March 19, 2017

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Louise Kettel Babysits

Seventeen-year-old Louise Kettel found herself at the front door of the Johnsons, a nice house but it obviously held a family of eight young children. The yard, filled with rundown, half-dead plants, held random toys strewn about in its tall grass, much in need of a good mowing. The curtains in the window hung slightly askew, as if someone had tried to tear them down—and someone probably had. From inside the house, music blared and children yelled. Louise knew she had her hands full tonight, but fortunately for her, her twin sister, Joelle, had come along for the ride. She had babysat for the Johnsons before, and, though they were a very nice couple, their children could be quite the handful, especially if they decided they wanted to play with the next door neighbors, the Paulsons.

Louise knocked on the door, raising her eyebrows and making a funny face at Joelle as all noise inside the house stopped. The girls could hear the sounds of feet scuffling across the carpeted floor. When the door opened and an exhausted Mrs. Johnson peered out, Louise opened her mouth to speak but Mrs. Johnson spoke before she could. “Oh, thank God, you’re here!” she sighed, ushering both girls inside. “Hubert and I were just about to call you. Dinner is in the oven. It should be ready in about an hour. We should be back before midnight, but please make sure the kids all get to bed.”

As Mrs. Johnson led the girls into the living room, she stopped them, a pained, apologetic look on her face. “And the Paulsons are here.” Louise and Joelle looked at each other before glancing over Mrs. Johnson’s shoulder. Indeed, the living room was packed wall to wall with children: the eight Johnson children and the twelve Paulsons. “I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Johnson mouthed before turning around and entering the room. “Okay, children! Louise and Joelle are here to watch you for the evening. Behave, please!” With that, she left.

Louise surveyed the mess of children before her.

Raphael and Gabriel Johnson, the eldest Johnson children at thirteen years old, sat at the computer, fighting over whose turn it was next. Gabriel insisted it was his, though Raphael could have sworn that he just had it. Gabriel refused to listen to logic. Seven-year-old Peter stood behind them, watching, enraptured by his older brothers’ quarrel.

Damien, just a year younger than the twins, sat in a corner with ten-year-old Valerie, reading a book of fairy tales to her. Damien and Valerie had a special connection that not all brothers and sisters share, one of mutual respect and admiration. If anyone hurt the other, the culprit was sure to find himself in trouble from the remaining sibling.

The last three Johnsons, eight-year-old Louisa and six-year-old twins Lauren and Christine, sat in the middle of the room playing with the Paulsons, though Louisa appeared to be sitting off slightly to the side and out of the circle of other children.

If the Johnsons were a handful, keeping track of the Paulsons was a nightmare. Both sets of parents had been married once before. Thomas Paulson, father of Herman and Zachary, had lost his wife to cancer, and Natalie, mother of Camille, Brianna, Karen, and Grace, had divorced her previous husband. Together, the two had three more children—Olivia, Waylon, and Philippa—before they eventually adopted three more—twins Riley and Robert and little Coralie. Fortunately, the two families meshed together surprisingly well. However, they created more mischief than many cared to admit, but most of that came simply because of numbers.

Fifteen-year-old Herman Paulson stood in the corner, languidly, obviously wishing he could be elsewhere but still deriving much pleasure from which the ridiculous antics of the younger children in the room.

Fourteen-year-old Camille Paulson and her younger sister, thirteen-year-old Brianna, told stories to the twins, eleven-year-old Karen and Grace, who sat enraptured at the feet of their older sisters, eyes wide and mouths dropped open.

Olivia, Waylon, and Philippa sat with the younger three Johnson girls, Louisa, Lauren, and Christine. Olivia sat between Louisa and Philippa, not quite as far out of the circle as the former but not quite as far in the circle as the latter. Sitting on the opposite side of the circle, twins Riley and Robert half-joined in the game the others were playing.

Little three-year-old Coralie Paulson, the youngest in the room by a good three years, ran about, giggling wildly, tearing off books from shelves, pulling at curtains, and throwing around pillows and anything that would move.

Louise looked to her sister. “Boy, have we got our hands full.”

Joelle’s face had paled upon seeing the large gathering of children. Though they came from a large family themselves, having twenty young children all gathered in one room that they had responsibility for seemed absolutely insane. “That’s an understatement,” she mumbled as Coralie toddled up to them. Joelle got down on the little one’s level. “Hi,” she said.

Coralie didn’t want to talk. Instead, she grabbed two handfuls of Joelle’s hair and pulled, giggling. The laughter almost sounded maniacal. If the girl hadn’t been so young, Louise would have assumed that she had a bit of an evil streak. Joelle did anyway as the little girl let go of her hair and pushed her over before running to the other side of the room and causing mayhem with Damien and Valerie.

“Did we agree to this?” Joelle asked, almost in tears.

“Well… not exactly,” Louise said with a little shrug. Though the task seemed daunting, she knew they could handle it. Most of the kids were well-behaved. A large number of well-behaved children can still be the cause of quite the chaos, however, and Louise knew that from personal experience. Her own family reminded her of the Paulsons, though not quite as messy in biology. She and her siblings were all biological, and many a time her parents received some rather rude stares from people because they couldn’t believe that anyone would willingly have that many children.

“Not exactly,” Joelle scoffed, standing up and brushing herself off. “Weezy, how on earth are we expected to handle twenty children on our own?”

Louise shrugged again. She had spent a lot of time with the Johnsons and the Paulsons, having worked for Lina Johnson as a sort of nanny-slash-tutor for the older kids. “Raphael, Gabriel, Herman, Camille, Zachary, and Brianna are all older. Herman is fifteen, only three years younger than we are, Ell. If we need help, we can ask him.” Joelle’s eyes clearly read her disbelief. “I know he seems like your typical ‘I-don’t-really-care-about-anyone-else’ teenager, but he’s a big help when he needs to be. He’s great with his siblings. Raph and Gabe are the same way, once you pull them away from their computer screen. Camille is always willing to help, even if you don’t necessarily ask her to, especially if Brianna is helping. Though Camille is older, Brianna is the leader of the two. Where Brianna goes, so goes Camille. That just leaves the younger kids.”

“And that’s how many?” Joelle’s voice caught in her throat, squeaking ever so slightly as it came out.

“Twelve.”

Louise left the conversation at that and entered the living room. The group in the middle of the room paused what they were doing and all stared up at her. Louisa waved. Louise had a special connection with the little girl. She reminded her a little bit of herself, and not just because they practically share a name. Squatting between Louisa and Olivia, Louise asked the group, “What are doing?”

“We’re playing a game and no one will listen to me,” Christine sighed heavily.

“Yeah, because you’re six, Christie, and don’t even know how to read properly,” Waylon, only a year older, responded.

Christine gasped in disbelief. “I do too!”

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

The two children went head-to-head with each other, their noses practically touching. Christine growled quietly under her breath as Waylon scrunched up his face in Louise didn’t know what. Disgust? Disappointment? Distraction? Before the two could break into something much worse than mere growling at each other, Louise gently pulled them apart and sat them back down across the circle from each other. “Maybe I can help. What game are you playing?” Christine, with major attitude, pointed at the game board in the center of the circle. “Oh. I know how to play this one. Why don’t we all play?”

“There’s too many of us to all play, Weezy!” Christine protested, arms crossed over her chest. “There’s too many of us in this circle to play.”

“We can play teams, Christie.”

Christine’s jaw dropped as if playing teams was the worst suggestion ever, almost as if it were something offensive to her. “We can’t play teams, Weezy! There’s no rules for that.”

Louise leaned in, gesturing to the children surrounding her to do the same as she lowered her voice and spoke, “What if I said that I’d made up rules to play teams?” With as many siblings as she had, most games didn’t allow all of them to play, so she had learned early on how to adapt gameplay in order to accommodate a larger group of people so that no one would feel left out.

“No way.”

“Yes way.” Louise stood up and called to the rest of the kids, “Hey, let’s all play this game!” Coralie came running towards her and Louise scooped her up, sitting the toddler down in her lap one she sat down again. In varying levels of reluctance, the other children joined them all in the center of the room. The circle grew as they made room for each other. Soon all twenty-two of the young people, Louise and Joelle included, had gathered and sat down around the game board as Louise explained team gameplay.

Once Louise started them playing the game, no one wanted to stop. Not for dinner. Certainly not when it came time for everyone to go to bed. With Coralie tucked in on the couch, Louise turned her focus on the other younger children, the sixes and the sevens, the eights and the nines, of the group. Wrangling in Camille and Brianna to help, Louise and Joelle eventually got the younger ones to agree to curling up with blankets and pillows in the living room while a movie played. Because of this, the older ones were easy. The tens, the elevens, the twelves and thirteens and older, easily agreed to the same thing.

Soon, there were twenty children spread out across the floor with more than twenty blankets and pillows strewn alongside them. Louise and Joelle sat on the couch with the sleeping Coralie as the movie played, watching as the children dropped off to sleep one by one, their babysitters soon joining them in dreamland.

***

Prompt: Write something that reminds you of when you were younger. Which in this case for me means revisiting a goofy little thing I had going when I was in my early teens.

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