Our trip over President’s Day weekend to visit my son, daughter-in-law and six-month-old grandson did not begin auspiciously. Before we even arrived in New York, our brand-new dog sitter phoned to tell us that, while she was throwing the ball in the rec room for fetch–crazy Mac, (our youngest Dal), had crashed into the wine rack, smashing a full bottle of one of my favorites, that had then poured out onto the white wall-to-wall. I told her to blot it up and consoled both of us that at least no one was hurt.
And then, on our way back home on the train, the dog sitter texted me that Mac’s foot was bleeding uncontrollably. She couldn’t figure out where the blood was coming from and was unable to get him to hold still long enough to take a photo of his foot so that I could see what was going on. When we arrived back at the house, I diagnosed that he had torn his toenails down below the quick while playing fetch over and over with his enthusiastic new friend. Eventually the gush of blood stopped, but not before there were huge red stains ruining my sheets, my mattress pad, and my comforter, as well as the carpet, sofa cushions and throw pillows in my study.
However, sandwiched in between all that chaos was a weekend filled with delight. My grandson is a little powerhouse right now, having just begun crawling at lightning speed and then quickly pulling himself to stand alongside any piece of furniture he can grab. He is a determined fellow, and I quickly discovered how much he loves being read to. A boy after my own heart! Thanks to his quite intellectual parents, his basket of toys is filled with books, most of which have thick cardboard pages that can withstand being put into his mouth, where four new teeth have erupted just this week.
At the end of our visit, Brad and I babysat him during his nap while his Mom went out to her noontime exercise class. Though it had been over thirty years, I successfully managed his diaper, a full-length undershirt that snapped at the crotch, the snug waistband of his pint-sized pants and the buttons on his shirt, all the while he kicked and twisted on the changing table, giving his Nana a hard time.
Feeding him his bottle went reasonably smoothly and his big brown eyes gazed into mine with intensity as he sucked his formula down. I was feeling competent and great. What a connection we were making. After a while, he decided he’d had enough, and I sat him up on my knee and sang to him the same lullaby my mother had made up to me, and which I had then sung to my son, who now sang it to his son. It was a song that had now been handed down to a third generation. How happy it made me that my grandson smiled as I inserted his name into the melody.
After five minutes of this, he was still watching me. Alertly. He gave no sign of being willing to lie down for his nap. As I rocked him back and forth he looked all around his room with the curiosity typical for him. Pushing myself up out of the glider, I took him to say goodnight to Brown Bear, to Sophie the giraffe, and to the plethora of other stuffed animals crowding his bookshelves. He gave me a devilish grin. I realized, with dismay, that he had no intention of going to sleep.
I thought perhaps the remainder of his bottle might lull him over the edge, but, though he took it right down, I had no luck in getting him drowsy. Then came fifteen more minutes of rocking, during which he became more and more restless, twisting and turning in my arms. Did he want to slip from my lap and do some more high-powered trundling on all fours? That was definitely not on the parents’ list of suitable pre-naptime activities. And so, unable to think of even one more thing to try, I at last set him down on his tummy in his crib, as I had once done with my kids. He popped right back up, stood at the railing and–big surprise–began to howl. Brad and I just stood there and looked at him, filled with despair. So much for my vaunted sense of connection.
Every mother has her ways of dealing with a crying baby who doesn’t want to go down, and I had always rubbed the backs of my boys, reassuring them that I would be right in the other room, and then left, closing the door firmly behind me. Though, in the beginning, I had to go back in at closely timed intervals to let them see that their cries were not going unanswered, I never picked them up again. Eventually, my efforts were rewarded when they lay down and drifted off.
How would my son and daughter-in-law handle this situation? I wanted to toe the line, but I’d run out of ideas. And so Brad and I left quietly amidst the angry shrieks and then stood anxiously on the other side of the door. What to do? What to do? How quickly we had become young and uncertain parents again! Who said that grandparents–no matter how wise or experienced–are automatically supposed to know what their next move should be?
A very long time passed with both of us going in and out of the room to pat his back and reassure him, and then, at last, we gave in. Picked him up to comfort him. He was damp with sweat and I stripped off his shirt and pants, hoping that a little cool air would cool him off.
No luck. I could see that only Mom’s arms would suffice. I checked my watch. With relief, I saw that she was due back any minute. When she breezed in a little while later and scooped her baby up, he nearly immediately stopped his crying and subsided into hiccups. She and I smiled at each other over his head as he slumped into blessed quiet.
It was going to take time, I realized then, before I knew his routines, his likes and dislikes, the best way to rock him to sleep. I had not failed because I’d been unable to find his rhythms the first time around. Fortunately for me, I don’t think his mother was too judgmental of my lack of success in sending him off to the Land of Nod. She was a first-time mother. Maybe she could imagine what it was like to be a first-time grandmother. At least, I hoped so.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that next time around it will be easier. Maybe I’ll get my grandson to sleep in his crib without a lot of fussing. Maybe my dog won’t break a wine bottle over the white carpet, or run his paws raw with too much ball-chasing. Maybe serenity will reign rather than chaos. God and Mother Nature willing.