Against my better judgment and deepest reptilian survival instincts, I have taken up a volunteer job at the YMCA Childcare center. The children's age range has one leg planted in infancy, its balls dangling over the terrible twos, and the other leg stretching toward five. They have the good sense to rotate who gets to be the spawn of Satan on which days, so it's never overly difficult to handle them. Over the past two months, I have bonded with and now particularly favor a 4-year-old girl named Elaine (name has been changed to protect the probably innocent). Her father, I found out from her mother, is a part-time veterinarian in a neighboring town, and Elaine, bless her heart, loves horses. Now you can stop wondering how I managed not to devour, let alone bond with, a human being less than half my age.
Today, Elaine ran to me as soon as she saw me, and because I had chosen that moment to foolishly sit down on the floor, she cannonballed into me and sent both of us sprawling. Then she used her wicked signature move that has me convinced she'll end up on UFC one of these days. She pinioned me on my back with both knees actively seeking my bladder and each elbow spearing one of my breasts. This always leaves me speechless, motionless and breathless long enough for her to convince me to do anything she wants.
"Let's play horsies, let's play horsies!" She singsonged. Yes, Elaine, whatever you say, Elaine, now for the love of all that is holy, please get off me, Elaine.
So she let me up and dragged me, massaging my aching boobs, to the red plastic barn and the scuffed yellow bin full of plastic farm animals. With a practiced and studious eye, she searched the bin, then let out a squeal of delight and dove for her quarry. She came up with a twin pair of brown plastic horses, frozen in a high-stepping prance. "You be the mommy and the daddy horsie," she said as she shoved the twins into my hand. "I'll be the baby horsie." She pulled a smaller toy out, this one chunkier, bright yellow, and only a shade behind the exaggerated proportions of a My Little Pony.
Then, Plotmaster Elaine chose the game for us. Usually Elaine's Horsie games involve Mama Horsie falling deathly ill and Baby Horsie must journey over many foreign lands and through many dangers to bring back medicine for her dying mother, while Daddy Horsie stands by helpless. Or an alternate vignette: Mama and Daddy Horsie are trapped in the burning barn and Baby Horsie must cast herself into the flames to heroically rescue them. Mama Horsie always turns out all right, but Daddy Horsie is grievously wounded and needs much care from his wife and invincible daughter. I wondered with mild amusement at her home life, but I kept it to myself.
Today, Elaine decided that instead of Mama Horsie falling ill, Baby Horsie herself would come down with the equine equivalent of Ebola. Baby Horsie groaned, tossed, turned and wept. Mama Horsie and Daddy Horsie worried-- "Oh no, what will we do? Baby Horsie is so sick!" Usually, I take cues from Elaine for my lines, since this show is scripted only in her four-year-old mind. She leaned close to my ear and whispered "Mama Horsie says something's wrong with Baby Horsie's butt!"
I chuckled; said my line. Elaine said "You need to fix it!"
"How do I do that? Is there medicine?"
"Yes!" Elaine cast about her for a moment, then scooped up a play-syringe and dropped it in my lap. I suppressed more insistent giggles, then said, "Okay, I'll give it to her." I brought the syringe to Baby Horsie's mouth.
"Noooooooooo," Elaine cried. "It goes in her butt! Duh!"
After glancing behind me to make sure we weren't being gaped at by 15 other toddlers and 4 grownups, I pretended to insert the syringe into Baby Horsie's bum and inject her with the Enema of Life. Baby Horsie sprung up, fully healed, and shouted "You saved my butt!" Seconds later, she swayed on her feet, told Mama Horsie that she wasn't feeling so good, and fell again. I didn't bat an eye; Elaine loves to repeat the same plot several times. It doesn't get boring, though, because she changes something every time. I couldn't wait to see how she'd alter a game this interesting already.
"Oh no, what will we do? Baby Horsie is so sick!" Mama and Daddy Horsie lamented right on cue. "How will we fix her?"
Elaine handed me the syringe again. "You gotta put this in her penis or she'll die."
She spoke with such candid gravity that I was struck dumb for a moment. My mind pinwheeled and backpedaled in a futile search for an appropriate response. I quickly realized that an appropriate response, to my grownup state of mind, would probably not be an appropriate response to her, and vice versa. While my mind screamed for help like a drowning kitten, my body took it upon itself to get on with it. So I touched the tip of the syringe to Baby Horsie's underbelly where I thought her assorted genitalia might be, to Elaine's (and Baby Horsie's) satisfaction. Baby Horsie once again leapt up, and I cringed, awaiting the exclamation that would surely come,
"Yay! You saved my penis!"
I was unable to hold back any longer; laughter poured out of me and shook me until I fell over. When I finally opened my eyes, stinging with tears, Elaine was standing over me, looking genuinely and adorably puzzled.
"What's wrong with you?" she asked.
"Many things, Elaine, many things, " I responded honestly.
"Are you sick too? Do you need medicine?"
"No, no, no no no, I am peachy-keen, fine and dandy. Let's save the medicine for poor Baby Horsie. It sounds like she needs some surgery."
"No she doesn't. Let's keep playing!"
Later on I talked myself out of telling her mother what had transpired. I thought if nothing else, it would make a good story to tell her husband later. But what happens at Childwatch stays at Childwatch. Until I blog about it.