Unless being wrestled to the ground against my will is considered a good thing, my stint as a day-care worker has hit 200 pounds of face-grabbing snags.
"Get Mr. Corey!" shouts one of 28 tiny residents of Beazer, the toddler cottage at Child Haven.
My fiance, Jo Ann, and I are hoping to procreate. So, to mark Father’s Day on Sunday, I thought I’d road-test my parental instincts.
I’ve never been here before, but I’m guessing that a shelter for kids who are temporarily removed from their parents by Clark County officials is usually kind of a downer. Today, however, cackles abound. These preschoolers have discovered the scope of what the new guy will let them get away with.
"One of the greatest things you can do for these kids is give them one-on-one attention," said Child Haven spokeswoman Christine Skorupski.
So I followed her advice and picked a favorite not long after my 6 a.m. arrival. More accurately, he picked me. While I read a book from the living-room couch, Damon (not his real name) smacked my hand, hard, every time I tried turning the page.
"His parents separated," explained John Geran, one of my three co-workers, "and he was raised mostly by relatives. When he first came here, he was so bad, he was not allowed around the other kids."
Turn back time, and Damon would get every nickel I ever was given for milk. As an adult, however, I’m not afraid.
"Hit me harder," I told the 4-year-old. I learned this from the film "Gandhi."
Damon continued showing me what he learned from Moe Howard of "The Three Stooges." But after a minute or two, he stopped. (Ben Kingsley, you’re a genius.)
I always wanted to be the kind of dad who’s more friend than bad guy.
One problem: 27 others, ages 2-4, watched what I let Damon get away with. And they took mental notes.
"This age is tough," Geran said. "It’s tough to teach them nice touching, that it’s not OK to hit, because they come from backgrounds where they have seen aggressive behavior and domestic violence. That’s the environment they grew up with."
The 120 kids at Child Haven are either returned home — if and when the courts decide their parents have sufficiently straightened themselves out — or are offered for adoption. Their stays range from a week to a year.
"Child Haven is a great facility, but this isn’t where kids should be growing up," Skorupski said. "We need foster parents who are willing to take kids into their homes, because kids thrive in a family environment."
"It’s a blowout!" shouts day-care worker Linda Jackson.
This may not be the medical term. Jackson is cradling an 18-month-old bundle of odor we’ll call Norman.
"Three days ago we had five in a row," she says. "We had to throw away a lot of clothes."
Norman is hoisted onto the changing table.
"There’s not poop," he insists as I pull down his shorts.
Oh man, is Norman lying.
"You got a good one," Jackson says as I closely observe the first human caca that didn’t exit from me. (I’ll bet Eddie Murphy used a stunt double when "Daddy Day Care" got to this part.)
"Oh man!" Norman imitates me.
After I dispose of the diaper and clean Norman up, I request some powder for him, and some butane and a match for my arms.
"I don’t know how my co-workers who have kids go home and start this all over again," said Geran, who has none of his own, "because I’m exhausted."
Geran, a 49-year-old former casino security worker, came to Child Haven following a criminal-justice internship 11 years ago.
"I had the option of going to Metro, juvenile detention or here," he said. "I chose here, because every day is different. You never know what’s gonna happen."
Indeed. The ambush on Mr. Corey begins after breakfast on the courtyard, just after I steal a basketball from a boy who stole it from a girl — to show him how it feels. Within seconds, I’ve got a pile of blueberry-stained flesh on my back that’s growing faster than the CityCenter construction site.
I told my co-workers to let my authority stand. And they do — for about three minutes. Then they blow their whistles and yell.
It’s time to line up for school — across a field at the Agassi Center for Education.
"No!" screams Damon, who dashes in the opposite direction.
If children express extreme reservations, they’re allowed not to go. Damon knows this escape route well. But he and I have bonded. I know I can convince him otherwise.
"I want a doughnut!" he screams.
They’re not serving doughnuts today, only blueberry muffins (hence, the stains).
"Nooo!" Damon screams.
I explain to him that, in life, certain compromises must be made. Damon seems to comprehend this. Eventually, he softens enough for me to walk him to nursery school.
"He’s got a doughnut in his hand!" Ms. Smith shouts.
OK, so I left out one detail.
"Mr. Corey’s a tough negotiator," Geran explains to the teacher, who is not pleased.
At 9 a.m., with most of the kids at school, peace descends on the cottage — until Skorupski returns with a progress report from class. (I’m glad it’s her, because for a minute, I expected Damon to be wheeled back on a Hannibal Lechter contraption.)
"Because you let them all gang up on you, they’re turning around and doing it to each other," she says. "So now we’re seeing little people smacking each other and running around — which is what these people work really hard to teach them not to do."
Did I say I wanted kids?
Watch video of Levitan at Child Haven at www.reviewjournal.com/video/fearandloafing.html. Fear and Loafing appears Monday in the Living section. Levitan’s previous adventures are posted at fearandloafing.com.COREY LEVITANFEAR AND LOAFING