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The Yin and Yang of Babysitting Grandchildren

Usually, when my granddaughters come to visit, their mom and dad accompany them, and most of my time is spent with four-year-old May. We go to the playground and do our interpretation of gymnastics, the Cape Cod Children’s Museum for some indoor fun, the Woods Hole Aquarium to see the seals, the beach to hunt for shells and tentatively enter the surf, toss balls to Mr. Woo (her pug dog) in the backyard, visit the ice cream store and have all sorts of quality time together. The care of Eloise, her soon-to-be one-year old sister, is generally relegated to my daughter and son-in-law, leaving me blissfully forgetful of the depth of care that infants require. Thus, when my daughter asked my husband and me to babysit both girls for four days and nights, we literally leapt at the opportunity.

I should have realized that I was in for an exhausting time when weeks before my granddaughters’ arrival my daughter cautioned me time and again about what a “tough” baby Eloise was. I paid no mind to her warnings. Nancy was a “tough” baby and I used to feel sorry for her older sister Jessica, but we managed to survive. “Relax.” I told her, “Everything will be fine.”

It took me a day to adapt to Eloise’s way of life. I was used to preparing May for bed; a bath, brush teeth, kisses for everyone, two books, her “good dreams” doll and its friends, a nightlight, and leave the bedroom door partially open. Eloise’s bedtime routine consisted of a diaper change, bottle of formula, put her into a sleep sack, turn on her “noise machine,” and escape from the room before she realized that I was gone. Sounds simple, right? Well, here is where fantasy vs. reality enters into the picture. The reality is that Eloise would resist my every attempt to change her by rolling over, holding her body rigid and screaming. She was not about to go down without a fight.

Getting her into a sleep sack with its tiny snaps proved to be another monumental undertaking. Do the manufacturers of baby clothes ever try their designs out on grandparents? And what sadistic genius makes sleepers that button up the back?  It’s one thing to get babies’ squirming little bodies into these outfits, but then you have to turn them over to snap up the back while they kick and scream. Sleepers should snap up the front, pure and simple. Better yet, design them with Velcro!

If I was a bit obtuse over picking up on my daughter’s cautionary advice, I quickly became enlightened the morning after her parents’ departure. The first cry came about 4:30AM. Since there was no hint of daylight in the room, I thought for certain that her wail was a momentary lapse in her routine and she was sure to fall back to sleep. How wrong I was! Her sleep sack had no bearing upon her ability to stand tall in her Pack ’n Play® and scream to her heart’s content. I jumped out of bed and ran to prepare a bottle before her sister, asleep in the next room, awoke. She drank. She cooed. And her eyes shone bright with wakefulness in the darkened room. There was no way that this little ball of energy was going to return to the land of baby dreams.

The four days progressed in a similar fashion. Eloise awoke every morning between 4 and 4:45 AM. I gave her a bottle, changed her and played with her. About an hour after she awoke, she would cry for her breakfast, but didn’t want me to put her down while I prepared it. Have you ever tried to make a cheese omelet while holding a baby on your hip? You have to be a contortionist! Or in your 20’s or 30’s! However, after a while, I did arrive at a simple solution. I thought back to the days when my daughter Jessica was a baby and how she loved to bang on pots and pans while I worked in the kitchen. With this image in mind, I gave Eloise some plastic mixing bowls, a bottle brush, some rubber spatulas, a mushroom brush and a variety of harmless kitchenware and let her go to town. She entertained herself long enough for me to fry her egg and toast a muffin.

Invariably, while Eloise sat happily eating her breakfast, one fistful at a time, May would awaken and want some of her grammy’s time. I would hold her (the joy of each day) as she snuggled into wakefulness. Then, she too would be hungry for a pre-breakfast snack. I don’t know if my soon-to-be one-year old granddaughter is capable of manipulating a situation, but I find it amazing that whenever I would leave to do something for May, Eloise would have a crying fit.  I honestly think the intelligence of babies is underestimated.

Eloise is a keen observer and sees all of the things that her sister is capable of doing. She wants to walk, but still lacks the coordination. She is probably teething, but cannot express the degree to which she feels pain.  Eloise is going through some tough times and I believe that her “fussy” behavior is due to frustration over her limitations.  One day soon, when she begins to walk and can verbally express her emotions, I am certain that her beguiling personality will consistently shine, rewarding those who have patiently helped her through her trying times.

May’s special time came during Eloise’s twice-daily naps. Fortunately, our very good friends, Marge and Jim, grandparents of six, were visiting during the first two days of the girls’ stay and then Aunt Jessica, an ardent fan of both nieces, was with us during the last two days. My husband Richard, true to his image as The Literate Chef, took over all kitchen duties, preparing tasty meals in gratitude to the much-appreciated help everyone gave to our granddaughters.

A good sport and willing to go great lengths to keep children entertained, Marge asked May if she would like to give her a makeover. Marge set no limits on May’s creativity as May applied bright red lipstick to Marge’s lips, dark blue eye shadow to the lids of her eyes and wrapped her hair in rollers. I laughed to the point of tears when I viewed the results of May’s handiwork. My turn came next and, as I watched the serious expression on her little face while she labored over each application, my heart burst with love.

Children have an uncanny ability to sense those who like them and May and Eloise immediately warmed up to Jim and Marge, allowing me the time to do the many tasks that are a part of child-care: straightening up, doing laundry, getting baths ready, preparing bottles and meals, etc. So it took four adults, or three in the latter case to tend to the needs of these two little balls of energy; and to think, 35 years ago it could be done with just one or two of us. A sure sign that child rearing is a job for the young.

When it came time to leave, May cried as she always does so we made funny faces at each other to ease her departure. And Eloise? Eloise contentedly sat in her car seat, as she always does, happily dangling her feet in anticipation of the ride ahead.  As for this grammy, I stood waving goodbye with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I looked forward to a return to a somewhat relaxed routine. No more 4:45 AM wake-up cries. No more juggling to meet the needs of a child who is unable to walk or verbally express her feelings. No more evening baths or “just one more book, P-L-E-A-S-E” while my family awaits my presence at the dinner table. No more trips to the beach lugging sand toys, beach blankets, a variety of snacks, diaper bags, two umbrellas, and all the paraphernalia that will help to make our 1 ½ hour stay at the beach a somewhat manageable one. Yes, on the one hand I was ready to return to a somewhat normal routine.

But, when I entered my all too quiet house and saw the remains of what was once a house filled with life; toys and oft-read books scattered throughout every room, little fingerprints marking the polished furniture, a toddler’s chair displaying the remains of lovingly prepared waffles, dinosaur TubFuns attached to the walls of the bathtub, the empty swing that hangs idly from the branch of the cherry tree, and the driveway filled with the sand toys washed out by my granddaughter May, a pang of sadness came over me and I found myself counting the days when our granddaughters will once again return to fill our days with their lively curiosity and need to explore their world, but this time with their parents to share the workload. Meanwhile, I will clean the house, erase the fingerprints and pack away the toys that will lay in wait for their return.

8 comments on “The Yin and Yang of Babysitting Grandchildren

  1. You are a wonder, Betty! i wish i could have seen you lugging all the paraphenila to the beach.

    • Yes, Rita, I was quite a sight. But an even better sight was seeing me hastily leave the beach with a screaming baby in my arms. The ride home was equally hairy. Thankfully, the short term memory is the first to go and I will once again joyfully volunteer to babysit.

  2. I am exhausted just reading this! Now I understand Richard’s comments about recovery time. I know who to come to for advice when my time of being “grammy” comes.

  3. A lovely story Betty. You are a better woman than me. I can barely handle one 2 and a half year old for two hours. BRAVO!

    • Let me tell you Joan, I was exhausted by Thursday. And to think, I wanted them to stay the week, but Nancy and Jeremy insisted that they would be too much. I guess they know best. I look forward to seeing you in August.

  4. Oh Section 6 of Jones Beach…you have to be young to spend hours playing in the sand with the girls.

  5. What a good memory! How about “I have to make a river?” You used to get so embarrassed. Love to you, my dear friend.

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