When you get to be a “woman of a certain age”, like me, it makes you a little sad to realize that your body has retired from the business of producing life. After all, babies are sweet, adorable, and smell like innocence. Apparently my now-defunct uterus is smarter than my marshmallow-soft heart, because as I was recently reminded, taking care of babies is exhausting work best left to the young.
Almost all of our friends are grandparents. Our 20-something girls have shown absolutely no interest in marriage or children and I’ve adopted Doris Day’s “Que Será, Será” attitude about the whole thing. I really mean it, too…for the most part. But part of me is yearning for grand-kids.
This is where a much younger friend comes in.
My friend, Riko, is a stay-at-home mom with a 4-month-old son. She brings him along when we get together so I can cuddle, coo and generally make a fool of myself all over his chubby cuteness. She and her husband live half a world away from their families in Japan, and when I found out she was pregnant I saw myself as his substitute grandma. I’ve offered to babysit several times but she wasn’t ready to leave him yet. She recently mentioned their wedding anniversary was approaching. I renewed my offer, she took me up on it, and I leapt at the chance.
I can’t remember the last time I watched an infant. My husband and I have a large extended family, but haven’t had many opportunities to babysit due to distance and age differences between our kids and nieces and nephews. I was a bit concerned that things might have changed a lot in the last 2 decades. After all, medical science has flip-flopped like a landed fish on the whole babies-on-their-tummies-vs-on-their-backs debate. But I trusted that the fundamentals would come back to me, and I was right. It’s like riding a bike. Assuming one rides a bike with a smelly diaper full of noxious substances. What I hadn’t remembered is how exhausting the whole business is.
You need the stamina of a long distance runner, the flexibility of a gymnast and the entertaining skills of a clown to do a gig like this.
Riko said her son was a bit fussy in the evenings. She is a master of understatement. He was on the verge of bursting into big, fat tears the entire time and it was my sworn mission to keep that from happening.
I tried putting him on his play mat. No go. His swing? Not interested. Riko had said that holding him while sitting and bouncing on a big, rubber ball generally calmed him down, so I tried that. Talk about a workout! You have to balance on the thing by constantly tensing your thigh and stomach muscles. Trying to get up or sit down while keeping both hands on a wriggly, 19-pound human tested my agility to the limit. But that and walking around to look out the open window were the only things that kept him relatively cheerful. I alternated between these activities all evening, accompanying them with silly faces and made-up songs so stupid I would have been mortified to be caught on hidden camera.
After only 2 hours, my arms were quivering with exhaustion and my back was killing me. When the anxious parents got home from their anniversary dinner and asked how the evening went, I lied through my teeth without hesitation – Junior had been a perfect angel, all smiles and fun, and didn’t they have somewhere to go tomorrow so I could babysit again? Then I staggered home and collapsed.
My friend is taking the baby home for a month-long visit, and I’m going to use this time to get in shape. I’m thinking squat thrusts for those bouncy-ball-balancing thigh muscles, arm curls for the baby-lifting triceps, and sit-ups to work that all-important core. When they get back to town and I’m called up to pinch sit again, my response will be: “Bring it on!”
Here’s the babysitting par-course I’ve devised: