Last week, someone entrusted me with their baby.
To most people who have kids or grandkids, this would not be a noteworthy feat.
But to someone who has no children and hasn’t been entrusted to watch any starter-humans since George W. Bush was in office, this was an epic achievement.
The mother of the aforementioned child is actually my godchild, Kari. I used to babysit her. Now I’m babysitting her baby.
She and her husband were in town to attend a concert, and they had asked me to watch their newly minted son, while they briefly revisited the carefree lives of single 20-somethings.
I was excited, mainly because this would be the first I would get to see Blixen Virgil (his actual, real, legal name, given to him by his cool but slightly unconventional father and guaranteed to mean he will grow up hating reindeer jokes).
He was an adorable little sprout, with his mother’s mouth, his dad’s eyes and a compact little body that I would learn, soon enough, housed two enormously robust lungs.
I’ve certainly held babies in my lifetime, and this was far from my first babysitting gig. Even so, I’m a tad rusty at the baby-tendin’ game, and I wanted “The Blix” to thrive under my care. I was nervous, which wasn’t a good thing, because babies — like horses — can sense your fear.
It felt like a weird sort of role reversal as my 23-year-old godchild, now a registered nurse who works in labor and delivery, told her 54-year-old aunt how to warm a bottle. I felt like an eighth grader at her first solo babysitting gig as she gave me a tour of an extremely complex diaper bag, which included baby wipes, a back-up pacifier, burp cloths, a spare bottle, a confusing medley of blankets and change pads (each with different functions), a couple of spare outfits, at least 10 diapers, gas drops and storybooks (you know, just a little Faulkner and James Joyce. Nothing heavy).
Despite Blix’s extensive accessories, the instructions for a 1-month-old sounded surprisingly simple. Feed. Burp. Play. Change. Sleep. Repeat.
Anyway, that was how it was supposed to go. No one told The Blix. He had decided his schedule should be more like this: Cry. Fuss. Feed. Refuse to Burp. Cry. Make Tammy check diaper. Look startled for a moment when, after Googling “How to help babies stop crying,” Tammy runs the vacuum cleaner. Fuss some more. Stare at a couch pillow. Kick legs. Repeat.
I tried every trick in my very short book to calm him: shooshing, the pacifier, walking the floor with him, singing lullabies and giving him gas drops, which my niece had promised me would be magical. (They were not.) I checked his diaper again, then — figuring that even Homer Simpson is happiest without pants — let him chillax in his onesie.
That seemed to help. So did turning on the overhead fan, which he found fascinating.
What with all that pillow-staring, crying and fan-watching, he was pretty tired. He nodded off, then woke up around his feeding time.
This time, no amount of pantslessness could soothe him. At 30 days old, he didn’t know how to control his motor movements, turn over on his own or hold up his own head for an extended period of time, but he did know how to be hangry.
Clumsily, I muddled my way through heating the bottle. Never microwave the milk, she’d said. Just microwave water and set the bottle in it. But that process was so maddeningly slow when he was so maddeningly mad. Hurrrry up, physics!
Finally, it was warm. I fed him as told; he was happy to eat. I thumped his back, trying to get him to burp.
Instead, he developed hiccups — looking genuinely surprised after each one.
I can only imagine what my godchild thought of the increasingly more frantic texts I sent all evening. “Why are there TWO sets of baby wipes? You said there would be gas, but I wasn’t expecting this much. Should I rush him to an internist? Am I supposed to change him on the elephant blankie or the gray thing? Do I need to put his pajamas on? He’s sleeping and I’m so worried I will wake him. You told me he would need to be changed 10 minutes after eating, but he hasn’t needed a diaper change yet. Should I put two diapers on him just to be safe?”
Anyway, we both survived it. Kari came home to find her son sleeping soundly, although not in his jammies and little snuggle-robe as requested. But he was fed and asleep, as prescribed. I had not accidentally fed him peanut butter, let him sleep on his belly or forgotten to support his head.
I figured these things made up for the fact he still wasn’t wearing pants.