Adventures in Babysitting
I never baby-sat growing up. Apart from a mild interest inspired by The Baby-Sitter’s Club, I had no desire to, nor, I’m sure, any talent for it. I’ve never been a “kiss the boo boos” nurturer and really don’t like kids anyway – and didn’t even when I was one.
That’s how I managed to elude any sitter duties, until thirty years old. When some dear friends needed someone to watch their baby for a few hours, I happily accepted. The baby is five months old and I had been in her life and she in mine since before she was born. She’s always happy and smiling and she, with most of my students and a few small relatives and family friends (literally a few – it’s probably two or three max), is among the kids I do like.
After I arrived, for a few fleeting seconds, I felt the full weight of what I was doing upon me: for a couple of hours this human being would be totally dependent on me – and totally helpless if I screwed up. I thought, I can’t believe we let teenagers do this.
Although it was near her bedtime, I had a feeling, when she wasn’t asleep at her mother’s leaving, that she probably would be up for a while, which was just fine by me. She had had a busy day and I was fresh and unusual excitement. Though I employed all the tricks I had been advised to soothe her to sleep, I was happy to play with her.
We bounced (again, literally) from one activity to the other. At one point, I put her in the bouncy chair and when I noticed that she saw me absently moving three rings from one end of a bar to the other, I began showing her how to do it by one-by-one, moving each ring along – the teacher in me instinctively awaking to break a daunting task into manageable steps. Back and forth we moved the rings, and I was reminded of the time I taught my terrified niece how to swim over the course of an afternoon by slowly easing her from the edge of pool with water wings to the center without. When her mom expressed surprise that I had actually managed to do something her parents hadn’t been able to, my aunt remarked, “Well, she is a teacher.”
Later, I read to the baby from The Kiss Box. Halfway through the story my voice cracked and tears welled as I discovered how this mother bear and her son kept in touch with kiss boxes when they were apart. The baby could tell something had changed in my voice and craned her neck to look back at me. It took me a few moments to identify, but I soon recognized her expression: compassion.
Shortly after that, I spilled milk all over her. I knew the bottle was dripping slightly but didn’t realize how much until half-way through the feeding. She started crying and I felt that the top half of her onesie was wet. Getting her out of the wet outfit into a dry one was the most stressful task of my week. She went along with whatever way I needed to lay or pull or turn her, but if she could talk she probably would have said, “Will you figure this out already!”
She didn’t become inconsolable until near the end of our evening together. She had been yawning and rubbing her eyes for some time but didn’t want to sleep, and I think it all became too much. I was able to distract her for a few more moments with my hair, which she really really liked to run her fingers through, but soon that ceased to be comforting, too. Luckily, her father arrived home and scooped her up, whereupon she instantaneously stopped crying and in no time after that fell asleep.
So, to recap: I got to play with the baby for a few hours; we both spent some parts of the evening crying, though not at the same time; I spilled milk all over her but she didn’t seem to mind too much; and her daddy came home just when I could tell she was done with me. All in all, not bad for my first baby-sitting gig.