My grandmothers were gray-haired middle aged women when I started to be old enough to know them. Nana was a strongly opinionated petite woman who walked with a cane. Marney was a stout corset-wearing lady who had occasional flashes of humour or lapses of ladyhood. Now I am a grandmother, not petite and rather stout, gray hair, slower than before.
Not only am I a grandmother, but I am also the baby caretaker. It is a lot of work! Quin’s conversation leaves a bit to be desired, though it is fun to see him ‘hoo, hoo’ and move his mouth around. It is not fun when he fusses, which is usually when he is hungry or fighting sleep. This is when it is hardest, for he prefers to be held and rocked. Usually this involves standing up and rocking or pacing. For a while it meant sitting on the Pilates ball and bouncing (not my preferred method, as I was afraid of sliding off the ball). I am rediscovering muscles in my back and belly and arms that have not been used for a while. It also makes me realize why people have babies when they are young– they are flexible and strong.
I find myself looking into Quin’s face and looking to see who he resembles. Does he lean to the Farkie side or the Stahlnecker side? He seems to have some red in his hair, so that is definitely Farkie. He has a big head and that seems to me to be a Stahlnecker trait. He has eyes that may be green or brown, which is his own trait.
I wonder what he will remember of me. I am with him for four days a week plus some extra times. In his infantile memory will he recall me holding him and humming meandering tunes? That i shushed him to sleep? Will he remember my smell, my voice, how I look?
Today I was pooped on, urped on, cried on, teared on, smiled on, and laughed on. What a day!
I spend my days in conversation with a 5 month old. He greets me in the morning with a smile and then we go through our routines– rocking cuddle to a nap, fussiness till a bottle, burps, walks on nice days. He takes things in on the walks and people comment on him. Usually I run into people with dogs, so we stop to chat about dogs and babies.
It is amazing to watch this little scientist work things out. He is still a little spastic, bobs his head around to look, but he grabs things with more and more confidence. He grabs his feet, which are still themselves grabbing things with their prehensile grasp. He seems to remember how things work on his bouncy chair but he is not bored with it yet.
Quin is reluctant to roll over, as he is kind of chunky, but he sits pretty well propped up. He will have to roll over soon in order to get back up sitting.
I wonder what kind of life he will have. I read a letter in Between Ourselves recently in which the mother was wondering how her child would survive the droughts and famines and wars that were surely coming. They have come, but probably not how we all imagined back then. They are much more pernicious. How will the world condition have progressed for better or worse by the time Quin is a young man? And what will he be doing about it?
The poor child gets to hear me tunelessly humming and crooning to him. So far baa baa black sheep is his favourite, but I add in Christmas carols and even some opera. I suspect he will grow up to be as unable to carry a tune as his grandmother and mother. Lately he has been getting old MacDonald’s farm e i e i o, which gets his attention. I sing it low and slow and so it has become a lullaby. Recently I mentioned to one of my neighbours that I sing to Quin and she was surprised and charmed.
These years it is unusual for a grandmother to take care of her grandchild on an almost daily basis. Several of Meadow’s friends with babies have expressed their envy. However, I could not do it indefinitely and I definitely could not do it if they had another child. My mother was far away from me and I never thought about her coming out to help me. My mother-in-law was too busy being shocked by me and could not understand how I mothered. When I was nursing Meadow, she asked how I knew she had had enough to eat. Because she stopped nursing.
I was lucky because I had a real mothers group and we got together regularly with and without the children. We could share what we learned about taking care of our babies and children in lieu of grandmothers being close. Now it is a grandmother’s club.
When my children were babies, I would take advantage of naps to do all the other things to run the household. I am not running a household so I don’t have to rush to do something. However, I try to help out in some ways, like folding laundry or sometimes taking out the garbage. I don’t want to be the kind of mother/mother in law that tries to take over, especially knowing that it would not be taken well.
Life is slow with Quin. I have to always pay attention to him one way or another, so I find that even at home I listen for his giggles or sighs or complaints. I also find myself humming one of the many tuneless songs for him or I may stand and rock. When he is asleep I can knit or wash bottles but his naps are inconsistent for length. Sometimes I get him to sleep in my arms and when I put him down he opens his eyes and giggles. Other times he wakes up and complains. I want us to learn how I can put him down for a nap without him being in my arms first.
Truly one of the joys of being the caretaker grammo is that I can actually pay attention to this baby. I have watched him learn to focus and he can predict when we play peekaboo games. I bring myself to a stop in order to do that. I am not trying to fit him into my busy schedule but instead I am fitting myself into his. Several times a day I ask him ‘what do you want to do now?’ I am much better at reading his crankiness, wanting food or sleep or a different activity.
My back and arms are stronger, though they still ache some and my knees often could have better days. I feel like a grandmother. And of course I look like one because I am round and soft and have gray hair.
Quin is now about to turn six months. Half a year. Amazing. Now I count half decades and he counts half years. He is a pleasant natured little person, still rather chunky. I am counting down to the time when I have to leave him and already I tear up. I am so glad for this time with him and also for being here for my dear daughter. My grandmothering in the future will be from a distance, as I was grandmothered, though a shorter distance. However, it does not diminish the love and I hope my dear Quin will remember that.