"You should have told me, Randy!" Carol said, still stunned. "I give you a rough time now and then, but this is a family secret. I would never betray you on something like this. This is no different than if you were in a body cast. We would have to take care of you like...." She stopped short.
"Like a baby. I know."
"So. You definitely have to wear disposable diapers?"
"Mom makes me," he said, dejectedly.
"That makes sense, if you can't walk. This is just so bizarre. I can't believe my 16 year old brother is a baby. I have so many questions. I mean, you have no idea!"
"I figured you would."
"Are you going to have to grow up all over again? I mean, when I'm getting my diploma, you'll be just starting preschool. By the time I'm out of college, you'll be in first grade. I mean, you'll probably make a perfect score on the SAT...."
"It wears off tomorrow night. I'll start 11th grade the same time you do."
"That's good then. But you've had to do this all week long. You poor..." She stopped again.
"Baby," Randy finished. "Just say it. I'm used to it by now."
"Randy, remember when Josh was a baby, and we were like in first grade? We both wanted to help him be a regular kid."
"I don't follow you."
"What I'm getting at is we let him do things mom wouldn't. Like climbing the big slide at the playground. You encouraged him not to be scared to try stuff. See, Mom wants to baby you. But I'm not mom. Here, stand up."
"Bull. You can stand, and you can walk." Carol took him off the bed and held him while he stood on the floor, then took both his hands in hers. They walked to a corner and she turned him around. As Randy reached for the wall, she pulled his hand away.
"OK. Stay standing," she said, and quickly moved to the other side of the room. "Now Randy, walk to me. Don't hold anything."
He cautiously stepped forward, then pulled his foot back.
"Come on. If you fall, it's no big deal. Stop thinking like an infant, and just do it."
So Randy took a step, and another, and another, and Carol reached out to catch him as he fell toward her. "I walked!!" he shouted excitedly. "Yeah, you did it!" she said, hugging him. He walked again, falling once, but getting back up, and then walked back to her.
"Now, let's see if we can get you out of diapers," she said, "and I don't mean just put some pants on you. I don't guess our mom bought you any small undershorts."
"She said I had to wear these. But I still have the clothes I wore when I got shrunk. See?" He toddled over to the dresser and pointed to where they had been placed, well beyond his reach. Carol recognized the tiny golf shirt, the jeans and the cap. "Wow-- looks like these were in the dryer too long. All right, let's get you into regular clothes. Tear off that diaper and put on these boxers."
He fumbled with the tapes and finally got them apart, then stepped into the shorts while Carol pulled them up. She followed with a pair of regular shorts. "Now, let's brush your hair, put on your little cap..." She slipped on his socks and tied his shoes, then walked him over to the full length mirror in her room. "See? You're a big boy. Now the big test for you will be going to the bathroom. Let's see how big you can be."
She turned on the light and stepped out, pulling the door behind her. For the first time in days, Randy had some privacy. While he was a bit too short to stand at the toilet, he could climb up on it and stay there. It took awhile, but he finished and pulled his shorts back on. As he came out, he shouted "I did it!" Carol stifled a laugh, for his voice carried all the pride of a toddler's accomplishment.
"Then let's wash your little hands, OK?" she said, realizing that she had slipped into her babysitter voice. As she held him to the sink, he washed up. This is a lot of work too, she thought.
As the afternoon wore on, Carol patiently worked with her brother on drinking from a cup, sitting up on a regular chair, and feeding himself macaroni with a spoon. Randy decided that there were some advantages to being a baby. Something as ordinary as an Oreo looked as big as a hockey puck and tasted like rich European chocolate to his baby taste buds. He gorged himself on a variety of foods that Carol placed before him.
Mindy pulled into the driveway and opened the door. "Mom's home," Carol said casually. Randy burst into a smile. "Mommy!!" he yelled, and ran over to her.
Mindy returned the smile and picked him up. "You learned to walk!" she said.
"Carol helped me!" he said, pointing to her.
"So you know all about this?" Mom asked Carol.
"Yeah mom. I'm sorry I freaked out on the phone. And I understand why you made up that story about Randy being gone to camp. He explained the whole thing to me."
"I'm glad you know then. But I hope you appreciate that this stays here at the house. I guess I need to pay you..."
Randy interrupted. "Mom! You paid Carol to watch me?"
Carol snickered. "What do you mean 'watch' you? Randy, I changed your diapers and took care of you all day."
Randy was about to say something, but suddenly he felt his stomach churning from the Oreos. "Mommy... I feel yucky," he began, and he literally tossed his cookies. Randy vomited twice more and burst into tears when the episode ended.
"That's disgusting!" Carol said, turning her head.
"Poor Randy!" said Mindy, calmly cleaning them both up with a wet towel. Pressing her lips to his forehead, she added, "He's running a temperature."
"He was fine a moment ago," said Carol.
"Mommy," Randy whimpered, "I don't feel good at all..."
"I know, sweetheart. Let's get you cleaned up." They disappeared into the nursery, and Carol heard her mother shriek.
"I guess we forgot to tell you that he isn't in diapers..." she called.
"Great timing," replied Mindy. When she came back out with Randy, he was back in Pampers, and his head was buried on her shoulder while he cried. At first, Carol thought it was embarassment from being returned to baby clothes, but he wasn't.
"I'm so cold, Mommy," he said.
"Let's wrap you up in a warm blanket," Mom responded. Turning to Carol, she added, "He's got diarrhea, an earache, and an awful diaper rash. How many times did you change him today?"
"Uh...About noon, I guess."
"Just once? Did you clean him up?"
"He was wet, that's all."
"That's all, huh. For crying out loud, Carol. That's how babies end up with diaper rash."
"Mom, he's 16 years old..."
"Not right now he isn't." Mindy hugged Randy more tightly as he continued to cry, and Carol realized that her mom was right.
"I see what you mean, Mom. When we had the flu, Randy still wanted to be taken care of. Josh is that way, too."
"You are too, Carol, when you get sick."
"So that's why he doesn't care that he's being babied. I guess when you don't feel well, you don't care much about anything."
"The only thing that takes more work than a baby that's well..." Mom began.
"...is a baby that's sick. I guess so. So what do we do? People don't call me to babysit when their baby is sick."
"Gee, I wonder why!" Randy called out.
"We can't let him get dehydrated. I'll call your dad so he can bring home pedialyte, eardrops, whatever else I can think of. Now hold your baby brother while I make some calls."
Carol felt genuine sympathy for the small boy on her lap, brother or not. "I'm sorry your ear hurts," she said. "It's OK to cry. You're a baby. Daddy will be home soon, and we'll get you feeling better, OK?"
"Feed him this," said Mom, bringing over a bottle, "and then I'll change him."
"But you just changed him a few minutes ago..."
"Carol, you have a lot to learn. Do you think I can just give him an Imodium? Or a spoonful of Pepto?
To Carol's surprise, Randy reached for the bottle and began drinking from it. He stopped crying and she wiped off some tears. "I guess you really are thirsty," she said, watching him gulp the fluid. "And if you were big right now, I guess you'd be in the bathroom every few minutes. I'm so stupid."
Randy nodded. "Oh who asked you?" she said. Mom was back now. "I need you to run out and get another package of diapers, and baby wipes. I didn't think about that," she said, proffering some cash.
"It's okay, Mom, I'll use the money you gave me for babysitting. Pampers, right? Medium size I guess."
"You don't have to spend your own money, dear..." Mom began.
"It's okay," she said. She kissed Randy on the forehead and handed him off to their mother. "Randy, I don't get many chances to buy Pampers for you. I'll be right back."
Passing Josh on the way out, Carol commanded, "Help mom all you can. The baby's sick." Josh rolled his basketball into the garage and headed inside.
As it turned out, everybody fussed over Randy that evening. "I feel so baddd," he moaned, and it didn't matter to him that Josh might hear him talking. So drained was Randy of energy that, for the first time since his ordeal started, he was happy when he was being bottle fed, or rocked to sleep, or even to be in dry diapers. When he woke up feeling bad, it didn't embarass him to cry. Carol, Mom and Dad were up all night with him, and he didn't worry which one was taking care of him as his fever wore on.
The entire family was in the living room as the first rays of dawn broke through. For the moment, Mindy and Randy were sharing a rocking chair. "Your fever's down," she said, sleepily, "How're you feeling?"
"A lot better. But I'm so tired."
"Your stomach flu finally ran its course too. It's been at least an hour since I had to change you..."
"You mean since 'we' had to," said Dad, taking Randy from Mom. "We made it through the night. We came very close to running out of vital supplies," he siad in mock seriousness.
Carol was up too. "I'm glad you're feeling better. This is not my idea of an all-night party."
"You know, this is the first time we've pulled together as a family in a long time," said Mindy.
The clock radio could be heard going off in the next room. "Time for me to wake up," said Dad, "If I had gone to sleep." He smiled at his baby boy. "I wouldn't need an alarm clock if you could stay this size. Here, go back to Mommy now."
"Let me hold him instead," Carol volunteered.
"I'll concentrate on getting your Dad ready for work," said Mindy. When she came back with some coffee, she saw that all three of her children were dozing.
A shower, a shave, and coffee gave Dad his second wind, and now they would be able to go to bed. "No offense, Randy," said Carol, "but I'll be glad when you grow up. I don't think I'll have kids till I'm 30."
"How about you, Mom?" Randy asked. "Will you be glad to see me grow back up? I mean, you aren't going to give me that stuff Miss Hepston gave you. Are you?"
"No, honey. Randy, you're a cute little baby, and it's been great having you this size again for a week, but your father and I actually talked about this last night...."
Dad stood next to her and finished "...and we pretty well agreed that we don't want to keep you at baby size. We're proud of the kids we got, and we don't need to have another baby."
"I totally agree," said Carol, "It's not even worth thinking about as a way to scare you. Can I go to bed already?!" Dad waved and went out the door.
"You know?" said Randy, as Mom picked him up, "This wasn't as bad as I expected. I got used to it, but I woulnd't want to stay this age."
"Nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there, huh?" Carol remarked, yawning.
"Randy, I hope you can go to bed without a story, hmm?" Mom asked.
"You can even put me in that sleeper with the choo choo trains on it," he said, laughing. He was ready to go to bed. Mom changed him, dressed him in that silly looking sleeper, gave him a pacifier and a kiss, then tucked him in his crib.
That afternoon, after everyone had gotten some sleep, Randy played quietly inside his playpen while Josh watched cartoons. He figured it would be the last time he would see one from the inside, and it was like having his own room. Stacking blocks was more fun than he had remembered, and he wished he had played this earlier in the week.
By nine that night, it was apparent that Randy was beginning to age. His stubby hair was growing out into curls. Like regressing, the rapid aging was tiring. Mindy dressed her son in toddler sized clothes she had bought for the occasion, and satisfied that his clothes were growing with him, she tucked him into his regular bed. "I don't want you to wake up tomorrow in a big diaper," she said. This time, he kissed her. "I love you mommy," he said.
"Remember that when you're 16," she replied.
Mindy watched as he slowly went from toddler to preschooler to about 7 years old, until finally her own lack of sleep caught up with her.
"Mom? Mom?" A big guy shook Mindy awake. "Hey Mom. Did you fall asleep in my room? I didn't hear you come in."
"Randy!!" she exclaimed, and jumped up from her chair. "You're taller than me again!" she said, hugging him.
"Again?" he repeated, then decided he hadn't heard her right.
"Randy's back from camp!" Josh called, marching into the room, "Hey, Carol!!"
"Camp? What camp is that?" Randy asked.
"Camp Me-Get-Concussion," Carol said. "Don't you remember being ther? They told us at the ER to keep an eye on you today, right mom?"
"Hey," said Josh, "where's the baby?"
"What's he talking about?" asked Randy.
"The whole week you were gone, we took care of a baby!" said Josh. "I helped."
"We had to say goodbye to the baby last night, Josh," said Mom.
"A whole week? What day is this?"
"It's Thursday, the 23rd," said Carol.
"It is? Man. I don't remember a thing."
"Then you'd better take it easy today," said Mom. "Stay here so we can keep an eye on you, OK?"
"Jeez Mom, I'm 16 years old and... aw don't say it," said Randy. "You say it to me all the time, and them too."
"Oh? What do I always say?" asked Mom.
"That no matter how old I get, I'll always be your 'baby'."
"That's true, Randy," said Mindy Pratterman to her 16 year old son. "More true than you will ever know."