Alright, so you can be upset with me if you’d like, but this week’s challenge is sans card. The opportunity presented itself and it was such an eye-opening experience that I’m writing about it. I’ll use any opportunity I can to talk about my cute little niece 🙂 Besides, I have a couple to spare due to duplicates and unreturned cards.
My brother John lives in Minnesota with his wife, Becky and their almost 11-month-old daughter, Belle. John’s friend Scott invited them to The Kentucky Derby this past weekend so they came to town to visit. The original plan was to have my parents, her grandparents, babysit Belle while John and Becky went to the Derby. However, sometimes things happen and plans change.
Most of you know, but in case you missed the message, my mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer back in February. Due to her health and some of the limitations she is currently experiencing, my parents decided that extra help would be necessary. Insert Aunt Katie. It’s a good thing that they planned ahead because Saturday was a particularly rough day for my mom and my dad needed to care for her, though they both spent a significant amount of time with us and I couldn’t have done it without them.
I wake up, get ready and get in the car to head to my parents’ house – beyond excited to spend the day with my niece. Halfway there, my mother calls me and all I can hear in the background is Belle in absolute hysterics. The frantic tone in my mother’s voice let me know I needed to get there faster. You see, Belle is somewhat afraid of my dad, and men/grey hair in general, but since mom can’t hold the weight of her right now, Dad was the only option and it didn’t sound like it was going well.
Every other time I’ve been around my adorable little niece her parents have been there, too. Besides, I’ve been told she’s an easy baby. She laughs. She giggles. She does incredibly cute things that make us smile. And then when she cries, they work some sort of parental magic, fulfill whatever need she has and then reappear with a happy baby in a new outfit. It’s impressive. Also, I spent most of my preteen through teenage years babysitting.- usually only for about 5 hours at a time. Kids are easy. Feed ‘em. Play with ‘em. Clean ‘em. Put ‘em to bed. Naturally, I expected this to be a total piece of cake!
She seemed to have calmed down by the time I got there, but was definitely happy to see me. She reached her arms out to me almost immediately. We put Belle in her stroller and my Dad and I took her for a walk around the neighborhood -get a little exercise, a little fresh air, occupy some time! She fell asleep almost immediately and when we returned, we let her continue to sleep in her stroller in the kitchen until she woke up. Never wake a sleeping baby or something like that, right?
Realization #1: Babies are almost always hungry when they wake up.
I got really excited because she’s so cute when she eats. It’s messy and she makes funny faces, but eventually, she eats the meal before her and smiles. I don’t know what that child has against plums, but she was not having it. We’re talking hands pushing me away, tears, mouth clamped shut. These bad boys were NOT what she wanted for lunch.
We finally settled on some sort of mashed sweet potato/chicken dinner and she seemed to like it. All smiles after the first bite! After lunch we played with Grandma and Grandpa for a little while. Belle loves to play Peek-a-Boo with Grandpa, though I’m not sure which one of them enjoys it more. We also like to play “How big is Belle?” and we say “Soooo biiig!” and she throws her arms up in the air with a great big smile on her face.
She has a variety of toys that make all kinds of sounds that make her giggle. She’s incredibly amused by them and I am easily amused by her. I’m thinking to myself, “Wow this is going pretty well. I could totally do this!” Belle especially loves dogs. She played with Cooper, my parents’ chocolate lab, for awhile. He can be grumpy at times but is surprisingly good with her.
It fascinates me everytime I hear her giggle or watch her learn something new. She likes to give you things. She picks them up and hands them over as if she’s giving you a present and then claps proudly to herself when you say thank you. This includes every thing from plastic blocks to ripped up pieces of napkins. It’s adorable!
And then, out of the blue, she started crying.
Realization #2: You don’t know always know why babies cry.
And they can’t talk so they can’t tell you why they’re crying. I went through the mental checklist. You’ve just eaten. You practically just woke up from a nap. You don’t have a dirty diaper. Nothing has hurt you. You just started crying. WHYYYY?? So I picked her up and held her and walked around the room. She stopped. However, every time I tried to sit down or stop moving, she started crying again. I walk around switching Belle from hip to hip for hours because it was the only method of keeping her happy. That being said, there is something incredibly rewarding in knowing you’re the only thing that can make her happy at that moment. And I cannot get enough of holding her. She eventually fell asleep in my arms and it was the sweetest moment of my life thus far.
Realization #3: There is absolutely no greater feeling in the world than a baby sleeping on your shoulder.
This is not the first time that I have held her while she slept, but it is the first time she looked into my eyes right before she fell asleep. Heart. Melted. She coulda puked all over me and I don’t think I would have cared. Well. Maybe.
Realization #4: I am really not great with bodily fluids.
Gonna have to work on that one. Luckily, I made it through the day with only a few wet diapers. They say it’s different when it’s your own kid. However, those moments of changing her diaper or her clothes and seeing her look up at me, or giggle when I tickled her belly, were so fun.
Realization #5: You are never alone and nothing is “quick.”
I needed a minute to myself just so I could hear myself think. If I forgot something upstairs I had to run back up and get it, with a 17-pound baby in tow. You can’t turn your back on a crawling machine because if you do, they’re gone. A quick errand is neither quick, nor an errand. It is a long drawn out chore. You have to get the baby ready, buckle the baby in, go to the place, get the baby out, get the baby ready to go into said place, etc. I mean it would take me 20 minutes round trip if I had to run to Macy’s for something right now. I bet it would be an hour, at least, with a child. Thankfully, Dad took Belle to the grocery store while I ran home to pick up a few things and take Gus to daycare. This is when I learned I would be spending the night at my parents’ house because I was on night duty, too.
When I came back home, Dad was feeding her again. Goodness this child eats a lot. I get why mothers breastfeed. It’s free. The rest of the evening was pretty similar to the afternoon. Feed, change, play, repeat. Only this time, I was exhausted.
Bedtime was, by far, the hardest part of the day. I would guess that around 7:30-8:00 Belle started to miss her parents and figure out that they weren’t returning for the night. She was quite fussy and the slightest change in atmosphere or action would set her off. John called with a report that Becky’s horse had won the Derby and explained how I should put Belle to bed.
This involved washing her face, changing her diaper and then putting her in a sleep sack (AKA Hot pocket – that thing is turns her into a small, cuddly furnace). I was to feed her a bottle and walk back and forth, patting her on the back in dark silence, until she drifted off to sleep. No problem. I can do that.
Except…when a kid doesn’t want to go to sleep, you can’t make them. You can’t just turn off the lights and hope they drift blissfully into the sweetest dreams. She revolted at the first inclination it was time for bed. We are talking one of the screechiest, mind-numbing wails I’ve ever heard. I didn’t even know she could make that sound! And I didn’t know what made it happen or how to make it stop. I imagine this is a combination of a long day mixed with missing her mommy and daddy, because honestly, no one can replace a baby’s parents. We paced around the room for quite some time while I tried everything I could think of to get her to drift off.
We then sat on the floor and played with all of her toys for a little while and read a book. After exhausting my resources, including a poorly sung lullaby, I gave up and went downstairs to watch The Blind Side with Dad. He tried to rock her to sleep to no avail so we assumed she was just not ready to go to sleep yet. I would guess it was because of the time difference, but what do I know? I sat in a chair and within 5 minutes of rocking her, the kid was out cold. Getting her from my arms to the crib presented its own difficulties, but eventually Belle was fast asleep in her nursery, cute as a button!
I went to bed shortly thereafter and fell asleep reflecting on the day. I was thinking about all of the things I watched her learn and how much fun we had. I wish she lived in Cincinnati so I could see her all the time. I then started thinking about how hard it must be for parents, especially single parents, to do this day in and day out. I mean, I didn’t even have to juggle things like laundry, grocery shopping, my own needs, appointments, practices, etc. while taking care of her. I had one day of making sure she was fed, clean and happy. One day. 24 hours. I gotta hand it to all you parents out there. I do not know how you do this. Every. Single. Day.
Realization #6: A very small part of me thinks I might not be cut out for this.
I then proceeded to wake up every 2 hours or so just to make sure she was still breathing. I’d like to credit this to my “internal maternal instinct” though I’m sure it was more a fear of something happening to my niece while under my care…
Realization #7: That beautiful face makes everything worthwhile.
I woke up the next morning and checked on Belle, still sound asleep in her crib. Seeing her lying there so peacefully, with nothing, but the sound of her breathing, made all the stress, anxiety and exhaustion from the day before sort of disappear and all I could think about were the smiles and adventures that were in store for the following day.
Not only was I responsible for watching and caring for Belle, but I was throwing her an early 1st Birthday Party Sunday afternoon, as well. I finished decorating and picked up the Cinsational Sweet Treats cupcakes from Jen Hardin, a friend of mine from Junior League while Belle was still sleeping. Also somethign I could not have managed without the help of my parents. Her parents walked in the door and I don’t know if I’ve ever been so grateful and so sad at the same time. I really enjoyed taking care of her, but was glad that they were home. Belle took one look at Becky and crawled as fast as she could straight to her. Our cousins and family slowly arrived for the party. We took a picture of the 4 Hayden Great-Grandchildren to send to my grandparents and had a lovely day celebrating Belle’s first 1st birthday party.
It has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to be just like my mom when I grew up. She stayed at home with us and raised us, but remained incredibly active in the community. She volunteered with a variety of organizations, serve(d/s) on several boards and continues to make a difference with nonprofit organizations in Cincinnati to this day. Heck, she is using her treatment as a “study” of how things are going at the Cincinnati Cancer Center from a patient’s perspective. She never stops. And she is the absolute best mother I could have ever asked for. She guided me and served as my role model in every way I can imagine. I want to do that more than anything in this world. (Dad, I obviously can’t grow up to be a father, so it can’t be my dream, but I’m incredibly lucky to have been raised by a man like you.) I thought I’d use this day with Belle to kinda test my abilities. She survived and was happy when her parents got home so I guess I didn’t do such a bad job, after all!
I learned many things about myself, about children, about my parents and about life in general this past weekend. I would do absolutely anything for that child and she’s not even mine. All kidding aside, I had an absolutely blast taking care of Belle for a day. It makes me feel confident that I will figure it all out and be a great mom someday.
In the end, nothing in this world is more important than family and I’m so blessed to be a part of the one that I have. Though we are continually growing over the years, those that have passed will never be forgotten and those that are born will never be more loved than they are by us. My cousin, Amy, showed me this quote by Story People and it has been one of my most favorite sayings ever since.
“Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, What have you done with your life? & though there are many moments I think I will remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.”
Then I went home and took a really. long. nap.