“Put your hands where I can see them.” The words slid off my tongue as easily as when I was wearing a badge. Yet two police academies and hundreds of hours of supplemental instruction have not properly prepared me for this new assignment. There are holes in my training. No one taught me that an eight month old baby can consume 4 oz of milk at 10:00 and expel 5 oz of poop at 10:05. They explained how to get blood out of my shirt but not blue yogurt. I learned how to break down and reassemble an M-16 with my eyes closed but the nomenclature of strollers and car seats is beyond my ken. There weren’t any classes on how to explain that one can’t go from the first rung on the jungle gym ladder to the third or fourth without leaving a nasty mark. There weren’t any refresher courses in nursery rhymes.
And I certainly wasn’t trained to deal with this scenario. The crime was couscous throwing. The perpetrator was a 13 month old girl. But retreating wasn’t an option.
So, I did what cops do – Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
“Now don’t move,” I said as I picked grains from my hair with one hand and reached for baby wipes with the other, silently wishing that the restraints of a high chair were as effective as handcuffs. I was beginning to realize that I should have brushed up on my self defense skills before I traded my shiny silver “Officer Wragg” name tag for the less formal moniker of “Miss Jill”, Assistant Preschool Teacher. But I thought I’d be okay. After all, age and treachery do triumph over youth and skill, and I have food in my refrigerator that’s older than most of these kids.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used as a reason for a time-out. You have the right to attempt to win me over by making cute faces or hugging me. You have the right to formulate some sort of apology for misbehaving before punishment is determined. If you are not able to formulate an apology, you have the right to sulk for the duration of your time-out. If you decide to begin screaming now, your time-out will commence immediately. You have the right to stop screaming at any time in order to make amends for your previous behavior. Do you understand your rights? Are you willing to apologize now so you can go play with your friends?
Still clutching a fistful of couscous, my assailant looked at me as though I was speaking Serbo-Croatian. Sighing, I remembered the police chief’s advice that children under age 7 cannot form criminal intent, and his offer of fraternal support, “Call if you need back-up.” I looked around for a phone.
Give me fighting drunks any day. Alas, my adventures in babysitting had only just begun. When I got the news that I’d been hired, I practiced by dressing a cabbage patch doll in a preemie diaper, but I stood it on its head to do it so I practiced some more. Diapers aside, I expected the job to be similar to police work and I was excited about that. I wanted to feel like an authority figure again, serving the public and telling people what to do. I wanted to prevent crimes by stopping wild gangs of marauding toddlers from terrorizing the neighborhood. I was eager to perform traffic control tasks, even if it was just on potty breaks. And I was accustomed to being pulled, pushed, fallen on, yelled at, and confronted by people who cry to get out of their societal responsibilities.
I looked forward to breaking up fights, chasing escapees, managing unruly groups, and dealing with attitude problems. I expected to execute searches (into diapers) to identify improvised explosive devices and hazardous materials. I knew I’d have opportunities to issue verbal warnings and citations for bad behavior, and to perform safety inspections on plastic motor vehicles.
Yup, it is similar, right down to eating donuts, drinking coffee and getting puked on. Even the disputes mirror the grown-up conflicts I’d handled on patrol.
“He took my car.”
“She hit me with a phone.”
“He bit me.”
I initiate most of my investigations in the same manner, too. “Hey kid, assume the position. Do you have anything on your person that will hurt me or anyone else? Sticky lollipops? Peanut butter? Diarrhea?”
But there is one big difference. The people I monitor are glad to see me. The only thing better than hearing a room full of children shout my name when I walk through the door is catching the various bodies as they hurl themselves at me for hugs. Heck, I even forgave them for inflicting me with strep during my first week.
Emerson wrote that the earth laughs in flowers. I’ve learned that the earth laughs in children.
Now if I could just get that Barney song out of my head.
Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com