The joys of babysitting
It had been quite some time – nearly forty years – since my wife and I had cared for a toddler, but I’m happy to report that we still have what it takes. It just seems like it takes a lot more of it.
We recently spent a week visiting with and caring for our toddler grandson. Babysitting has never been my forte, but my wife more than makes up for my childcare shortcomings. If childrearing were left entirely up to me, a person might fall under the impression that the youngster had been raised by wolves.
You forget what it’s like to have a little kid around the place, all of the noises and aromas that are associated with a toddler. You forget what it’s like to be careful when you walk around the house because you never know when your foot might find a very small yet extremely painful toy.
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You forget what it’s like to spend time with a little boy who can transform himself at will from a chatty toddler to a cuddly puppy to a fearsome T. rex within the span of a minute. You forget that toy cars make a lot of VROOM noises and can zoom through the air or drive straight up a wall. You forget what it’s like to deal with shoes that are so small that they fit in the palm of your hand.
You don’t need a fitness coach or a yoga instructor when you spend time with a toddler. I can’t recall the last time I spent so much time on the floor. Playing with toy dinosaurs is something that, apparently, can only be done while lying on your tummy on the living room carpet. Ditto for the act of fishing out stray tennis balls from beneath the couch. Randomly breaking into a dance is the order of the day.
The little guy is at the stage of life where his main form of verbal communication consists of babbling. We often couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell us even though he stated his case quite emphatically and used vigorous hand gestures to get his point across. There were times when we would be caught by surprise when a correct word or an entire intact phrase popped out of his mouth.
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Using actions to communicate is a key part of being a toddler. For instance, no one can doubt that you are deeply disappointed when you throw yourself onto the floor on your tummy and hide your face with your hands. I think adults could benefit from employing this tactic.
“I’m sorry Smith, but we can’t give you a raise right now. Smith. Smith! Get off the floor, this is embarrassing! OK, you can have the raise, but only if you eat the rest of your broccoli.”
There is something that is heart meltingly special about a toddler grabbing your finger with his tiny hand and trying to pull you along as he jabbers about something that seems to be very important to him. Many times, this important something involved going to his bedroom to construct a fort from sofa cushions.
Cartoon animals are a large part of many toddlers’ preferred television diet. We spent a lot of time with Bluey, Clifford, and Arthur. The little guy really likes Bluey, who has extremely tolerant and astonishingly indulgent parents. Other than that, they are a model family of Australian Blue Heelers.
Being a toddler means enjoying frequent snacks and taking leisurely afternoon naps. We adults were foolish to have given those things up.
Energetic little boys often don’t want to go to sleep at night, so getting them to fly off to dreamland can be challenging. I’ll admit that I was a bit out of practice in this area.
The first night that I was assigned to night-night duty, I followed the little guy’s proscribed routine. We had a drink of milk, we rocked in the rocking chair, and we read books. Nothing. He was every bit as awake and fired up as when we started.
I called in the chief night-night consultant, aka, the scamp’s daddy.
“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong,” I said in exasperation. “We’ve rocked long enough to churn ten pounds of butter and I’ve read the heck out of those Raggedy Ann and Andy books!”
“Did you remember to turn off the light?”
Uffda! A rookie mistake if there ever was one.
My next try the next afternoon went much better. It wasn’t long before the tot sighed deeply, and his warm little body relaxed against my chest.
You never forget how sweet that feels.
About the Author
Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at workman.com/products/dear-county-agent-guy.