I went up to Chicago recently to help watch my daughter’s four children. She and her husband had won a “Get Out of Jail Free” weekend pass at a school auction and were planning to spend a few days in Miami. The day I arrived, the three-year-old had pink eye and threw up. The next day, the baby started with violent croup–and vomited every time he coughed. Then I had a scary thing with my eye. After going to the doctor I got the good news that I didn’t have a detached retina, but I got the bad news that I was perfectly fine to lift my grandchildren. And so they left for Miami.
The first night we split up the kids with the in-town grandparents. They took the two older ones while I stayed the night with the two little boys. Luckily, Emilee got me back-up, overnight help.
IT WAS THE NIGHT FROM HELL!!! Both boys were up. One had “night terrors” until I put him in my bed and he calmed down. The baby awoke with his violent cough and needed breathing treatments. I have a bad shoulder and could hardly carry him down the steps. But, as he only wanted Grandma (be still my beating heart!), I had their babysitter, Nina, walk beside me to support me down the stairs. Then we had a puzzle with no picture to follow: How to put together the breathing machine pieces that had been carefully taken apart to be washed. I used to do this for my son, Kevin, but that was 20 years ago. Although none of our collective Master’s Degrees were in “Assemblage of Medical Equipment,” at least Nina had younger eyes and could see where the pieces went together. If the two older kids HAD been there, I would have awakened one of them. They regularly assemble 1000-piece lego sets between breakfast and lunch. We searched for the medicine to use with the machine, while my sweet grandson clung to me. As I patted his little back he burped–vomiting forth the contents of his last bottle– all over me and the new kitchen floor. At least he emptied his tummy before we gave him the medicine!
It was such a rough night, I think I slept 2 hours at most.
At 5:00 a.m., I awoke to check on the baby.
At 6:00 a.m. Evan started coughing and then woke up saying, “Grandma, I’m hungry!” I went downstairs to give him breakfast, and Nina was right behind me with the baby who wanted me to hold him. I have never felt so loved and so old in all my life!!!
At 8:00 a.m, with the kids up and fed, I was listing on the couch, baby resting in my arms in front of a morning cartoon. My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was Emilee checking in: “I just slept through the night for the first time in a year, and I feel great! How did your night go, Mom?”
I gave my best acting performance. How could I possibly tell her how miserable I was? I was at least going home in 2 days–and she was coming back to this living hell. I know I must have lived through the same thing when I was young–but nature is amazing and makes you forget memories that might kill you. Having had 4 children in four and a half years, and a 5th one six years later, I wistfully look back on those times as being totally joyful and miss all the noise and love bouncing off the walls. I forget that the one “bouncing off the walls” was ME.
The second night we did a “switch off” with the in-town grandparents, so I had the oldest and the baby. No problem, my granddaughter could help with the baby–NOT. We baked a chocolate cake from scratch and planned to watch a movie together (National Velvet with Elizabeth Taylor, because she LOVES horses, and is taking riding lessons).
After an hour of switching off reading Good Night Moon and other books to her baby brother, we tucked him in and tip-toed downstairs for our special “Girls Night” together. Nina left for another previous babysitting commitment and was planning to return after midnight to sleep on the third floor, while I slept in “Mommy & Daddy’s” room.
The opening credits started, and the black and white scene on the farm came into view. I looked over at Caroline, assuming she would think this movie too old-fashioned, but she was mesmerized by Elizabeth Taylor.
“She’s different from the way they describe her in the book,” she said.
“Well, that’s because movies are always a little different than books.” That satisfied her.
As she scooted next to me, I was suddenly taken back 50 years ago to the couch where I snuggled with my mother to watch the same movie.
“Caroline, press the mute button,” I whispered. “I think I hear the baby.”
Sure enough, I could hear little Alex crying from above.
“I’ll just run up and check on him,” I said.
“Don’t, Grandma,” she warned. “He just wants attention. He does this all the time.”
I told her I had to go get him out of bed and she raised her voice, emphatically: “No Grandma, you CAN’T get him out of bed. He’s only crying because he’s spoiled and wants you to come running.”
“He’s sick, and I can’t let a sick baby cry,” I reasoned.
I went to get him out of bed, as she went up the stairs, pouting and protesting, “I AM GOING TO BED–YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE.”
“Well, at least give me a kiss goodnight,” I said.
“NO,” she shouted. “That means NO KISSES either.”
So, sitting at the kitchen counter, baby in one arm, I tried four times to fill the medicine dropper with one hand and succeeded only in spilling the sticky liquid all over me and the baby. I desperately called up to Caroline to come down and help me. She finally walked into the kitchen arms folded and eyes narrowed, and said in that dry Exorcist voice: “YOU have the baby, YOU wouldn’t listen to me, now YOU take care of him!” Then with a woooosh, she flew with head spinning back up the stairs.
I was so stunned I could not believe it. Feeling totally helpless, somehow through the grace of God or whoever is up above, I got the medicine in the baby and got him back to bed.
Miss “Linda Blair” then floated down again–I would not say “penitent” but with a somewhat apologetic look on her face. I did NOT want to do a big reprimand scene, as I am the “Out-of-town” Grandma, did NOT plan to ever babysit again, and DO want her throwing her body over my coffin someday. So, I proceeded to get our drinks–water for her (they are not allowed soda) and tart cherry juice for Grandma for her aching joints– (Are you surprised I did NOT have a jug of wine???)
Ted had called earlier while I balanced “vomit baby” in one arm and told me to “send her right to bed-with NO MOVIE.” But the movie was my GOAL for the evening- NO MATTER WHAT. I was going to enjoy something I NEVER get to do–and that is to “cozy up on the couch with my little granddaughter, share some popcorn, and watch an old movie that I had watched with her great-grandmother, and thus make lifelong memories for both of us. I never had a grandmother, so DAMMIT, WE WERE GOING TO DO THIS!!
After two more brief checks on the baby, and only one more vomit episode in which Caroline DID help me, even wiping the stinky residue from the floor– we enjoyed the rest of National Velvet. Caroline changed her tune by then, and was all, “Thank you Grandma, I love you so much” as she hugged my arthritic neck so hard I thought it would snap. Of course, I melted. She is not like her mother at all. Even though Emilee is also a thespian and shines onstage, she was never so histrionic at home. She was far less stubborn, too. But, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for my “Sweet Caroline,” because she does take after someone else I know– moi. She is “little Nancy” all over again–spinning head and all!! And, to tell you the truth, it’s kind of nice to know your granddaughter takes after you.