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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Old Hands at Minding New Granddaughter

By Celia Jones

Our seven-month old granddaughter recently exposed us for the rank amateur child-carers that we were. Our elder daughter had to work and Emma wasn’t seriously ill, but not well enough to go to childcare, so she asked us to care for her. “Sure, caring for a baby - just like riding a bike”.

My husband, Allan, and I were both excited but slightly anxious at the prospect of taking care of our cherubic seraph for a couple of days. As retired grandparents, we could cultivate a special relationship with our grandchild as we had the luxury of time to talk, play and teach her.

Despite Emma’s tummy upset, she seemed placid and happy when my daughter dropped her off. We felt confident we could integrate her into our usual routines.

First, we tried to set up the stroller my daughter left us so we could walk Emma up the street to buy a newspaper. Fifteen frustrating minutes later, we figured out how it unfolded but were still unsure which lever would release the back support.

Emma had to sit up unsteadily for this walk, often leaning to one side. Nevertheless, she managed to seem rather dignified, almost royal as she held out one arm in a kind of royal wave and leaned lopsidedly on the other. Many passersby smiled at us as we struggled to keep the wobbly wheels straight on the uneven sidewalk.

Back from our walk, it was lunchtime and despite her tummy upset, Emma seemed to have an excellent appetite and eagerly opened her heart-shaped mouth to receive any food offered. After lunch, she sat in her little bouncing chair playing with some toys and “talking to herself”. I couldn’t resist picking her up; we had her all to ourselves and could spoil her.

Feeling something wet on my tee shirt, I noticed an ocher-colored stain on my shirt and realized it was seepage coming from the nether regions of our very own angel. I’d mistakenly put the disposable diaper on back to front. Holding Emma at arm’s length, I yelled out to my husband to get the bath going and sluiced her off.

I dried and clothed her before any other accidents could occur. I laughed as she tickled my neck and was totally unprepared for another geyser of half-digested food which then projected from her mouth. I had forgotten how babies tend to leak from several orifices at the same time as a normal matter of course. After this, I started to get a bit gun shy and flinched whenever she so much as coughed.

The real test was yet to come - getting baby to sleep. Changing her nappie, giving her a bottle and massaging her stomach didn’t work, so we allowed her to come into our bed. I spent the next hour listening to her singing to herself, loudly sucking her thumb, dodging her flailing arms and then, crying (me, not Emma).

My husband, who had been my teammate all day in caring for Emma, suddenly developed selective deafness and was soon snoring and “sleeping like a baby” through it all.

There was no alternative but to take her into the lounge room, switch on a late-night movie and hope it would bore her to sleep. There we both sat, at two in the morning, watching a 1940’s mystery - grandmother and granddaughter arm in arm, like two kids on a sleepover.

Thinking about the day we had, I did feel like I was finally getting the hang of things. I mean, I finally figured out which way was up with those new disposable nappies and was becoming so efficient at changing clothes I could work as a dresser in a fashion show. Now, if I could only get her to sleep.

Looking into Emma’s wide-awake, cerulean eyes, I suddenly remembered what I used to do many years ago with my own daughter. It was so simple, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before: “the five-step, never-fail method to get baby to sleep”.

It was all coming back to me: step one, watch and wait for the half-closed eyes; step two, deposit her gently in her bed; step three, tiptoe out and close her bedroom door; step four, run like a bandit to your own bedroom; and step five, close your own bedroom door so you don’t hear the crying. Thankfully, it worked! The only sounds I heard until morning were my husband’s snores.

The next day, Emma had recovered and became very curious about her environment. While I got on the computer to work on a writing piece, I thought she’d be safe crawling around. Just five minutes was time enough for Emma to crawl into the laundry, sample the cat food and play in its water. I luckily caught her just in time to prevent her heading out the cat door.

When my daughter came to pick Emma up the next day, she asked how we had managed. “No problems,” my husband quickly answered.

Life once again got much easier and less demanding without the responsibility of caring for our precious granddaughter. We could get back to the routines we’d developed in our retirement - doing the news crosswords, surfing the Internet, writing articles.

But these activities felt a bit bland, lacking a kind of “piquancy” - the flavor and zest that Emma brought to our lives.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


My own method for getting the grandbabies to sleep involved any kind of music, but especially a Kenny Loggins CD entitled "Back To Pooh Corner", lullabies, some of which he, himself wrote for the same purpose with his own child. Did we just listen to them? Nope! They and I much preferred dancing into the darkness. Worked for me.....

I, too, learned that taking care of a baby is not like riding a bicycle. When my first grandchild was born I went to impart words of wisdom to my first time daughter. Much to my dismay, she ended up teaching me.
That's when I learned to zip my lip.

Sigh. I missed all that -- my grands live far away that this granny didn't get to do those things. Now my little boys are growing up. The oldest started kindergarten this week. Being a long distance grandma is no fun.

Thanks for sharing!

Hi Celia,

Good post! I enjoyed your story.

I had a neighbor years ago who had tried everything to get their baby to sleep but they failed in every effort. The child would not go to sleep.

Finally they realized that every time they took a ride in the car, the baby went to sleep. So, that was the answer.

Every night about 8 P.M. we would see the big Chrysler Cruiser pull out of their driveway and when they came back in about 30 minutes they would be carrying a fast asleep baby.
This went on for almost 2 years until we moved away and I lost track.

Sometimes I wonder if somewhere, someone is still driving that girl around every night to get her to sleep. Do you think?

Grand-baby stories are the best. All their antics are just to entertain the old folks. I think they secretly get together and exchange ideas...."Poop in the tub. That really gets them squealing'!" Or the ever popular "Drop the toothbrush in the toilet, and then watch them hustle!" How else would babies learn all this stuff?

Oh my! In a few days I'm off for two weeks of Granny duty, to help out with the arrival of #6, our fourth granddaughter. My main job, aside from keeping the throng of family and friends fed, is to entertain two-year-old Big Sister.

This isn't new to me, this grandchild business, but all of mine live 1800 or more miles away, and I'm not in good practice. After reading your story, I'm tired just thinking about the coming weeks!

But, tired or not, your words are encouraging, and I do look forward to some humorous stories of my own to take home. Thanks for the bit of color in the day

Granddaughter #3 just arrived 3 weeks ago. #2 is 3 months from being 2. She is the one who has us jumping through hoops. Three year old #1 never lets me give #2 2 minutes unless I give her 5 as a tradeoff. I love being grandpaw paw. I also love being able to leave them with their parents when I'm worn out. Six year old #1 son wishes he could go home with me.

Enjoyed your story. :-)

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