So Tuesday night was our first babysitting gig with our new granddaughter Lainey who was exactly one month old on Thursday.
We’ve had this on the books for quite a while and during that time I’d built up a fair amount of first-time-in-32-years anxiety about it. For Sara, this would be the first time she’s changed a diaper or tried to solve the Chinese puzzle that is a onesie since her niece Jessica was a toddler, and Jessica just had her second child a month before Lainey. So to say we’re a little out of practice is fair.
We arrive at Meg and Ted’s—Meg’s running around trying to get ready to meet Ted at a Toddler CPR class in Oakland, which is what passes for a “date” for parents of a 1-month old, and at the same time give Sara and me a crash course in bottle warmers, diaper “blow outs” (I’ll just let you imagine what that is) and the numerous options for soothing a child who refuses to be soothed, including a rocking technique called the “Dr. Munson” which is an odd cross between a baptism and a forward lateral.
The whole baby thing is starting to come back to me now.
Meg leaves for her class and Lainey immediately starts to fuss so we spring into action and ask ourselves, “What’s the first thing you do when a baby starts to fuss? Answer: shove one of two things into the hole where the noise is coming from:
1) a “Binkey” or what we used to call a pacifier, or more accurately a “plug” or…
2) Food. This works for me personally so we go for door #2.
Preparing a bottle for an infant in 2017 is a little like assembling an Ikea Kvartal Triple Track Curtain Rail System except there are more parts. But wait, there are pre-assembled bottles in the fridge, so Sara holds Lainey who is gaining energy like a Category 2 Tropical Storm while I pop the bottle into the Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer, which I immediately trust because it has a Doctor in the name and I set it for the longest 2 minutes an 40 seconds of my life.
Bottle warmed to the perfect temp (wrist test still works, thanks Doctor Brown), I sit on the couch, Sara hands me Lainey, we get comfy, I insert the bottle at precisely the wrong angle which simulates more of a water boarding experience than breast feeding, so I adjust. Lainey happily accepts the bottle and Houston, the Apollo has landed. She WAS hungry! Which means we guessed right! Which means we are off to a magnificent start and it should all be smooth sailing from here!
After a few minutes Lainey relaxes into a rhythm and her eyes go from big, blue almonds to barely visible slits and like a little 10 lb. drunk she passes out on my lap. Sara and I exchange “high five” looks. “We are amazing grandparents”, we think in unison.
I lean back on the couch, Sara places our little sleeping angel granddaughter on my chest, we find a show on HBO and everything is quiet, and wonderful and I’m bonding with my granddaughter and we’re watching a show about 17th century England and except for the torture scenes, Meg and Ted’s living room is… well, it’s just a lovely, blissful scene, a tableau of serenity and love and calm and adults in control…
…and then Lainey starts to stir just a little, in that cute, baby twitch kind of way, and Sara and I look at each other and think exactly the same thing at the same time…”Oh crap, she’s waking up!! What do we do?”
Somehow we were both lulled into thinking this scene of revery we’d created—which was certainly not just a stroke of dumb luck but wholly due to our special, almost baby whisperer-level prowess—would last the full 3 hours we were in charge. And Lainey’s mom and dad would arrive back home to witness this very scene; me on the couch, asleep, Lainey snoozing away on my chest, the house clean, dishes put away, laundry folded, somehow Sara had managed to cook us a 3 course meal which somehow I’d eaten while prone with a baby snoozing on top of me, further proof of both our babysitting awesomeness, and they’d whisper to each other, “Oh, look. How cute is that? Lainey and Grandpa. You guys are amazing! Thank you! We had our first real, romantic, “us-time” at the class we took that taught us how to revive choking babies, all thanks to you guys.”
And…scene. Cue baby.
Lainey somehow goes from cute baby twitching and coo-ing to full writhing, red-faced, Code 3, demon child in about 10 seconds. We pause HBO and still brimming with unjustified confidence, go for the Binkey. We’re thinking “it’s noise, it’s coming out a hole, this plugs the hole. Do it now”.
Lainey chomps on the Binkey making a sound that clearly communicates her thorough disappointment and then spits out the Binkey. We go to Plan B (for Bottle). Bottle #2 goes from fridge to Dr. Brown’s Bottle Warmer in a flash. 2 hours and 40 minutes later, or so it seems, it’s almost ready. Meanwhile, Sara is holding Lainey and is trying everything…the fast walk, the rapid bounce, the side-to-side w/vertical intermittent lifts, and of course, the “Dr. Munson”. Nothing is working. Lainey has achieved a sound level that can only be described as a WWII air-raid siren + Godzilla x 10. I picture the International Space Station passing over Northern California and the captain saying, “Shhhh…what is that sound?” Pictures have gone out of alignment on the wall. A Fed-Ex delivery guy comes to the door and instead of knocking, drops the package and runs, fingers in ears, back to his idling truck in fear.
6 days and 12 hours later, bottle #2 is warm. I sprint through the wall of squall to its source, Sara is mouthing something…I can’t quite…make it out…something like..”It’s a lot louder when you’re the one holding her!” I nod in agreement. She moves to the couch, I hand Sara the bottle, Lainey toys with the idea of feeding but it only takes a few meager attempts to decide it isn’t what she wants.
By now all fantasies of landing the cover of Grandparents Weekly have vanished into thin air. We review the list of stuff that babies cry about…
1) I’m hungry
2) I’m tired
3) Something’s in my diaper, don’t know what it is, get it out now
4) I have gas after you fed me wrong
5) I’m actually fine I’m just messing with you
We’re sure it must be #4. We rule out options 1 and 2 because she just had a nap and wasn’t interested in the bottle. It couldn’t be #3 because since we’ve been there we’ve changed her 4 times and no human can produce that much waste material in that period of time. We’re thinking it’s gas. Must be. It’s amazing how we project adult behaviors onto babies but the expression on Lainey’s face is EXACTLY the look I get on my face after eating too many Trader Joe’s tamales. The family resemblance is uncanny. Of course i don’t cry when I have intestinal distress, only on the inside.
So we execute the burp protocol. Sara has better rhythm than me so she swings into action. She’s bobbing Lainey up and down in a quick march Samba kind of thing that I would find upsetting but that’s just me and it starts to have a calming effect. So now that the Force 5 hurricane is hovering around a 2, I offer to take over and give Sara a break, because that’s the kinda guy I am and that proves to be such a bad move.
The eye of the storm passes and we’re back in quivery lip, beet red, all out barbaric, unleash the Kracken scream-fest.
It’s now okay to say this. It took a while for our collective grandparental pride to recover, but at this point of the evening this little bundle of wildly anticipated, over-the-moon, unbridled love has brought two grown adults to their knees. I’m thinking, we will never be asked to babysit again. If Meg and Ted were to come early for some reason and walk in on this, we’d be written up for misdemeanor child…watching incompetence. They would never speak to us again. The names Grandpa Jim and Grandma Sara would never be spoken of at family dinners, lest the story be told of how they nearly killed their first and only grandchild.
But as it turned out, this was merely the 3rd act where it looks like the end for our heroes. Sara, my wife, the voice of reason and wisdom in our relationship, suggests that maybe the problem is… #3 after all. Why not check? Everything else has failed. What can we lose?
So I place a still wailing Lainey on the changing mat, fumble through the 84 snaps that release the diaper, which owing to some amazing technology, shows a bright blue stripe running down the middle, which indicates there is indeed wetness! Sara’s over my shoulder, providing encouragement and project managing the diaper change, which I very much appreciate.
With a near giddy sense of hope, I remove said diaper and at that moment, Lainey stops crying. Simultaneously, Sara and both look outside through the disheveled blinds and cracked window glass and notice that even though it’s roughly 8 p.m., the sun is coming up, the birds are singing and there’s a big rainbow that’s arching over the house, unicorns are playing in the street. We both look back down at Lainey and she’s transfixed, slightly cross-eyed, staring right at me then at Sara, maybe for the first time all night, as if to say, “Well done, Grandpa and Grandma. You figured it out!”
We take our time. Lainey seems to be enjoying the whole experience of being on her back, freed from her wet diaper, as one would. She’s focused like a laser on the black and white pattern on the storage bin that holds her changing supplies. We move it closer so she can touch it, not purposely of course, but inadvertently as she furiously pumps her perfect little limbs with excitement. Legs that will one day carry her on half marathons with her dad, fingers that will play piano duets with her mom, arms that will carry binoculars on birding expeditions with her grandpa, and fingers that will learn to sew quilts with her Grandma.
We are once again feeling somewhat useful and competent. The movie we were watching on HBO has been frozen on a frame of Kit Harrington looking angst ridden and gorgeous, for almost an hour. We prefer the entertainment package wriggling happily on the floor at the moment so we turn off the TV, I pick Lainey up and cradle her in my knees and we just regard each other, silently, in earnest, for a moment. I think she likes my Harry Potter/Sigmund Freud style glasses. I know babies can’t really smile until they’re around 6 weeks old but I swear she does. Further proof of her exceptionalness.
Meg comes home first, having vacated their class after one too many “let’s go over what to do if your baby starts choking” exercises and using fake babies to practice on. Ted follows a few minutes later. Lainey is still leaned back on my knees and when she sees Ted, on cue, she emits a poop that breaks the sound barrier and causes convulsive laughter among the adults. Even her “poop face” is adorable. And for the present, her poops are, too.*
*I’m aware I’m ascribing endearing human qualities to a baby’s excrement. If I remember, this phase doesn’t last very long and quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares. By right around potty training time, children become capable of unleashing holy apocalyptic hell in a diaper. Yes. I remember.
Note to self: Get on Amazon. Order hazmat suits.
Adults back in charge, Lainey gets hungry again, this time for the genuine article, Sara and I have a snack to replenish the 2,500 calories we each burned babysitting our 1 month old granddaughter. True story. Another note to self: Create a FitBit for grandparents and babysitters.
After one more diaper change (un-believable) Lainey falls back asleep on her Dad. And after hugging the adults and giving Lainey a gentle kiss on the head, Sara and I head back home. We de-brief on our 5 hour introductory babysitting experience and conclude it was a qualified success. No lives were lost. No first responders called. The house and neighborhood are still in good stead, except for the large, gaping, mile-long rift in the pavement that runs curiously close to the Hayward Fault and that supposedly opened up around 7:15 p.m. starting at about Laguna Street in Oakland.