From My WindowIssue Date: April 20, 2022
Jane Thibodeau Martin
Full-On Grandma Mode
I recently spent a week with our son and his family in Oklahoma. My mission was to babysit my grandson as my daughter-in-law transitioned back to work. Her Mom was going to help the following week before he went to day care for the first time. The thought was to let mom readjust before baby has to readjust. There is no doubt in my mind which of the two, mom or baby, has the biggest adjustment to make. Well I remember the trauma of leaving my two babies in the care of others when I returned to work, and no, the second time with our daughter was not easier than the first time with our son.
What a revelation this was for me, almost three decades from the last time I spent so much time with an infant. It would seem a small baby, who has relatively simple needs like clean diapers, bottles, and lots of naps, would be easy to care for. Instead, after the first couple of days, I started to wonder how in the world I had managed to wrangle a household, two children, a husband, pets, and work all those years ago. Granted, I am much older now, but I guess I had forgotten all the little details.
The first complexity was all the baby devices. Excellent protective car seats, much better than the ones I used 30 years ago, required Grandma to go through remedial training. It is interesting to wonder how many infants and small children's lives have been saved by car seats. You can't measure things that didn't happen, but it wouldn't surprise me if hundreds of thousands of kids in the United States alone are alive because of car seats. I found myself automatically driving even more defensively than I normally do, very conscious of the precious cargo I had in my car.
Baby bottles are very different. There are "docking stations," high chairs, and a play seat and swing; all with unique properties. Most of this baby gear is "hand-me-downs," with the family swapping toys and equipment with friends and relatives as things are outgrown. This system avoids a lot of investment in equipment that is used only a short time.
He has a "jogging stroller" to ride in outdoors, which really came in handy. Much like his big sister was, any cranky mood can be banished immediately by taking him out for a stroller ride. It did wonders for grandma to get some exercise too.
Over the course of the week I had my hair pulled, and got various baby-related substances all over me (including the necessity to change my clothing more than once.) I had one five-alarm diaper change, a total blowout with poop halfway up his back and front. The cleanup took quite a while and involved towels and an awful lot of wipes. After I looked at my sleeve, the cleanup continued with grandma needing remedial scrubbing as well. After the first day I quit changing my shirt when I got spit-up on me. Didn't want to break their washing machine.
My week was exhausting, and amazing. All those moments looking at that smiley little face, watching him sleep, and laughing as his excellent big sister entertained him were priceless. There is no doubt who he thinks is the most interesting girl in the world ?? it is his sister. Having a week staying in the house with the family was a closer, more rewarding experience than our normal visits. I felt really blessed to be "embedded" for this time; an experience I will always treasure.
Biologists have noted that female animals in highly socially-developed species often outlive their ability to reproduce. As biologists do, they wondered why. Studies showed that in chimpanzees, whales, and elephants "grandma" animals stay with their group and serve as counselors, helpers and leaders. Groups with these matriarchs have a higher number of infants survive childhood than groups without them. Grandparents (or other adults outside the immediate family) who wish to and can help new human parents can make a big difference too - while it doesn't "take a village" to raise kids, it is better for all when that happens. I often told people that my parents were the reason I was able to put in the kind of hours I did at work before we moved to Oklahoma. They were always ready to help when school was cancelled, an extra-long day was required of me, or one of the kids were sick.
It was a privilege to spend so much time with my grandchildren. I live a long way away, and this immersion was wonderful. At the same time, I came away thinking that women who choose to get pregnant at age 50 or 60 with the help of modern reproductive technology are completely and totally bonkers.
I also came away with a renewed respect for all working parents. Having so many responsibilities is stressful, no matter how many baby devices you have. It's like you are straddling two different worlds, and need to do well at both. Meantime, laundry awaits, meals need to be cooked, and life happens with all kinds of unexpected challenges. And a very special place will be reserved in heaven for those grandparents who end up raising their grandchildren because the parents can't, or won't. You are truly angels.
After eight days I headed home, looking forward to some rest in my own bed and a return to fewer responsibilities. That didn't stop me from shedding a few tears as I started my journey home.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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