So my mom mentions to the Clarksons that I’m sort of the baby-sitter in our building and that if they ever need me, I’m responsible and have reasonable rates (meaning I work cheap).
Three days later, I’m playing a matching game with Mr. and Mrs. Clarkson’s five-year-old son, Billy, while they enjoy dinner and a movie.
Things get interesting after a lightning bolt brightens the darkening sky like a camera flash, followed by a loud crash of thunder. Billy flies off the couch and runs to his room.
The Clarksons gave me emergency numbers and other instructions, but they didn’t tell me what to do if their kid decides to hide under his bed.
“What’s wrong, Billy?” I ask as if I don’t already know.
“Nothing,” he says.
“Then why are you acting like a dust bunny?”
Silence for a moment, then the truth. “I’m afraid of thunderstorms,” he says.
Part of being a great baby-sitter is being an expert in a lot of fields—a nurse for bandaging banged-up knees, a chef for concocting interesting snacks, and a writer for coming up with good bedtime stories. This time, I need to be a psychologist.
“Billy, a lot of people don’t like thunderstorms,” I say.
“I’m not a lot of people,” he points out.
I don’t know how to respond to that. I make a mental note to brush up on my psychology and I take a more basic approach. “You’ll miss my famous cheese-and-pepper-flavored popcorn.”
“That’s OK,” Billy says.
I don’t want Billy to have a miserable night. What can I do?
I look around for inspiration and spot Billy’s sports trophies and ribbons. Then it hits me. “If you don’t come out, you’re going to miss the funderstorm.”
“You mean ‘thunderstorm,’” he corrects.
“Nope. I mean funderstorm.”
Billy peeks his head out. “What’s that?”
“It’s having fun during a thunderstorm,” I explain. “When the lightning strikes, you see how many things you can do before the thunder comes.”
“Like a contest?”
At that moment, lightning lights up the room. Billy looks at me expectantly.
I spot a lone sock dangling from his dresser drawer. “How many socks can you put on one foot? Go!”
He runs to his dresser and starts putting on socks. His right foot grows bigger with each new one.
I count along. “3 . . . 4 . . .5 . . .” He gets to 8 before the thunder booms and rattles the windows.
It also rattles his nerves. Before he can dive back under the bed, I yell, “Fruits! How many can you name?”
The sky lights up.
“Apple, banana, pear . . . ,” he chants. He’s in the middle of listing melons when the round ends with a sharp crack.
“Pretty impressive,” I say.
“What else?” he says.
I smile. Now he’s really on board. “Let’s see your hopping skills.” I peek out the window. “Ready, set . . .” At the flash, I yell, “Go!”
He starts hopping on one foot. After 10 seconds, he switches to the other foot, then back again at 20 seconds. He’s at 29 hops when a softer boom signals the end of the round.
“That’s the best I’ve ever done,” he says.
“You getting hungry?” I ask, grinning like a cheetah. “At the next lightning bolt, go to the kitchen, grab the popcorn, and come back.”
I can still see a little worry in his eyes. “You OK?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says confidently, surprising me with the speed of his answer.
I yell “Go!” exactly when the flash comes.
He peels out of his room. Sixteen seconds later, he leaps back in, drops the container of popcorn on his dresser, and falls breathlessly onto the floor.
“Sixteen seconds,” I say, looking at my watch and smiling. “Not bad.”
We don’t hear anything for a minute or two.
“I think the storm is going away,” he says.
So is the worried look in his eyes.
When the Clarksons return, they apologize for not calling home. They were in the theater and didn’t hear the storm.
“How’d our boy weather the thunderstorm?” Mrs. Clarkson asks as she gives Billy a hug.
“Funderstorm,” he corrects, giving me a sly look. “And I can’t wait till the next one!”
Billy isn’t kidding.
I can’t take other baby-sitting jobs if storm clouds start rolling in because I’ll know to expect a call from the Clarksons.
Billy has a lot of records to break.