I Know You Think You’re “That Family,” but Trust Me, You Aren’t. We Are.

The nicest guy in the world is painting the inside of our house. His name is Gonzalo, and he’s a single dad to six kids. And yet, there he is, every morning, knocking on my door with a giant can of Monster is his hand, looking like he’s ready to take on the day.

When Gonzalo signed on for the seemingly-easy-enough task of painting the house, I said, “You know my husband and I both work from home…. and the kids will be around most of the time, too. Think that will be okay?”

“Oh, that shouldn’t be a problem… just work around you. No problem at all.”

“So, you’ve done that before and it’s been okay?” (tone of hope)

“Eh, no… we’ve never had this come up, but I’m sure it will be fine. Don’t worry.”

Here we are, about two weeks into the job, and Gonzalo’s default cheer is fading fast. I feel for this guy. If I remember correctly, he’s got a three-year-old, an eight-year-old, an eleven-year-old, and a thirteen-year-old with him full time. I imagine work is usually a reprieve from the insanity of childrearing. I mean, I know that for me even a trip to the dentist for a root canal is a reprieve (I can lay down! I can close my eyes and no one will try to decapitate me with a plastic object!). But for the last two weeks, Gonzalo has gone from his own zoo to mine. So when yesterday dawned dull, gray, and wet, and neither kid was scheduled to be at daycare, I knew I had to do something, anything, to avoid death by paintbrush.

So we went to Habitot.

Andy and I took Rachel to free day at Habitot when she was younger, and I’d say it was a resounding failure for a number of reasons. It’s also expensive and germ-filled, so given our little kids’ propensity for getting sick, we just haven’t been back.

Until yesterday.

I would love to list each and every adventure we had, from attempting to use a broken handicapped lift, strewn with debris and what I think was (adult) urine, upon entry, to losing our parking ticket—twice—upon exit. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll just say that Aaron stole the show. I mean, seriously. We were THAT family. It wasn’t even close. Given that it was a rainy day, Habitot was packed and I had a lot of kids to evaluate against my own. The results? Rachel measured up beautifully. Aaron… not so much.

For real. He was the ONLY child not playing nicely at a station. That isn’t to say other kids weren’t running back and forth, but they were doing it in an orderly, okay-now-I-know-he’s-going-to-fall-down-get-up-then-take-a-sharp-left sort of way. Aaron was just hopped-up-on-Mountain-Dew crazy.  I am so not kidding: there were at least four other moms—you know, the kind who not only say it takes a village, but actually live it—helping me keep Aaron from drowning, throwing himself from high places, moving furniture from one side of the building to another, etc. And that was just the moms. There were also two STAFF women who assigned themselves to the not-paid-enough task of looking after us. Habitot has been around for a looooonnnngggg time, but it wasn’t until yesterday that staff had to check with their boss to ensure that neither the paint nor the soap was toxic. Because, you know, Aaron ate them both. And that was WITH a total of five moms and two staff watching.

At first, the non-helping, spectator moms seemed to get a kick out of watching Aaron run pell mell down the hall covered in paint and a ladybug apron. But after a while, they started taking notes, with headings like “What Not to Do in Public With Your Child,” and “How to Studiously Avoid the Woman Whose Eyes are Pleading With You to Help Her.” I honestly think our neighbor was there with her daughter who is Aaron’s age, but every time I tried to get close enough to talk she’d quickly leave the scene.

Rachel, sweet little Rachel, went straight for the art room and began to nicely paint the walls. After much corralling, Aaron joined her. He started off double-fisting the paintbrushes, painting with one and eating the other, Fun-Dip style. Then he decided to cut out the middle man: he tossed both brushes to the floor, grabbed the supposedly-child-proof cup of paint, and dumped it straight into his mouth. And then the floor. You know, for variety.

So I convinced Rachel that instead of painting, she really wanted to give the little naked, plastic, private-part-endowed babies a bath. She was totally into that, so we went to the water station. I actually got to sit down at this point. Aaron was thrilled to splash around, and there was the added benefit of washing the paint off him without any effort on my part.

Just as I started to relax, thinking it wasn’t so bad after all, things took a turn for the worse. I realized Aaron had not just been splashing, but for the last five minutes had been actively DRINKING the water from the splash tub. The same tub that had ten little cootie-filled kids around it, arms in up to their elbows, and filled with dolls, boats, scrub brushes, and other toys that had been only-God-knows where being used for not-even-God-knows-what before landing in that tub.

The other village moms and I tried our best, but I finally had to resign myself to squatting beside the tub right by Aaron, one arm out, defense-style, ready to pushhisfaceoutofthetuborgrabthebowlfromhismouthorextractthetoyfrombetweenhisteeth.

This gave me the perfect vantage point for watching Rachel put the smack down on a kindergartner who picked on Aaron.

Little kid: “Hey, give me that!” snatches toy from Aaron.

Aaron, who is the youngest of three, doesn’t hesitate to take it back.

Little kid, getting pissy: “You took my toy!” Takes toy back. Aaron glares but then takes a big gulp of swamp water and is happy again.

Not so much Rachel. From the other side of the tub, Rachel says in a mama-voice, “he’s just a baby. He doesn’t know any better.”

The kid stares at her. About 30 seconds pass and then Rachel apparently decides this simply isn’t good enough.

Rachel walks like she has a purpose–arms swinging, face determined–to the other side of the table to stand by the bully. She gets right up close, peering into his freckled face for a few seconds before saying, louder this time, “He’s just a baby. He doesn’t know any better. You have to be nice to him!”

Bully-kid thinks Rachel is off her rocker, but from that point on is much nicer. Rachel seems satisfied and shuffles off (not quite happily, because I couldn’t play with her, what with trying to keep Aaron from drowning and all) to the cool water ramp-thingy.

At no point in all of this did I feel embarrassed. Not even when I had to send Rachel alone to the cubbies to put Andy’s favorite sweatshirt (which I was wearing) away before it got ruined, and one of our two self-assigned staff members offered to walk with her since, you know, Rachel is four and the cubbies are right by the front door. It just is what it is. I commiserated with another mom whose first—her first!—was the same way. A year after her first was born, she gave birth to twins (who were much, much calmer, she said). I was encouraged by the fact that this woman was still alive and able to function well enough to share her story.

My mother-in-law has suggested that Aaron is such a handful because he doesn’t get out much. That’s a nice suggestion, but given Aaron’s recent adventures climbing six-foot tall ladders, jumping into buckets of oil-based Kilz, and tying himself up with blue painters’ tape, I think Gonzalo would disagree.