Essay

 
 

Babysitters again for the first time By Ruth Stump

Photo courtesy of Ruth Stump Babysitter Ruth Stump, her husband, Pops, and their grandson, Eddie.

When I announced with apprehension that my husband and I would be babysitting our new grandchildren, my co-workers assured me that caring for a baby was like riding a bike. It all comes back to you immediately.

I wasn't convinced. In fact, I wouldn't get on a bike again on a dare. Hip replacement surgery is not on my agenda.

A recent survey in More magazine reported that the median age for first time grandmothers was 47. If they had included me in that survey, the median age would have jumped to at least 57!

Our first grandchild, Edward James, was christened on Mother's Day in Boston when he was 6 weeks old. I held him, a little nervously, worried about supporting his head properly. And when he cried, I quickly handed him to his mom, dad, two eager uncles or Pops, his grandfather.

My maternal instinct never extended further than my own three sons. I have never had the urge to hold other people's babies. I never babysat when I was a teenager. I am the youngest in my generation so I had no experience with younger cousins. I have been a godmother a number of times and dutifully held the babies during the ceremony, immediately passing them to a relative when the christening was completed.

My son and daughter-in-law were coming to Chicago to attend a college friend's wedding. Of course, we offered to babysit.

Little Eddie was now 4 months old. He could hold his head up, which made me feel more comfortable. I gained confidence when I held this gurgling, happy little guy. I forgot that a baby's skin is softer than a rose petal. The fuzz on his head had a reddish tint like his Uncle Dean's hair. I whispered in his ear that his large dark blue eyes would definitely turn brown like everyone on my side of the family. When he nibbled on my finger, I felt the sharp point of a tooth trying to break through his gum. My long dormant maternal instinct surged again like a giant ocean wave.

My son, Glen, explained Eddie's routine. Lisa breastfeeds. The baby does not like the bottle, even though she started using it when he was just a few days' old. They brought a plastic bottle and formula with them.

"So give it a try," our son advised, "if he's hungry enough, he'll eat."

He also suggested the stroller as a possibility should Eddie get fussy. Pops and I felt we could handle it.

They left, maybe a little anxious, but I could see they were looking forward to a carefree evening with old friends.

We laid down on our bed, ready to relax and watch TV for awhile. Eddie was between us, dozing, his head resting comfortably on my arm. At eight o'clock, I said maybe we should wake him up and feed him. Then we could put him to bed for the night and go to sleep ourselves. We were night owls in our younger days, but now go to bed very early.

Pops was wary. "Let him sleep," he warned.

I surreptitiously kept nudging him gently until he was awake. That was a big mistake. He started howling. I poured the formula into the little plastic bottle and warmed it in the microwave. I remembered to test the temperature by splashing a little on my wrist, then tried to feed the baby. He didn't want the bottle and cried even harder when I tried to put it in his mouth.

"Forget it," Pops said, as he rocked the baby in his arms.

The phone rang. It was nine-thirty. It had to be Glen. No one calls us that late.

"Don't pick up this phone! He'll hear the baby!" Pops said.

I shut the bedroom door and ran to grab the kitchen phone.

I sounded very cheery when I answered.

"Everything's fine," I said, hoping I sounded believable. "We're having a little trouble with the bottle feeding, but otherwise, everything's fine."

"We expected that," our son said. "Do you want us to come home?"

"No, no," I insisted, "enjoy yourselves. Everything's under control," I fibbed.

We were frantic. How could I expect a 4-month-old baby to adjust to my schedule? Never again would I wake him.

Pops suggested we forget the bottle.

"Let's just put him down for the night in the Pack and Play," Pops said.

We carried the baby upstairs to the guest bedroom. I managed to change his diaper while he continued to scream, then we put him down.

Pops suggested I stay out of the bedroom, maybe both of us hovering over him was too much for the baby, I willingly retreated. "Could he have a heart attack from crying so hard and so long?" Pops called to me as I paced outside the bedroom.

"That's not possible," I said confidently. I did remember a few temper tantrums that were totally unnerving to me but did no ultimate harm to our child.

Eddie was quiet when Pops was holding him but as soon as he put him down he started screaming again.

"Let's try the stroller," I said, our last resort.

We carried him back to our bedroom and pushed the stroller back and forth. He was suddenly quiet and focused intently on the TV. It was as if the whole episode never happened. Glen and Lisa opted not to have a TV in their small apartment. Eddie was entranced by the flashing lights.

Eventually, we turned the TV off and I pushed the stroller back and forth. I peeked and saw he was ASLEEP.

It was 10:30 p.m. We both went to bed, exhausted. I heard the door open at a quarter to one.

"Eddie's in here," I called. Glen picked up his angelic sleeping baby and took him upstairs.

The next morning, Eddie's parents were amazed. "He never woke up when I picked him up from the stroller," Glen said, "and he slept through the night. That's amazing considering he didn't eat."

Pops and I just shrugged. Eddie couldn't rat on us.

Eddie is visiting again in a few weeks. He is eating rice cereal and will soon add fruit to his diet. Maybe he will even take the bottle.

 

 

 

Ruth Stump is the mother of three sons and now has one grandson. She lives in Downers Grove with Eddie's grandfather, Pops.

 

 
 





 
 
 
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