BABYSITTERS are expensive. All parents know this. Sadly, nights out aren't half as enjoyable when you have to keep one eye firmly on the clock. But thank goodness for grandparents. They are reliable and free. Well, kind of free.
My parents mind my son, Gary, when I'm away, but I in turn look after their dog when they head off. So it's kind of a swap. I don't pay babysitters during my holidays and they don't pay dog kennels.
However, minding the dog is pretty straightforward. He gets nuts in the morning, a tin of dog food in the evening, and a walk in the afternoon. I ensure he doesn't disturb the neighbours with his barking. So, looking after a dog isn't that difficult, right?
Normally whenever I go away I take my child. But last week I got the chance to go away with my mother. Dad agreed to mind Gary.
I was dubious at first. I mean, the only time my father ever looked after my son before was just once when he was a baby. Mum and I went to the cinema and when we got back the child's nappy was on back to front. But my son was safe and happy so that was the main thing. This trip, however, would last days.
"It's a big responsibility," I told Dad. "Are you sure you can do it? After all, Gary can be a handful."
Dad assured me it'd be no problem. Mum insisted that my father adored the child. Of course I knew that. My dad is terribly kind to Gary and I knew they'd have fun together, but what about the practical side of things? What about homework and nutritious meals? Would Gary get his five a day?
My father told me to go away and enjoy myself and not to worry. However, being the natural worrier that I am, I typed out a long, detailed list, recommending meals, exactly what Gary was to wear each day, and explained about the homework. Then I gave it to Dad. "Everything you need is on the list," I said solemnly.
I rang home on my first night away. Gary was in McDonalds with my father. He had got a free balloon and was happy. Okay, so no five a day then. Oh well . . . I wasn't going to fuss. I had to have faith that everything would work out. Dad had the list, so what could go wrong?
When I arrived home Gary was thrilled to see me. "Did you get me a toy at the airport?" he asked.
I gave him the toy and then asked my tired-looking Dad how the few days had gone.
"Everything went great."
"Yes, we did the homework, but forgot to colour in the pictures, so we got a red mark from the teacher."
"Oh dear. Ah, well . . . it doesn't matter really. Thanks so much for everything, Dad."
"No problem. Oh just one thing . . . why was everyone in tracksuits yesterday?"
"Because Wednesdays and Thursdays are PE days, Dad. Was Gary not in his tracksuit?"
"No. How was I supposed to know?"
I shook my head. "It was on the list."
He looked confused. "There was a list?"