I was born with a soft spot for the elderly, probably because of my mom. She was raised by 2 sets of grandparents, then worked as a nurse’s aid in our local nursing home through most of her career, plus did some caregiving around town. I occasionally traipsed along when she worked for the Dearborn’s and visited the nursing home frequently when I was young.
Not surprising when the kids were getting their (higher & higher) educations I became Parish Visitor for a large congregation. My job description was literally visiting the people who no longer attended church on a regular basis. Either still in their own homes, assisted living or a nursing home. You’d be surprised how attached you become visiting the same 50 people each month. I know the job (calling really) was far more rewarding and a bigger blessing for me than it ever was for them. They were very appreciative but all they really wanted was my time. Not to rush in and out but just sit and listen. They were starved for quiet conversation. Only downside to parish visiting were the deaths. Wouldn’t have time to grieve and cope with a loss of someone I’d visited for years when I’d get a phone call that another person on my list had passed away during the night. The losses mounted over the years and were incredibly hard to process.
I had no agenda when we moved 5 years ago. We bought a smaller house/yard, closer to our adult children and grandchildren. The house needed a lot of work as did the yard so my days were busy. A few months later a friend mentioned a job opportunity at a nearby daycare and my interest was piqued. The other end of the spectrum. Babies. Should be a nice change.
But I grossly underestimated how much I would LOVE taking care of babies. Part of the appeal was my validity for working. I wasn’t working because I needed to make a house payment. I wanted to be there. It was good for me (and for the babies). Another plus was my coworkers. As parish visitor I was responsible for making my schedule/hours and visiting alone. At FCC although our conversations were interrupted a thousand times a day, working with this awesome bunch of gals was a huge perk for this hearing impaired loner.
The comparison between babies and the elderly are strangely similar. For their time allotment both really want to be the center of your universe at least for a few minutes. Babies are more demanding and can become quite cranky when their needs are not met, still it was hard not to notice the similarities. Although I held hands, prayed for, hugged, cried over my elderly church family, there was something equally as inspirational when a four month old fell asleep on your shoulder, with their unique squeaks and tiny breaths hitting you on the neck.
I thought I’d still be snuggling babies and changing poopy diapers, but after 3 years both of my knees were giving me trouble. My knee cartilage had disappeared. It was almost impossible for me to get up and down off the floor (where the babies want you and where you need to be). Wasn’t fair to the little ones or to my coworkers, so I took a leave and scheduled my first knee replacement, fervently praying I would be able to return to a new batch of babies in a few months after surgery and therapy. That was 2 years ago. Sigh.
Recently a friend ecstatically posted she had accepted a job at Felician’s Children’s Center which made me think about my days with those adorable babies. Reflecting back I realize many of the most mundane times during the day stood out as spectacular for me. Maybe not as high on the list for some of the caregivers because they’re still performing those tasks day after day. But high on my list because those moments for me are gone.
I sang to the babies everyday. When they were in their highchairs for a meal or snack (On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, My bologna has a first name, it’s O-s-c-a-r). When there was an imminent threat of a meltdown and others were encouraged to join the soirée (This little light of mine, Old McDonald had a farm). And when I was rocking them to sleep. And no I can’t carry a tune to save my soul. My coworkers whom I admired and respected begged me to refrain from bursting into song for the sake of their hearing and sanity, but the babies did not care one whit I sounded like fingernails on the chalkboard. Who was I trying to please here? Oh right, the babies. Now those babies are between the ages of 3 and 5. I’m friends with most of their moms on Facebook and still enjoy watching them grow. But for me, they will remain my babies who made a wonderful difference in my life, for which I’m eternally grateful. Here’s my top 3 ‘good feels’ when it came to caring for these tiny tots.
1. The pat-pat. An adorable 7 month old is hungry and tired (hangry), and the detailed posted hourly schedule indicates her timing is impeccable as usual. I know she’s going to fall asleep (she desperately needs an hour nap) when I give her a bottle. While the bottle’s warming up, I change her diaper (this is a telltale sign of my ancient age, I usually said ‘change her pants’ instead of diaper), wash her hands and mine and hope she doesn’t poop while she’s drinking (nothing like putting a damper on her nap time if I have to change her pants when she’s drowsy). She’s starting to get vocal about the list of chores I’m trying to complete before we find a rocking chair. Check the bottle’s temperature and find a new burp cloth. (She looks at me with her little scrunched up face, kind of red and mildly disgusted like, “Geez woman, get your shit together. Let’s roll.”) We finally sit down, I tuck the burp cloth under her second chin and listen to her gulp (which is really cool) an ounce or 2 before I feel her little body relax. Ahhhhh. She’s laying sideways in my arms with her right arm and hand going behind my back. I break into, “Oh where have you been Billy boy, Billy boy? Oh where have you been charming Billy?” Her gaze is so intense, it’s like she’s memorizing all my facial features (including a detailed nose hair count I think) when suddenly I feel this tiny thump-thump on my back. She’s patting me on my back-literally. Still makes me cry.
2. The head butt-er. During my 3 years at FCC there were about 6 babies (all boys) who loved to head butt. Not my head but my leg. These little guys were all scooting, crawling and starting to pull themselves up. Honestly, I’m convinced this was their way of showing affection. And letting me know just because I was (pre)occupied with someone else, that was no excuse to forget how important they were to me. Did I really have to feed another kid? They would crawl towards me while watching everything going on in the room, and not get easily distracted. Each of them would slow down, lower their head and gently ram it into my calf-whether I was standing or sitting. I’d look down and he’d seem to say, “don’t forget your homeboy granny type person. Are ‘ya done yet?” It was so stinking cute.
3. Bubbles. Absolutely my favorite little weird moment with some of the babies. Never happened with newborns, mostly the 7 months to a year old. We would get comfy in the rocker with a bottle (which they thought they needed at least 5 minutes prior) so there were no interruptions for the first ounce or 2. But when some of the milk finally hit their tummy and their gulps slowed was the perfect time to sing a lullaby. I can’t tell you how many times this happened. It’s the best feeling ever. I’d began singing, You are my sunshine, Sing a song of sixpence or Oh where have you been Billy boy, Billy boy? For one second the baby would be absolutely still, then look up at me. Suddenly the suction on the bottle’s nipple was close to being compromised. What? Oh no! They tried valiantly to stay focused, but soon I’d see a few bubbles in the nipple and the suction would let loose as they cracked a huge, milky smile. (Oh, it’s the granny person who likes to sing to me. I love her). Only lasted 5 seconds until they latched back on and got serious. But it was the best five seconds of the day for me. Thanks for the memories babies….