THE FIFTH COLUMN
When a family member asked me to look after her kids for a day, I jumped at the opportunity. I had been wondering whether I would be good with children and planned to show them the finer tricks of e-filing and how to implement them when the next tax year kicks off.
The day started off pleasantly enough with a warm goodbye to the parents, after which the minors arranged themselves in front of the TV. I took the opportunity to put a stake in the ground by handling the remote. The leader of the pack, a nine-year-old, grabbed it in what would be her first taste of mutiny.
Tip 1: At this point it’s okay to admit defeat. There is no shame in surrendering to a generation that might lead us in the first crusade against the machines — or turn out to be machines themselves.
I sat down cross-legged and asked the five-year-old to explain the cartoon to me. She sighed and tried to highlight some plot points but lost interest and joined the other two in cult-like behaviour that saw them staring at the screen, cut off from the world. I felt lonely and betrayed.
Tip 2: I like to get my laptop out by this time. John Oliver has some really good 20-minute YouTube clips of his latest monologues. I also like to watch a few movies and work in a documentary. If there’s sport on, you’re golden.
A decision was reached to walk to the shops and we hit the road. Their proximity to the ground turned the walk into a scavenger hunt. We showed up at the shop with armloads of rubbish and for the first time in my life I hoped to bump into someone I know. After a brief catch-up, we will both look down at the miniature municipal workers and I will deliver the line: “You’ll understand when you have kids.”
Tip 3: Don’t try to keep them together in the shop. I found walking the length of the shop and looking up and down the aisles the best way to keep track of them one at a time
Five minutes into the shopping trip, all three girls locked themselves in the bathroom for what seemed like an eternity. I considered various scenarios, one involving them slipping out the window to go to the Super Spar down the road for some real shopping. It seemed unlikely, given their size, which meant they were kidnapped by Boko Haram and shipped off to Nigeria.
Tip 4: It’s a good idea to stay in touch with reality by identifying five real objects in your vicinity. For example: I see a cashier, I see a shop manager, I see a trolley, the roof is blue, I’m breathing. Alternatively, knock on the bathroom door and ask them how long they’re going to be.
Back home the day came full circle: another two hours spent watching cartoons. The parents came home to the kids passed out on the couch — the inevitable sugar crash shutting down all major organs and easing them into a coma. I grabbed the remote and turned down the volume.