tip for the housekeeping staff and a note of apology with the promise that the rest of my stay would not include such messes. We went to dinner and handed the kids off to their host families, and our trip got under way in earnest.
And aside from that heart-attack-inducing start, things ran pretty smoothly for the rest of the week. Even after it was revealed that neither of the other chaperones could swim or had any intention of getting in the water … on a trip for which most of the planned activities involved getting in the water. This weirdness meant I was the only chaperone when we went snorkeling, and snorkeling, and snorkeling, and snorkeling (SO MUCH SNORKELING!), and playing with stingrays, and … Seriously.
I have had any number of entirely successful child-minding experiences, but losing Joshua and Bradley is pretty glaring, and easily aged me ten years. Don’t ask me to take care of your kids, people! I am not to be trusted.
It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!