Ben is throwing a fit. He’s screaming, “I want go down basement, Dianne. I want go down basement. Now!”
I try firmness. “No, Ben, we’ve played down in the basement much too long. We’ve been down there at least three times today. That’s enough. What else can you think of to do? Hey, let’s go outside for a while. It’s nice and sunny. Come on. Let’s go.”
Ben’s not cooperating. “No! I want go down basement, now!” His tone is imperious. He stamps his sneakered foot. His cute little face is reddening with rage.
Cajoling this angry 3-year-old is not working. A Rolling Stones song pops into my head. “You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want,” I sing, more than slightly off-key, then continue, getting into it, playing air guitar, jumping around with moves like Jagger. “But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you nee-eed.”
Soon Ben is dancing with me. Giggles and shrieks of delight have distracted him — temporarily, at least. He grabs my hand and we race outdoors to kick a soccer ball back and forth across a pool cover, smack dab in the middle of a huge Hamptons backyard.
I’ve been hired to baby-sit Ben every Friday evening and some Saturday and Sunday mornings while his single mom, Isabelle, works with clients out here on the East End of Long Island. Friday hours are from 3 to 7 p.m. I meet them at the house in Bridgehampton, usually soon after their tedious trek on the L.I.E. from their apartment in New York City and a morning of preschool for Ben. It’s a long day for a toddler.
“What are your thoughts about discipline?” I ask Isabelle during our initial interview.
“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” she says. “Ben is a sweet boy and well mannered.”
“Yeah, right,” I think.
My first shift on the following Friday begins well. I toot my car horn as I pull into the graveled driveway. Isabelle and Ben walk outside to greet me. Isabelle hugs and kisses Ben goodbye, hops into her BMW, and heads to work. We wave until she’s out of sight, then Ben announces, “Play car!”
We scramble into my Miata and play speed racer for a few minutes. Ben opens the passenger door and runs around to the driver’s side. We change places so he can “drive,” then repeat this process seemingly another 28 times. Clouds drift over the setting sun; it’s getting chilly. Time to go in.
I open the stainless-steel refrigerator to see what’s for dinner. The fridge is almost empty (or is it one-fourth full?). I see a sticky note stuck to one shelf. It reads, “Isabelle’s food. Do not touch.” Another says, “For Ben.” It’s a precooked, organic, microwave meal from Citarella in the city. I pop Ben’s food into the oven and take out the ham-and-cheese deli sandwich I’ve brought just in case.
We sit down in front of a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD and eat our supper without mishap. Ben helps take our dirty plates to the kitchen.
“Good helper!” I say, then spot the two-page list of rules on the counter, intended for me for my first foray into baby-sitting since I was a teenager. I am 62, a former tenured kindergarten and K-to-third-grade teacher from Los Angeles.
The rest of the evening flows smoothly. I return home, exhausted and hungry, with $45 in my pocket, completely smitten with Ben.
By the second week, I’ve learned, foremost, that I must bring food for myself. So, like a good girl scout, I come prepared. I also learn that Ben will need some discipline. He is headstrong and stubborn. He wants what he wants. Tonight he wants the frozen pizza I’ve packed in my bag.
“This s’ghetti’s yucky!” he shouts, refusing to eat it.
“I want pizza! Let’s share, Dianne,” he says, his big blue eyes blazing, and I can’t resist. We enjoy my yummy pizza, then snack on some mixed nuts I take out, along with three Dove chocolate squares each.
So begins our weekly ritual.
“Hi, Ben,” I say upon my arrival.
“Hi, Dianne,” he says. “You bring pizza?” I fetch it from my bag and drop it in the freezer. “You bring nuts?” I shake the can like a maraca. “You bring chocolate?” I hand Ben our stash, safe in a Ziploc, for after dinner.
One night Ben is suddenly in a fury. He throws a book at me, but misses.
“Books aren’t for throwing,” I say. He hurls another my way. It bounces off my arm. “Please don’t throw books at me,” I admonish. His tossing continues. This time Ben aims for my face, and a hardcover hits me square on the nose.
“Ouch!” I yell. “That hurts! The next time you throw a book, it’s timeout for you,” I say. Ben behaves.
A few weeks later he’s in the mood to throw rocks . . . at my car. “This is your warning, Ben,” I say. “If you throw rocks again, it’s timeout.”
Rocks go flying. Ben goes to timeout. He pouts. He doesn’t like it one bit, but he stays put as I use my “Supernanny” routine: ignore him for a couple of minutes, discuss why he’s there, then hug and make up.
When his mom comes home, Ben announces, “I got timeout, Mommy.”
Isabelle gives me a dirty look, asks, “How long?” and ends the night with a terse, “Good night, Dianne.”
“I love you, Dianne,” Ben calls. “Bye-bye!”
From the start, the Rolling Stones tune was a big hit with Ben. One day, walking back from the Children’s Museum of the East End, down the block from Ben’s house, he shouts, “Sing, Dianne. Sing ‘Can’t Get’! I sing it at school. It’s my favrite.”
“What does Mommy think of it?” I ask.
“Mommy likes it,” Ben says, then laughs.
So off we go, as I chant, “You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you nee-eed!” all the way home.
Dianne Moritz lives in North Sea. Her third children’s book, “1, 2, 3 by the Sea,” was published in the spring by Kane Miller. The names of Isabelle and Ben have been changed.