At the risk of being a complete bore I feel a strong urge to recount our recent experience as a babysitting tag-team.
Renaissance Man and Glasgow Girl had been invited to a friend’s wedding and asked me to come spend the day with Mousey. Of course, this is a thrilling opportunity for grandparent/grandchild bonding and I eagerly assented. Since my vision is so poor, and not feeling entirely secure in my ability to spot Mousey’s tendency to cram any and all found objects into her mouth, I asked Rumpole to spend the day as part of a babysitting tag-team. He jumped at the opportunity. He insisted that we had to be freshly washed and bathed for the occasion and ensured we arrived on time for our day with the wee one.
RM, GG and a friend of theirs from Nanaimo, Pete, were milling about their house as we arrived. Mousey greeted us at the front door, arms upraised to be picked up. I scooped her up, whereupon she whipped my glasses off my face and tried them on herself, chuckling. Rumpole guided me into the living room, toward an arm-chair and cautioned “Watch your eyes, SW, she’ll poke them out!”.
Mousey made several awkward attempts to restore the glasses to my face and I observed that Glasgow Girl was dressed in a lovely summer frock while the two young men wore cut-off jeans and tee-shirts. “Is there a dressed-down look for males at this wedding?” I asked, mystified.
Pete grinned and said, “you’re thinking it is a ‘surfer themed do’, I bet. Heidi (his wife) is on her way on the ferry bringing my flashy duds. Renaissance Man has to drive us all first to his workplace to put on his ‘funeral suit’, then we’ll go on to the wedding.” I glanced over at Rumpole. He was rolling his eyes, but said nothing, then.
Glasgow Girl brought over to me jars of what Mousey was to eat later, held them close to my face so I could discern the labels. “She won’t eat a lot of these, but let her eat until she’s had enough” she said. “Also, she will be ready to go down for her first nap in the next half-hour”. Oo-kay, Rumpole and I would be ready and willing to roll with anything that might transpire!
The young people left, without undue fuss, and Mousey proceeded to parade her stuffed toys, one by one, in front of Rumpole. The pile of vari-coloured fake-fur creatures grew, on his lap and by his feet. She deigned to drop a goofy-looking fairy on my lap, but the cuddly stuff she reserved for Grandpa. (What was I? Chopped liver?) Rumpole looked like a potentate surrounded by odd-looking sycophants and sprawled petitioners; he had a most bemused expression on his face. I twirled the Fairy by her long skinny arms and with squeaky sounds asked, “Fairy wants to see Tigger. Mousey, bring Tigger here”. She dug around on Rumpole’s lap, spied Tigger’s orange leg, unearthed him from the jumble and brought him over to my lap. She raised her arms in the pick-me-up gesture. Once on the couch beside me, she snuggled up and we played ‘Talking Creatures’. After a while she rubbed her little head against my breast, climbed up on my lap, stuck three fingers into her mouth and cuddled against my shoulder. “Nap time, I think”, I announced to Mousey and Rumpole. “Give Grandpa a cuddle”. She curled herself into his shoulder and absentmindedly fingered his beard. I stuffed Tigger under my arm, lifted Mousey into my arms and headed to her bed-room. She was calm as I laid her down in her crib and tucked Tigger beside her. “Have a good nap. See you soon,” I chirped, whereupon she began to yell, quite angry, and jumped to her feet windmilling Tigger by the legs. She complained for a couple of minutes, and we sat in the living room, waiting, listening for her to either give up and lie down to rest, or escalate to a demanding tirade. She began talking to Tigger, in her baby babble, and went to sleep shortly.
I lay down on the couch to catch a brief rest. “No sleeping!” announced Rumpole.
“Are you kidding? It’s imperative to catch a few winks when a baby goes down for a nap, otherwise one is not in fine form for when she awakes and is ready for action,” I muttered, rolling over. “You’d be wise to do some shut -eye yourself!”
I fell asleep but soon was wakened by Rumpole. “Mousey is awake”, he said, “go pick her up”.
She was chirping, chatting with Tigger. I grabbed the phone and called Martha. “You and the dog can arrive in half an hour. I’ll change the Mousey’s diaper and feed her some fruit and a bottle and we’ll be ready to go walkabout in the neighbourhood with you two” I told her.
Mousey was pleased to see us again. She climbed up on Rumpole’s lap while I readied the bottle and fruit. She polished off both her bottle and the whole jar of blueberries. So much for her being a light eater, I mused, this child is a really hungry one! She drank her bottle sprawled in Rumpole’s arms, all the meanwhile fiddling with his beard. I suggested he change her diaper. He made a face and replied “I don’t do diapers”. Off we went, she and I, for diaper change; Rumpole buried himself in a tome.
Martha and the dog arrived. Mousey, ensconced in her stroller, sun-hat on, greeted the dog with a delighted “Kitty”. The dog, a Jack Russel maniac, gave her a thorough lick all over her face, hands and legs. Mousey giggled, squirmed and squealed, “kitty kitty”. Outside the dog circled the stroller, excited to be on eye-level with a small person.
We walked toward the nearby golf course. Martha is convinced that mousey calls every creature not human Kitty, or even that Kitty might be her word for “nice”. She taught Mousey to say “woof” on this walk, and quickly Mousey began to make woofing sounds whenever the dog came up to lick her toes. We walked through the neighbourhood. Every house we passed where there was a resident dog, doggish exchanges between the unseen behind -hedges mutt and Martha’s maniac announced our passage. Mousey accompanied with her own intermittent “woofs”. We strolled to a neighbouring park, inspected the neighbourhood and encouraged Mousey to handle the leaves on shrubbery. We pointed out flowers which she fingerd with an unexpected delicacy. I was tempted to take her out of the stroller and let her experience grass under her feet, but Martha, aware of Mouseys tendency to scream loudly whenever in contact with grass, dissuaded me from that attempt. “We want to end our walkabout on a positive note – not with tears” she cautioned. We were getting hot and thirsty, and so headed back to the house.
Once back home, we repaired to the back porch with glasses, a sippy-cup full of cold water, and a bowl of water for the dog. Mousey, seated in her swing, sipped her water and watched the dog cavorting on the grass. Rumpole came out and demanded that we bring her inside where it was cool. We were in the shade on the porch, quite comfortable, so explained to him that it did a child good to be outside, listen to the birds chattering in the shrubbery and watch the leaves moving in the slight breeze. He ducked back inside, muttering about Mousey being overexposed to reflected light. We ignored him and sat chatting amiably amongst ourselves, sipping our cold water. A couple of blocks away. a train went by, sounded its horn and chugged along in its rhythmic way. We tooted along and made chugging sounds; Mousey made ‘wo-woo-woo’ noises. We mimicked bird-sounds and said “shhh, listen! Birds!”. Mousey craned her neck and listened, her eyes large round dark buttons. A bird coasted through the yard, she spied it and uttered an ‘oooh’. She swung back and forth in her swing, smiled, looked about even at such prosaic details as the beam supporting the porch roof over her head, which she studied in earnest. It was such a peaceful feeling, just observing her reaction to everything around her!
Martha, ready to move on to the rest of her day, said her goodbyes. Mousey and I walked her to the front door, where the dog gave Mousey an effusive and wet goodbye. (Glasgow Girl would have been horrified by the amount of dog gob her child had been anointed with today!)
Mousey went to the bookshelves next and brought our several board books. She gave one to Rumpole to read and brought the others to me. We curled up on the couch and read “Gossie and Gertie” at length. She was fascinated by the red and blue coloured boots worn by these two little geese, and most interested in the double-page spread of the two geese spying on a sheep. She pointed at the sheep when I said ‘sheep’, then pointed at the geese and waited for what I would name them. Shortly, she tossed this book aside and grabbed the board-book about the duck and the frog. I said the word, ‘frog’. She pointed her index finger at the frog. I next tried the word, ‘duck’; she pointed at the duck. Rumpole, watching us, observed “GG and RM are reading with this little one a lot, eh? She’s a smart one!” (Being keen readers, we were so pleased at this early conditioning of our granddaughter!)
Mousey decided that she’d had enough of us for now, slid off the couch and went into her room to find other things to do. She wrestled her play-house from its perch onto the floor, began to poke about exploring the rooms and furniture, chattering to herself in the meanwhile. After a bit, she came to the door and sent me an expectant look, as in ‘well, are you coming to play with me?’ I complied and we sprawled on the floor playing with the little people who lived in that house, put them in, took them out, discussed what they did in each room. Mousey made what seemed comments, although I could not readily descipher what exactly she said. We played for a long time with the house. Then she wanted to play with her music box. We did and I sang along as she danced around. She went in the living room to bring Rumpole along to dance. I hear him say to her, “Grandpa doesn’t dance, sweetie.” She came back into the bedroom where she danced some more, and I sang some more. When she lost interest I took her back into the living room and we took all the stuffed toys from around Rumpole who was nose-deep in his book, and walked them back onto their places on the couch in her bedroom. She enjoyed this game! (Early indoctrination into house-keeping? One can never start too early!)
She went off to see Rumpole. Recently, she has been going around pointing at things and asking ‘sdat?’ She pointed at his book and asked “sdat?” “Book,” he said as he turned it about for her. She looked at the photo of the author on the back cover. He was an older man with a short white beard. She looked at the man in the picture, then looked at Rumpole, then pointed at the man in the picture and announced “you!” She did this several times to make sure he understood what she said.
Rumpole was amazed that she believed the man in the photo looked like him. “She’s a smart one!” he announced with great pride. She put her little arms in the air, a signal for him to pick her up in his arms. He gathered her up and stood up to take her outside. “Let’s go and see what’s up out there?” he suggested. Off we trooped outside. Mousey walked about, found a dead moth and brought it over to him, visited the potted petunias, hung off the patio railing and peeked between the slats, traced the passage of ants on the patio floor softly saying ‘kitty, kitty’. She next wanted up in her swing, and Rumpole strapped her in and swung her back and forth. She giggled and said ‘whee, whoo’. Every time the swing slowed, she thrust her chubby arms toward him and indicated the need for more pushes. He got tired after a short while and asked me to take my turn pushing. I carried on; he went back inside; Mousey’s eyes drooped, she stuck three fingers into her mouth, her little head sagged and she went to sleep. I kept up the motion and she slept. Rumpole brought my journal to me, and I made notes about certain thoughts I have been having lately about how art, commodified, can be made more available as an experience to all people, not just ones with ample financial means. This occupied me for the time Mousey napped in her swing. I’d give the swing an occasional push and carried on writing.
When she awoke, I figured she might be a bit peckish, so off we went into the house to prepare dinner and a bottle. She looked quite intent as she eyed my preparations of mashed beef stroganoff – disgusting looking stuff. As soon as she was in the high chair she opened her mouth wide like a little bird waiting for food to be dropped into its mouth. There is no need to coax this little one to eat, in between bites she does the birdie mouth opening, and woe betide the slow feeder! She polished off the mush, and wanted more. I hunted around in the fridge for more, found it, heated it and resumed shoveling it into her waiting maw. When it was all gone, I waved the bottle at her and she reached out for it. I unstrapped her from the high chair and deposited her in Rumpole’s lap where she lounged sucking down the bottle as if desparate and thirsty.
Afterward, we wiped her face, something she loathes and tries to squirm away from. Rumpole said, “She smells funny, you’d better check her diaper!” (Not volunteering or anything!) Away we went for the diaper change, and then to more playtime in her room. We had the toys talking to each other, then we listened to some music and sang and danced along, shortly after which Mousey plopped down onto her little armchair clutching her sock-monkey. After a short sit-down, she recouped, ignored me and went off to empty her large chest. I was summarily dismissed, went off to the living room and collapsed on the couch. Mousey closed the door to her room; a need for privacy perhaps, or up to no good. She was very quiet for several minutes. This I remember as not a very good sign; she was probably up to something she wanted us to not know about. I sneaked to take a look. She was busy unloading the hamper of dirty clothes and spreading them about on the floor. “Mousey! I see you!” I called through the door; she pushed it shut from the other side. I waited until she went away from the door, opened it a crack. She jumped in surprise and giggled, caught with several dirty washcloths in her hand. I walked in and we made a game of putting the dirty clothes back into the hamper, taking turns, picking up one thing and then depositing it in the correct spot.
Meanwhile, Rumpole was still avidly reading his book. “Let’s take the Mouse outside and do a little contact desensitization with the grass” I suggested. He took her up in his arms and walked outside. I followed. At the edge of the grass I made a huge show of tossing off my sandals, stepped on the grass barefoot and cavorted around while making happy sounds. Rumpole deposited Mousey on the grass, took off his sandals and made great show of enjoyment of grass under his feet. She made a series of amazing faces ranging from surprise to unsureness to disgust and rage and began howling. He went and sat down near her. She made a dive for his legs and clawed her way up his body, all the while clamped onto his shirt. She raised her little feet, looked back to check they were clear of the offending grass and clambered to put a safe distance between her and that horrid stuff. I played around on the grass, dragged my feet along, looked at the bottom of my foot to see if it was all right, mucked about happily. Rumpole wiggled his toes in the grass. Mousey watched carefully, but was not convinced. He put her back down and she no longer howled, but scrambled up onto his lap in desperate haste. I sat down near them, and we just lolled about there awhile.
When we figured she had had enough grass time, we took her and gave her a good swing and she was quite happy. She started chewing on the straps of the swing. “Is she hungry again?” asked Rumpole? I went inside and prepared a dessert of fruit and Pablum, brought it outside. As soon as Mousey spied the spoon and bowl she made the wide-open-mouth birdie gesture. We stopped the swing and Rumpole fed her. She wolfed down the whole bowl and wanted more. I brought her more, she polished it all off and still wanted a refill. After I brought the refill she ate almost all of that, until she clamped her mouth shut, turned away from the spoon. So Rumpole finished off the bowl, making faces all the while. “How can she like this stuff” he asked, “It’s got a disgusting texture.” That didn’t stop him from scraping the bowl clean! “She’s sticky now, SW. You’llneed to wipe her off!” he ordered.
“No, it’s bath-time” I replied, extricated her from the swing and carried her messyness of to the bathroom. Once the bath was ready, Mousey was eager to shuck her clothes and be placed inside. She grabbed her floating toys, chewed them squeaked them, tossed them about in the water and splashed about. It’s odd how she hates to have her face wiped with wet cloths after eating, but she doesn’t mind at all having water ladelled from the top of her head and having it run down her face and body. And she enjoys having her hair washed. Go figure!
After she splashed enough water on me, we let the water drain out from the tub and she watched the spiralling flow down the drain. We went back to Grandpa, Mousey snug and swaddled in a big soft bath towel. She peeked out at him from within the folds and giggled when deposited in his lap. They cuddled and he dried her off. We put diapers and pajamas on her and let her traipse around in the living room. She wandered off to get a book to read. We curled up on the couch and were reading when we heard the front door open. “Door”, Mousey said as she slid off the couch and took off toward the front door. Her mother and father were there. She raised her little arms to be picked up.
Renaissance Man asked how she had been. We said in unison, “great fun!” Glasgow Girl asked if she ate well. “She was voracious and wanted more and more food” I replied.
“Let’s have dinner together” suggested RM. We demurred, being quite exhausted, and ready to to spend some quiet time together eating in an unstimulating, quiet environment.
“We’re going to the 50s Diner, read newspapers and have hamburgers and milkshakes” said Rumpole. “Let’s be off!”
As we were saying our goodbyes at the front door, Mousey padded about wanting both Rumpole and me to pick her up for cuddles. He handed her off to her father, and we walked out the door saying goodbye. She set off a huge wail, and we heard her parents trying to shush her as we were walking to the car.
Rumpole was quite pleased to hear Mousey cry as we went off. “I think she had a good time with us, don’t you?” he inquired. “I like to know she will miss us!”
“To the Diner, James!” I instructed. “Mousey is not the only one who’s ravenous. Drive on!”
“I hope Mousey enjoyed our day together” said Rumpole, “I know I did!”