After a three-day apprenticeship, my twin infant grandsons were left in my care. I would say ‘our care’ but my husband was asleep on the couch for the duration so it seems unnecessarily inclusive and gratuitous to allow much credit to flow his way. He was mostly inert; but still at the ready should all hell break loose. For definition purposes: two babies crying in a loud, insistent way constitutes all hell breaking loose. Just so you know.
My beautiful daughter, clad in a long, brilliant blue, summer dress and gold sandals, held the car keys in her hand, looked at me and gave me the final instructions.
“Just keep them alive.”
I like a low bar.
To give me a leg up, she had swaddled each just-fed boy in little Velcro contraptions that, when you are charged with untangling them in the pile of clean clothes and folding them nicely, can inspire a reenactment of Woody Allen in the bathroom with the crazy hair dryer. It’s maddening and counterintuitive to fold these postage stamp size straitjackets but I act like I do it every day of the week. I’m cool with tiny weird clothing.
The swaddling means their little arms are pinned to their sides and they are wrapped like cocktail sausages clenched in a fat man’s fist. Adults who’ve watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest one too many times are looking for Chief to throw a sink through the window so they can grab the babies and run to freedom. But actually babies like it; it makes them feel safe and cozy. When she walked out the door, the two wee guys were lying side by side, armless creatures with their perfect heads sideways on the crib mattress, each with a blue pacifier. It was an ad for swaddling.
I unwrapped them. Well, they were crying. I didn’t do it on principle, you know, freeing the babies from the tyranny of swaddling. They were crying so I had to go the Plan B. Which was what? Divide and conquer. I picked up the louder one and made my way to the living room where the amazing, civilization-changing 6-speed, 16-song, soft as a pillow baby swing stood. I put Baby A in the swing and set it at its highest speed. Almost immediately, I remembered the admonishment about keeping them alive and turned it down lest he be catapulted into the dining room. If there is a homeless mistake anywhere within ten miles, I will make it mine. It’s always been like that.
With Baby A settled, I went back for Baby B. He got the cushy little bouncy chair, set on vibrate with periodic bird tweets. I love equipment so much, it’s silly. And gosh there’s great baby equipment now. Jeez, I thought, I feel like I had my own babies in wheelbarrows and rope swings. But then I was using cloth diapers, putting them in a diaper pail with tons of bleach, carting the whole mess into the basement and dumping it in the washer. How is that even possible? It makes me feel like Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman every time I think about it. Our roof was also thatched. Just kidding.
While Baby A settled his angelic self in his fabulous swing, Baby B dozed, woke, dozed, woke, whimpered, dozed, and on and on. I changed his diaper, remembering that he was the one that was fussy about his diaper situation. Ok for a while, then more whimpering, then real noises, precursors to full belly cries. I sat down on the floor next to him, reaching over to put his pacifier back and pat his chest; he would be quiet for a minute then start up again.
So I took him out of the bouncy chair and leaned him against my knees and started stroking his head, back to front with my hand coming all the way down over his eyes just like I used to stroke his mother’s head to try to convince her that closing her eyes and relaxing against my knees would feel better than crying. And it worked, not perfectly, but for a while, which was good enough. I’d kept him alive after all. That was my charge.