This weekend I did something kind of weird, only in the sense that it doesn't happen very often around the world, as far as I know…. I babysat David and Carol's 3-year old son, Jacob from Friday morning 'til Sunday afternoon. They went out of town for a well-deserved break (alone! first time since he was born!) and I offered to babysit both Jacob and their two standard poodles in exchange for some free web design work.
In case you're new to this column, David is my ex-husband and Carol is his wife (and also my daughters' stepmom). I’m an honorary aunt to Jacob ("Auntie Jen", which sounds alarmingly like "antigen," but anything related to antibodies can't be all bad, so I'll take it).
Rather than trying to explain this whole arrangement to a perfectly friendly, but nevertheless perfect stranger at the park Saturday, I opted instead to simply describe Jacob as the son of close friends — which is technically and completely true. What was also weird is that having Jacob here with us felt so "normal," easy and somehow, complete.
I thought I'd simply try and recapture some of my favorite moments from the past three days while it's all fresh in my mind.
I think it's fair to say that Jacob and I genuinely really like each other. I've been told he regularly asks about me in their household.
One of the things I really loved was him saying "Oh! Hi Jen!" to me regularly throughout the day, as if he'd just bumped into me at the corner store. This always prompted an enthusiastic, faux-surprised "Oh! Hi, Jacob!" back from me. Our own little call and response. He's such a ham — he knows this game gets a rise out of me. He smiles in a sly, amused kind of way that just makes me want to squeeze him.
I was so proud of my two daughters (M. and S.) and how much they helped out. Of course, they each have their own relationship to Jacob since he's their brother, but I got a closer look at what that's all about.
When he was crying repeatedly throughout his first night here, it was S. (she's 16) who got up with me the first three or four times, without complaint. She sweetly held Jacob to soothe him; she even crawled into his crib at one point to help him fall asleep. "Don't worry, I've done this before," she assured me. That crib seemed awfully small! She knows how to sing to him to distract him; to ask for kisses, which he always gives, even through tears.
They were both so patient and comforting and playful. We were such a team!
M, in particular (she's 12) knows Jacob really well, now that she's living with her dad and stepmom. She watches Jacob twice a week while Carol paints and she takes her (paying) job very seriously. She was able to handily advise me on matters of food and sleep preferences, but was thrilled to be able to leave the dirty diaper changes to me. I got to see her repertoire of games, her personal stock of distraction/placating techniques, and her brisk and practical focus on getting things done.
I was really impressed by both of them in different ways. It was simply wonderful to see them interact with him with love, amusement and affection. Good job, girls!
I enjoyed sitting with Jacob alone on the couch, pulling out our tattered little-kid books, which haven't been looked at in eons. I improvised with the words to keep his attention, rediscovering some of my favorite picture-books anew. I watched him hunt for animals hidden in trees, study finer visual details and relished hearing him repeat my words after me.
S. and I got to hear Jacob sing several times. Jacob is extremely musically-inclined. Ever since he was an infant, he's loved banging on things and has a really good sense of rhythm. When music comes in, he'll immediately stop whatever he's doing and listen carefully. He REALLY pays attention. He'll seize on a few phrases in a song and then sing them, using a soft voice. I am charmed by this, and love seeing him in the throes of a magic, music trance. Lucky for him, there's music going at both houses at all hours of the day and night.
Jacob didn't ask for his parents too much during the day. I think it helped that, along with his two big sisters, his two big dogs were here too, knocking up against him. It was like part of his house just migrated over here with him.
The hardest part of the whole weekend was Saturday night.
Friday night had been hell, with Jacob waking up over and over and over (I lost track around the tenth time and it's my policy to never look at the clock when I wake up, so it's all a blur). Every time he cried hard, I went in to soothe him. Saturday morning, I was a wreck and so was he. He couldn't seem to nap that afternoon, but the girls watched over him while I konked.
At the urgent advice of David and Carol, I was to let him cry it out on Saturday night. This was a routine they already had in their house and it worked pretty well, with Jacob knowing what to expect and rarely fussing for long.
I was more of an "attachment parenting" kind of mom when the girls were younger, but at this point in my life, think there's something to be said for either school. I would try out of respect for their approach, and selfishly, so that I could get some more sleep.
Nevertheless, it was pretty grueling to hear him crying and yelling my name from the other room for what seemed like forever. "Help me Jen!" Jen! Help me!" I finally called David and Carol for reassurance. How long should I do this? What if he never stopped crying? I felt terrible!
Eventually, thankfully… he settled down.
The next morning, I realized the windows to his room had been open all night (though the room was warm enough). Great! Now the neighbors were all going to think I had been flogging someone the night before. But Jacob was fine and seemingly unscathed, happy and chipper. It was funny — our two parenting philosophies had each had their turn.
One of my very favorite memories was sitting around the dinner table together. We have four chairs at the table and there's usually one or more chairs empty during meals. Little Jacob was right there, perched on a pillow and a towel, chomping away, spiking his food deliberately with a fork. All of our chairs were full….
It felt complete and right, having Jacob here, like he was family visiting for the weekend— which he was. And knowing we got to give Carol and David some time off made me feel really good.
You just never know what's going to happen in these crazy, new extended-families, once they're up and running.
© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine