Saturday, October 07, 2006
Rock and stroll
Jenn’s friend asked me to mind her baby for a couple hours while she ran an errand in town. With my own grandkids past the infant stage, I thought I may have lost the touch. So, with some anxiety, I agreed to baby sit little Charlotte.
Mom arrived with a wide-awake baby snuggled into her portable car seat. I decided to let her call the shots. We eyed each other carefully while mommy outlined the logistical plan. Three bottles handy: a) breast milk, b) similac, and c) the last line of defense, powdered formula and sterile water. Surely I wouldn't need all three.
I kept the eye contact going since Charlotte seemed to be relaxing and I waved momma off behind me. This was the first time that her precious charge was being left with someone other than mommy and daddy. (I didn’t know this until the end of the visit and, in this case, ignorance was bliss. It probably would have made me more nervous.)
As soon as the door closed, our real introduction began. Charlotte started to look around a bit more frantically and whimper a bit.
“Okay kid, it’s time you and I get acquainted.” We had been in each other’s company the past three months but never really had any quality time for bonding as the parenting manuals would call it. We had one brief encounter on a rocking chair in a friend’s house and I got the sense then that Charlotte wasn’t into sensory overload. She seemed to like quiet times and gentle moves - low on lots of talking, high on curiosity and visual cues.
Following my gut feeling (another overworked cliché), I gently extracted baby from her car seat and slowly moved down the hall for a trial run. Charlotte looked around at the strange sights but did not accelerate into loud crying. In fact, the whimpering stopped and since she still had her little sweater on, I took her out onto my back porch. Someone nearby was working on a car or truck and there was a loud hum of a motor. That caught her attention for a few minutes. My mums are in a state of autumn decay but the swinging flower pot provided another diversion.
Playing by her rules was actually quite freeing. I tuned into her body language and rhythms. When she started to squirm, I brought her back into the house, walked a bit more and then plopped down on my mom’s rocking chair (which I had the good foresight to drag into the unfinished dining room). This proved the saving grace of the whole three hours. She lay in my arms taking her first bottle and playing with her hands. She didn’t seem to mind the lack of scintillating conversation. I rarely spoke at first, just holding her against me and feeding her. She kept watching me and drifted off to sleep after polishing off momma’s breast milk. I didn’t know how sensitive she was to being moved so stayed on the rocker and let her use me as the crib. Sitting there gently rocking a sleeping baby helped to center me too. She slept for about 20 minutes and opened those big eyes to stare at a stranger’s face. Moment of truth. I was expecting a sudden wail but she seemed to like the accommodations. The Polish genes and buxom bosom do come in handy. She snuggled a bit and then I took her for another walk around the apartment and sang some nonsense syllables and even jiggled her a bit. She likes facing forward much better than looking over a shoulder to see where she’s been. Sounds like her momma.
I even took the chance and placed her on my bed, not knowing what to expect. The risk paid off … she was quite happy trying to hit a green plastic frog (part of the baby paraphernalia I held onto from my own grandbabies). And then she and I had our first serious conversation.
Charlotte: “aah, gah …”
Babci: "ooh, aah, Charlotte.”
Big smile at that. Charlotte knows her name. I tried to mirror whatever sounds she was making and her little legs and arms were pumping excitedly. She was so into communicating that she made me laugh out loud. That drew more smiles from her. I was loving this positive feedback loop. So much more fun than sulking teenagers, eh?
Following her lead, we played until she seemed to be ready for something else. The something else was the second bottle. I balanced her in my arms while I heated the bottle. Back again to the rocking chair and our second round of refreshments. She drained the formula in a couple minutes. Eat. Burp. Sleep. Not a bad routine.
When she was sleeping in my arms again, I realized that I had placed my cell phone in my pants pocket which was now directly under her head. It was not on mute and I prayed that neither momma nor Jenn called me while sleeping beauty dreamed away. I looked at her innocent face and thought of another baby face, three-thousand miles away, my new granddaughter, Iris. They were both born in July and I have yet to make Miss Iris Kathryn's acquaintance.
Luckily, the cell phone was on good behavior. Charlotte awoke a bit later. We took another stroll while I sang “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” and kissed the back of her fuzzy head. We settled for one more play time on the bed. As she played with Mr. Frog, I poured the powdered formula into the water bottle and shook vigorously. I couldn’t believe we had reached the final line of defense. No storms or outbursts though. I was winning the war.
Once more, she was nestled in my arms and drinking her third bottle. We had spent some quality time together indeed. In fact, when her mom showed up, she seemed perfectly content to stay in my arms a while longer and give me a final round of tender shy smiles.
I think I’ve made a new friend.