I sometimes forget how quickly the Universe will respond to my full-intentioned desires. I felt a longing for days past, taking care of my sons when they were younger; the Universe answered, you need more of that? Let me help you.
A friend needed help with her two small children while she was temporarily incapacitated. I was thrilled for the opportunity to play stand-in grandmother and woke up early the next morning to pack a bag in case I would stay overnight. Serendipitously, I had the following day off from work.
The two children, a boy six years old and a girl, 22 months, had never met me. I knew I would be regarded more Nanny McPhee than Mary Poppins, but felt confident I could win them over. It was Halloween night and I thought how fun it would be to enjoy the holiday with kids again.
I arrived in late afternoon as the boy was getting ready for trick or treating while the girl was wrapped around her dad’s leg as he tried to get things in order around the house. The girl was coming down with a cold, her eyes with that I-don’t-feel-good look, not happy to be seeing me.
The house had the look of a busy life with kids, clothes on chair backs, toys neatly stacked in corners, clean dishes drying next to the sink. A painting project was nearing completion, the dad apologized. What I saw was an instant picture of a family in motion, the perfect home.
As I expected, the girl was not happy to be left with me as her father even left the room to change, let alone leave the house. A feisty one, approaching the twos, as her mom warned, not afraid to let me know how she was feeling about my presence. “Be a good girl,” her father said. Not necessary, I replied; just be yourself, I thought.
I hadn’t brought gifts as peace offerings, but had the perfect sack to offer the boy for his candy gathering — an orange reusable grocery bag with a jack-o-lantern face on it, score one for me. The girl showed me her favorite pair of shoes, gold and sparkly, just my style, my delight genuine.
The real fun began when Dad left and the girl began screaming the refrain I would hear frequently over the next 30 hours. accompanied at first by intense thrashing, kicking and scratching. Luckily, as I expected, that soon turned into clinging, wanting to be held and carried everywhere, which felt so good, I didn’t even care if I caught her cold.
The boy was easy, knew the routine and followed it. Both kids went to bed easily and I was happy to say so at the moment my friend texted, asking how it was going. I was ready for anything, though, as I rested downstairs on the couch, waiting.
The monitor was by my side, including video, although I could hear without it, the girl waking up coughing then settling back to sleep. The disturbance continued to build, as she’d wake up coughing and cry a little before settling back down. I wished I turned on the humidifier, but was sure if she saw me we’d be in full blown unhappy mode.
I snuck upstairs while all was quiet hoping to get in and out of her room unseen. She heard me in the hall and started full-on wailing. “Uppy, uppy,” pick me up, and so I did. Thus began our long night together — comprised of thirty or so minutes of peaceful sleep interrupted by coughing and remembering she wanted her daddy — in various locations around the house.
We spent some time downstairs because she wanted her binky but didn’t want me to leave without her. I was at the bottom of the stairs when I heard a thump as she apparently jumped out of the crib, and turned to find her running toward the top of the stairs. Carrying her plus two blankies down the dark, slippery stairs was not something I wanted to do again.
We curled up on the couch together until she kicked me out of the way so that she had the big couch and I had the small one. I piled pillows on the floor for when she would, and did, fall off which didn’t seem to bother her at all. At the next waking, I decided she would be warmer upstairs, so picked her up and carefully navigated the stairs once more with toddler, blankies and binky in tow.
We cuddled together in the rocking chair beside her crib for the next sleep until she woke again and wanted her crib, although she clearly did not allow me permission to leave. Baby Mozart was playing on Pandora and she also turned on another put-me-to-sleep musical device hanging inside her crib for dueling music.
I finally fell asleep in the rocking chair, reminding myself I’ve slept in much more uncomfortable airplane seats, until my phone alarm went off downstairs much earlier than we needed to get up. As soon as I stood up, so did my sweet companion. I asked, Do you want a clean diaper? She nodded yes and reached for me. We heard music coming from the boy’s room. Is your brother playing games? She smiled her first big smile and nodded.
She peacefully allowed the diaper change and we settled back down on the couch, she on my chest, immediately returning to sleep. I watched the clock wondering how long it would take us to get big brother to the school bus on time, not wanting to disturb the yummy bundle on top of me to go wake him. He came down about an hour before bus time with an art project in hand that he said needed to be finished immediately.
I well know young boys who have important things to do when the world says they have to direct their attention elsewhere. I hoped I could handle it better than I did with my own boys, but I doubt I succeeded. Feeling pressed for time, not wanting to miss the bus, my biggest job of the day, all my anxiety of that task from the past came flooding back.
We were moving in the right direction until I asked the boy to put on his jacket. “I don’t need a jacket,” he announced. My phone showed the current temperature at 37 degrees, almost snow weather. He was unimpressed. He didn’t know where it was and said I could find it. I said I don’t know what it looks like. “That’s because it’s invisible,” he replied. I’m scrambling around for what looks like a jacket his size when here comes his little sister, binky in mouth like baby in The Simpsons, holding the jacket out to me.
We got to the bus with a full minute to spare. Returning home, little sister and I cuddled again on the couch and fell back asleep. My head ached along with other parts of my body and I hadn’t ingested more than a glass of water since lunch the day before. I wondered how long I could keep up a schedule like this. I haven’t forgotten how exhausted I was when my kids were little, but this was a reality check as to what my current body can handle versus my romanticized vision of grandparenting.
When the kids’ grandfather arrived a few hours later, I was willing to let him take over, although I was prepared to keep going having faith the Universe doesn’t give you assignments you can’t handle. I left with a new appreciation for my current life, how easy it is to care mostly for myself. For that gift, I thank my friend and the Universe. But when little sister ran over unbidden and hugged my knees, I was willing to do it all over again.