Coax staff to the table. Ask the children if they’re ready to have some great fun making cookies. Tell the children it’s cookie-making time. Inform them that Mommy will be upset if she comes home and they haven’t helped Uncle Stevie make cookies. Rub head. Wonder, not for the first time, why you promised your sister you would babysit for five hours. Tell staff they can watch Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper for five more minutes, and then they’re going to make cookies.
Twenty minutes later, promise Isaac, the seven-year-old, that if he comes to the table right now he can watch Shark Tale and Finding Nemo and Shrek and Shrek 2 when Mommy comes home, and of course he can read a few chapters of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before bedtime and that yes, why wouldn’t Mommy fight a best-of-seven sword-fighting duel with him and then sing songs to him until he falls asleep? Assure Iris, the 3 ¾-year-old, that, affirmative, if it’s important to her, you will henceforth address her as “Little Dog” because “that’s my name today,” and certainly she can eat as much cookie dough as she wants before you make the cookie balls.
Establish chain of command. Demand that your staff identify themselves. Ask, “Who are you?”
“We’re kids,” Iris says.
“No, we’re not,” Isaac barks. “We are cookie-making soldiers!”
Adopt a stern tone.
“You’re what, soldier?”
“We’re cookie-making soldiers, sir! Uncle Stevie, sir!”
Iris is crying. “You scaring Barbie!”
“It’s OK, Iree. I’m just—”
“My name is Little Dog!” she screams.
“You have to say, ‘Yes, sir, Uncle Stevie, sir!’ first,” Isaac reminds her.
“You shut up!”
“No, you shut up!”
“C’mon, kids, let’s all—”
“We’re not kids, sir, Uncle Stevie, sir!”
“No, I know, Isaac, you’re soldiers. But let’s just relax. It’s OK, Iree, you don’t have to cr—”
“I’m not Iree. I’m Little Dog!”
Assign titles. Tell Little Dog that she will be your assistant. You read somewhere that giving children titles helps them feel empowered. “So when I want you to do something, I’ll say, ‘Assistant, please help me,’ OK?”
“Only if Barbie can be my assistant.”
“That’s fine, Ir—, I mean, Little Dog.”
“Sir!” says Isaac. “Uncle Stevie, sir! I suggest that Iris start at something lower than assistant because she’s little, and sometimes she doesn’t get things right the first time.”
Thank God that Iris is so busy making Barbie jump on the bags of chocolate, she doesn’t take offense.
“And since I was already assistant, Uncle Stevie, sir, I think I should have another title.”
“OK, soldier, what title do you want?”
“I think I should be ‘apprentice.’ ”
“OK, Isaac, soldier, you’re apprentice.”
Rub head. Rub eyes. Wonder how your sister does it. Wonder how any parent does it.
Establish hygienic standards. Announce hand-washing maneuvers. Include Barbie.
“Uh-uh,” Iris says. “We didn’t just go potty, so we don’t haveta.”
“She’s right,” Isaac says. “That’s the rules.”
Reflect upon the places you have seen the children’s hands since you arrived earlier in the afternoon and wonder that you haven’t already started manifesting symptoms of diphtheria and typhoid. Marvel that all parents on earth aren’t in bed, shivering with a fever and exhaustion and shattered spirits.
Explain that while everyone present loves and respects Mommy, it’s Uncle Stevie time, with Uncle Stevie rules. Pray that no one you know ever learns you used the phrase “It’s Uncle Stevie time, with Uncle Stevie rules.” Beg your apprentice to persuade your assistant to participate in hygienic maneuvers.
When your assistant informs you that under no circumstances will she wash her hands, and that you’re stupid and mean, just like her brother, and that Barbie hates both of you, try this: “If you don’t wash your hands, some really horrible germs that make you throw up and give you diarrhea might get in the cookies, and everyone will eat them and then even Barbie might get diarrhea!”
Spend a few minutes drying 3 ¾-year-old tears and hating yourself.
Complete campaign. Make cookie dough. Form cookie balls. Help Little Dog make cookie ball for Barbie. Allow Little Dog to gobble as much cookie dough as she can hold. Promote apprentice to sous-chef. Place cookie balls in oven. Settle staff back on couch in front of DVD player. Cue up Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper. Sink into couch. Hold face in hands. Breathe.
“Yes, Little Dog.”
“Barbie’s cookie will be the prettiest.”
“I think you’re right, sweetie.”
“Barbie says she loves you, and can we make cookies with you tomorrow, if we promise we’ll wash our hands and remember to call you Uncle Stevie, sir?”
Don’t let your staff see you weep.