I never babysat as a kid, so taking care of someone else’s children is rather foreign to me. Nonetheless, I accepted the challenge when my friend suggested a baby swap between Sprout and their daughter. Basically, we’d babysit their four-month old one afternoon while they went out and they’d do the same for us a few weeks later. While I was happy for the offer of free babysitting, I was actually more pleased to have the opportunity to help them out. They’re moving out of the area soon and I wanted to give them some downtime, something already in short supply when you’re a new parent.
So two weekends ago, we were in charge of the care and feeding of not just one, but two kids. From our previous conversations, we knew their daughter was a much better sleeper than Sprout was at that age, able to nap in places other than someone’s arms. We also knew that she’s a pretty easy-going baby, but as 4-month-olds don’t have a lot of specific personality traits, not much else. They left us with milk, diapers, a few tidbits of advice, and well-wishes.
Even though we’ve been through this stage recently, it’s so easy to forget how much knowledge you lose and how fast kids change. I now feel bad mocking my parents (even though it was gentle) for not remembering certain things about babies. I was less than a year on and I already felt lost!
Not long after our friends left, we promptly remembered that barely-beyond newborns communicate everything through crying – loud, high-pitched crying. While Sprout’s vocabulary is still limited to “Mama,” “Dada,” and “Hi,” he has variations in his sounds and other ways to communicate. Even his cries vary, from an annoyed whine to a distressed wail. Although our friends said they could tell the difference between their daughter’s cries – short indicated being tired, long indicated hunger – we were at a total loss. When you hear your own kid constantly, you hear all of the little variations, but to us it sounded like one long waaaah.
We were also reminded that baby girls will definitively let you know when they need their diaper changed. In contrast, Sprout could be wet forever and not care. He’s only just now starting to communicate when he’s poopy. Usually, we just check him on a regular basis and watch his facial expressions. But our little visitor certainly let us know – loudly – when she needed to be changed. Although our friends had packed several diapers, we went through them quickly!
We also ran through her milk faster than anticipated. Our friend had packed three bottles, saying, “I think she’ll only drink two. If she drinks all three, call us and we’ll hurry back.” She drank all three by 5:30 pm, even though they weren’t due to be back until 7! On one hand, we didn’t want the baby to be hungry, but on the other we didn’t want to interrupt their dinner. To avoid rushing them too much but still let them know about the situate, we decided to wait until 6 to call.
Her sleep schedule turned out to be just as unpredictable as her eating. Sprout has had a specific nap schedule for months, so we’ve lost some familiarity with the randomness of near-newborn sleep. Much like me, Sprout would nap forever if we let him, but he would also be up all night – not an optimal situation. Even when Sprout slept at random times, he would only fall asleep nursing or on the bottle. In contrast, our friends’ baby didn’t typically fall asleep on the bottle, forcing us to guess when she was tired, as opposed to hungry. So my rocking and singing skills returned again as I struggled to remember the introduction to House at Pooh Corner.
But not everything was feeding and napping. The times when she was awake and not crying were quite delightful, as we watched the two kids interact. We pursue opportunities for Sprout to play with with other kids, but most of the time, they’re older than he is. He’s the youngest baby at our church and most of the kids at our neighborhood park are much older. This was the first time he’s interacted with a kid substantially younger than he is. At first, he was curious. We’ve already taught him how to be gentle when he touches others, so he wasn’t too rough. (And when he seemed to be going in that direction, we quickly separated them.) He seemed to realize that she’s smaller and more helpless than he is and didn’t expect much of her as a result. Chris and I have a theory that although toddlers see babies, they think of them more like moving toys than people. Sprout did get a little jealous when I was holding her at first, but was reassured as soon as Chris started playing with him. Once he investigated the situation and realized she couldn’t play with him, he got bored.
Taking care of both of the babies at the same time gave us a taste of what having two children would be like. While we could never have two kids so close in age unless we had twins, we do hope to have another kid while Sprout is still a toddler. His generally positive reaction was reassuring, even though his relationship with a sibling would obviously be different.
Looking after her also reminded me how diverse even the littlest kids are. Although the broad strokes of taking care of her were the same as they were with Sprout, the details, from diaper changing to sleep, were really different. Just like with him, we had to learn and adjust on the fly.
Lastly, this experience made me very glad that when I take maternity leave again that Chris will be at home with me. Besides it not being as boring, I can’t imagine taking care of a newborn and a toddler simultaneously (or even more challenging, newborn twins and a toddler like one of my friends has!). I may go back to work earlier than I did with Sprout, but at least those first few months will be easier. Having that second adult around will also allievate a lot of the potential sibling jealousy, as Chris could play with Sprout while I would be with the new baby.
I was glad to give my friends some time alone, but I was also quite content with giving her back. We have our hands plenty full with managing one kid at the time being!