Earlier this year, I babysat my 9-month-old niece for an hour and a half, alone. Six months later, due in part to my stunning success in keeping her alive for 90 minutes in Manhattan, I got another chance. Eight full hours–with a toddler who’s just about to hit the 15-month mark.
Before, Lila was almost entirely helpless. She could smile, she could cry, she could sleep–and that was about it. Now, she has wants, she has feelings, she has opinions–and she can even express at least a small percentage of them. The night before the big day, my most pressing concern was changing her diaper. I’d watched people change diapers, but I’d never done it myself. My wife and I practiced with a folded piece of paper towel, a small square of tape, and a stuffed hippopotamus. Somehow, my success wrapping a sheet of Bounty loosely around a lifeless object gave me the confidence that I would be able to handle the task on an actual person, with an actual diaper–including something called a “ruffle” that I was repeatedly warned I must be aware of.
It was morning, and I was ready to go. Lila, unaware of the potential disaster that awaited her just down the stairs, was still sleeping. With careful instructions about nap times, meal times, and how to work the air conditioner at my in-laws’ house, I made sure the baby monitor was turned up and I waited for my cue. An hour later, there it was. Some babbling, a little screaming, the beginnings of a cry–I raced upstairs, opened the door, and there she was, standing in her crib, ready for the day.
I had a game plan. Get right to breakfast before she has a chance to realize that I don’t know what I’m doing–and stay ahead of the naps, getting her back to sleep before she has a chance to melt down. We started with Cheerios. Well, sort of. We started with me realizing I hadn’t practiced the one-handed high chair disassembly protocol. I yanked the tray off and got her in place. I coaxed one arm through the strap, and–wait, something’s wrong. There’s no way that both of her arms can fit in these holes and then the clips could reach–I fumbled with it for a moment. It wasn’t going to happen. One arm in the strap, one clip in the receptacle, and the tray holding her in place would have to be enough. It wasn’t perfect, but I was right there to catch her if she fell. I tied her bib around her neck and quickly took a picture with my phone. Proof that I was feeding her. Evidence in any potential future legal proceeding. At least at 10:30 in the morning, she was still in one piece.
As quickly as I emailed the photo, I got a reply from my wife–you can tie her hair back with a hair band, and that’s not how the bib goes on. Hair bands? What? What’s a hair band? And from her sister, Lila’s mother–“Hair bands are outside her bedroom.” What is all of this concern about her hair and something called a hair band? Too late anyway–we were already deep into the Cheerios. She ate a few handfuls, she drank the milk from her sippy cup, it was almost too easy. She pointed out the window. “Tree,” she might have said. I convinced myself she was saying it. I grabbed the newspaper and read her the headlines. We talked about the Olympics. She didn’t seem to have a favorite sport. She carefully examined the three-Cheerio clump that had emerged from the box all stuck together. Fascinating, I agreed. Finally, Lila tore off her bib–aha, my wife was right, this was clearly not how it was supposed to attach. Finished, she seemed to be indicating. I removed her from the high chair and carried her back upstairs for the big diaper change.
“Give her a toy to distract her,” I’d been told. And as I placed her carefully on the changing table, I grabbed the closest thing I could reach–a tube, as it turned out, of something called Boudreaux’s Butt Paste. She squeezed it–she loved it! I tore open the diaper package like a wild animal and pulled one out. Should have done that before Lila was on the changing table, I instantly realized. I got the diaper underneath her, removed the old one, and–wait, this was easier on a stuffed hippo. There’s no map, no markings to guide me–where does the top of the diaper go? Where’s the center? I fumbled with it, finally getting it around her, feeling confident–until I helped Lila to her feet–and realized the diaper was loose. Very loose. Barely on. And I definitely didn’t know where the ruffles were. Even more important–or, probably, much less important–she should probably be wearing clothes.
Failing to recognize that the piece of fabric that was placed outside the bedroom door was in fact an outfit her mother had picked out for her and not a hand towel, I found a dress that looked easy to slip over her head. “Not so fast,” she seemed to say, as she swatted my hand away. I tried again. Another swat. Again. Nope, this baby did not want to wear clothes. I tried to distract her with the tube of Butt Paste. Not good enough. We played an exciting game of “find the tiny specks of dust in the rug and point them out to me,” a talent that definitely passed through the genes to my wife as well. As nap time grew closer, I decided to table my attempts to get her dressed until after the next diaper change. I got her into her Woombie–well, she basically took charge of that process, since I can barely get a pillowcase correctly around a pillow, let alone a moving pillow with legs and feet–and set her down for her nap.
Two naps, one more diaper change, thirty-seven used diaper wipes, half an avocado, a delicious sweet potato and apple yogurt (I really wanted to try it!), two bottles of milk, a 10-minute cut-short-by-the-heat venture outside to play in the yard, a thorough examination of every part of the living room’s rocking chair, and–finally–one possibly-backwards dress later, our tear-free (entirely tear-free!) day was complete, and I had a newfound bond with my niece. Two days later, when Lila was asked, “Who’s uncle Jeremy?” I got a little smile, and a tiny point of a tiny finger–and that finger point, well, it made it all worth it. Next time, I will even try my luck with a hair band.