The joys of babysitting and being played by nieces | Jack Marshall’s column

Kids’ concept of time is hopeless and it’s great. Their curious little brains are far too focused on wondering to worry about the difference between five minutes and 20 minutes.

By Jack Marshall
Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 3:49 pm
Updated Monday, 21st March 2022, 12:18 pm

I was babysitting recently when my younger niece said she was hungry. We’d just eaten homemade pizza for tea and my niece is, as a result of being a child, quite small. I was sceptical.

But, of course, I was spiritually incapable of telling this four-year-old she was wrong. I’m simply not strong enough and she knew it, so I bottled it and told her to wait five minutes. What then? she asked. Well, then you can have some fruit.

Can firmly kicked down the road, we waited. She seemed contented in the knowledge that this was now a game. Thirty seconds passed before she piped up. Had it been five minutes yet? she asked, staring at me. Not yet, I said.

Sign up to our daily newsletter


Her elder sister, probably wishing we’d keep quiet so she could watch The Mitchells vs the Machines (good film, would recommend), was oblivious to the world, but my younger niece wasn’t so easily deterred, despite having just eaten more mozzarella than some Tuscan villages.

Another minute passed before she poked me and asked for an update on the progress of the imaginary stopwatch. Her eyes never left the telly, her focus complete, like a surgeon requesting a status report whilst performing an open-heart procedure. I tried not to laugh.

A good bit of the film came on, which bought me six minutes or so. Were we in the clear? Nope. She swivelled her big brown eyes towards me and raised her eyebrows. The game was still on.

How long’s left? she enquired, butting me gently with her head. Three minutes, I said, feeling a flicker of guilt. She sighed, so I cracked and told her she could have something as soon as the film ended. She beamed.

As soon as the credits rolled, she sidled over to me, grabbed my hand, and led me through to the kitchen. She picked out a banana and did a little dance as I peeled it for her.

She ate half of it and left the rest on the coffee table. But it didn’t matter. She’d won.