I started writing this…um, let’s see — maybe last year? To be honest, I have no idea. I was bad enough keeping track of time before COVID and now every day I’m asking myself “Wait, is today Blursday or Thriday the 81st of Junvember?” Anyway, better late than never, right?
Years ago, I was outsmarted by the Most Beautiful Woman in the World — never underestimate a four-year-old.
On a recent Saturday morning, I set off around ten o’clock to make the hour-and-half drive down to Tucson to see my adult goddaughter, Alexa, aka The Most Beautiful Woman in the World (more on that later).
It had been a couple of years since I’d seen her, though we’d texted and talked a few times on the phone. She’s had major bullshit to deal with over the past few years due to someone else’s failure as a human being, so I thought an in-person morale booster was warranted. I made the 120-mile drive, and we walked to the Hotel Congress (where the police captured notorious gangster John Dillinger in 1934) to grab lunch.
What’s in a name?
Technically, Alexa’s not my goddaughter because there was no religious ceremony involved. But that doesn’t make the relationship any less real. Having grown up Catholic, I still took the request from her mother, Leasa, to become her daughter’s secular version of a guardian, seriously. I felt honored, though, at the time, at the tender age of twenty-four, I didn’t feel very adult-like, and could barely offer myself good advice.
“You’re the only positive male role model in her life,” my friend explained sadly to me about her request. “And you’re kind and patient with her.”
Alexa was about three when I first met her mom, who was going through some challenging times. She was separated from her husband who had moved to L.A. to try and break into Hollywood as a sound engineer. Leasa worked with me in a low-paying job as an airline reservation agent because she needed health insurance. She was a relatively new hire, and I did her a massive favor by offering to exchange my primo daytime schedule (which I bid for based on my way higher seniority) with her shitty late afternoon one so she didn’t have to quit because childcare was an issue. I was single and young and had graduated from ASU. I was floating along waiting for life to send me a sign of what to do, so it didn’t really matter to me what time of the day I showed up for my soul-sucking job. Our budding friendship took off from there.
Eventually, Leasa and I moved into a townhouse in Chandler. She desperately needed her own place to get out from under her opinionated and very vocal mother. I’d been contemplating a change of scenery because my current abode was casually referred to as the Hell House if that gives you any indication of its Feng shui. I’m kind of a slob, but I was a neat freak in comparison to my three slovenly roommates. I grew to hate it there and regretted ever moving out on my previous roommate, Becky. Plus, it turned out one of my new roomies, Stoner Todd’s new girlfriend, was running a shoplifting ring out of our house, the workings of which she casually revealed to me when I asked her why she was sitting on the floor of our empty dining room, cutting tags out of an enormous mound of new clothes. I decided around then it was probably time to break my lease before the eventual police raid.
Moving into a townhouse in Chandler with Leasa and Alexa was an interesting experiment. We lived there as a happy, quasi-family. I can’t say my suspicious, Irish Catholic mom was thrilled I was rooming with a married woman nine-years my senior and her child — but that’s a mother’s job, after all. (Of course, she also cried when my sister rented a room in a house with several young Air Force officers while going to school 40 miles across town.)
The built-in babysitter
As Alexa and I reminisced during our Saturday reunion, I brought up a couple of my favorite stories involving her as a child, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World being the most memorable.
As a single mother, Leasa picked up a lot of extra part-time shifts. When babysitting coverage was thin, I would occasionally fill in. My main duties as a child wrangler were:
- Keep her in one piece and don’t lose her
- Make sure she got dressed (she rarely wanted to get dressed)
- Make sure she stayed dressed
- Feed her
- Find ways to keep her occupied
- Make sure she didn’t get into her mother’s extensive makeup products
I do tend to have a good rapport with kids, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing in the early years. Besides being intelligent and imaginative, Alexa was a strong-willed child. She also thought she was the alpha dog and would test me over my higher place in the pack. “You’re not the boss of me! I’m the boss!” she’d shout, running around in her underwear, refusing to get dressed, which would have me reciting the chain of command that left me in charge — as if being the only adult in the room wasn’t legitimacy enough. The situation typically devolved into me explaining that Dad and Mom were the Big Bosses. Then Nana Pat. Then me. Alexa disagreed vociferously on this last point when I tried to impress upon her that she was only the Little Boss who ruled over Derick the Yorkshire terrier, Chloe the Pomeranian puppy, and the mutant guinea pig and his buddy. She challenged me frequently at first, and we had several battles where I had to force her to get dressed — which was like trying to stuff five ill-tempered weasels, who were up for a fight, into a sack at the same time.
Roleplaying — a great way to learn important life lessons
One Saturday morning, I was babysitting while Leasa worked a four-hour shift that she’d picked up. Instead of watching the Little Mermaid for the one-millionth time, Alexa decided instead that she wanted to engage in role-playing games, and I acquiesced. She would assign me my role and tell me the scenario. First, we were Batman and Robin (Guess who got to be Batman? Yeah, not me), Robin Hood and Maid Marian (I was reluctantly busting gender stereotypes back in the 90s as Maid Marian). Eventually, the Little Boss came up with new characters for us to portray.
“I will be the Most Beautiful Woman in the World,” she announced. “And you will be the Handsome Stranger.” (Yes! Finally!). Funnily enough, she’d recently told her mom that she’d wanted to marry me — but that only lasted for about a week until she met my handsome gay brother, and I got kicked to the curb as a future husband.
Micromanaging like only a four-year-old can, Alexa walked me through my lines, and then grabbing my hand, she dragged me to the front door and told me to go outside and ring the doorbell as she closed the door behind me. So I did. The door opened, and her head popped out.
“Yes? Can I help you?”
“Hello. I am the Handsome Stranger.”
“And what do you want?”
“I have traveled far and wide to find the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, so I can meet her. May I please come in?”
Her face resolute, Alexa stared at me with flinty eyes and said matter-of-factly:
“No. I’m not allowed to talk to strangers.”
And with that, the door slammed shut in my face.I chuckled at how she was applying her Stranger-Danger lessons as I reached for the doorknob. But the humor dissipated as I heard the deadbolt slide into place with a snick.
“Alexa! Open the door!” I said, rapping on it.
In a moment of rising panic, I rang the doorbell as I peered through the glass panes and the open Venetian blinds of our front door just in time to see Alexa discarding her t-shirt as she trotted into the downstairs restroom where her mom kept her extensive — and forbidden — makeup collection. Shit! I’d just been outwitted by a four-year-old.
“Hey! Hey! Get your little butt out of there,” I sputtered, helpless, banging on the front door and then ringing the bell repeatedly.
Years earlier, her mom had been a well-paid makeup artist in one of Scottsdale’s most exclusive salons before giving it up to get married and start a family. She still had tons of makeup that she kept in our small down stair’s restroom. Alexa and I were both fascinated with Leasa’s skill, but of course, she’d forbidden her daughter to touch her makeup. But now the Little Boss had free rein of the house while her dumbass babysitter stood out in the 110º F (43º C) heat. I practically sprained my finger ringing the doorbell repeatedly, but Alexa continued to ignore me. Somehow, I had to get inside or this was definitely going to look bad on my childcare resume. Cell phones weren’t a thing, except for wealthy people, so that wasn’t an option. Even if I used a neighbor’s phone, I had no way to reach Leasa, and I didn’t have Nana Pat’s phone number memorized.
So I kept up my vigil, peering in to make sure the Little Boss didn’t start wandering around. (I’m surprised no one called the police about the creeper with a ponytail peering into a townhouse.) There wasn’t much else I could do at the moment — except curse with less and less vigor as my babysitting session, the extreme heat version, dragged on.
The cavalry arrives
It felt like forever, but luckily, I was probably out there for only 20 minutes or so before, much to my relief, Leasa showed up.
“Um, why are you outside and where’s my child?” she asked, her brow creased with curiosity and mild concern, as she walked up.
I told her not to worry and explained her daughter had locked me out but there was no need to worry — I knew her exact location. I explained in brief what had happened as she unlocked the front door. Despite her mild concern, she found it funny (thank God) and couldn’t help but titter at how I’d been outfoxed. We went in — and there, sitting on the bathroom floor, dressed only in her panties and surrounded by makeup, sat my goddaughter. At least she had the decency to look guilty.
“Alexa! Good gracious, child, what have you done to yourself? And why did you lock Sean out? You know that was very naughty!” Leasa tried to act stern but could barely contain her laughter because Alexa had completely blacked out her face with eye shadow. She’d done such a thorough job she reminded me of one of those kids who worked in the coal mines in the early 20th century, before child labor laws. I wasn’t mad, just relieved and Alexa looked so hilarious I ran and grabbed my camera and took a picture. Leasa had a hard time being stern enough to discipline her recalcitrant child but sentenced her to timeout after cleaning her face. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of the photo I took right now, so you’ll just have to imagine it.
A nice day catching up
Alexa is a lot taller these days and is way more tattooed than when she locked me out all those years ago. Now she has a beautiful daughter of her own. I feel bad for the personal turmoil she’s had to endure, but she’s strong. Sometimes I feel guilty for not always being in as close of contact after her mom remarried and moved to Tucson, but they had new lives.
Anyway, the goddaughter and I had a nice visit and my trip to Tucson lasted a lot longer than I’d thought it would. I hadn’t planned and I thought I’d only be there to grab lunch and hang around for a couple of hours, but we made a day of it. We bummed around and walked to several quaint Tucson bars, sipped cocktails, grabbed some dinner, and chatted well into the evening, sharing gossip, and reminiscing before I finally drove home. It was nice catching up with the Most Beautiful Woman in the World — and I didn’t get locked out of anywhere this time.