Monday, November 17, 2008

Adventures in Babyland

I met Tomi on the first day that I volunteered for the church nursery (ages 0-4).   His older brother (age 4) couldn't tell me exactly how old Tomi was, but I determined that he hadn't yet had a birthday party.  From my limited knowledge of babies, I guess that he was around 8-9 months.

One of the first things I learned about Tomi is that he's one of those babies who fights sleep.  And we all know that a tired baby is a cranky baby.  On that first day, he was fighting to keep his eyes open.  He was lounging comfortably in a bouncy chair, but for some reason another volunteer lifted him out and handed him to me.  He didn't like that very much.

"Waaaaaaaaaaaah!"  Tomi screamed in my ear.  Of course, now that he was out of his comfy chair, he didn't want to go back to it.  He didn't want to be up, or down.  He didn't want to be walked or rocked.  I offered his bottle, which he sucked at noisily for all of five seconds and then rejected it.  He cried until his nose ran and smeared on my sweater.  An experienced mom took him from me but her luck was no better.  Then a dad took him, and suddenly he was appeased.  

"Some of the babies," I was told, "have gender preferences."

I remembered this and determined to let the men handle Tomi from then on.

The next time I was on Babyland duty, I was the closest volunteer to the entrance when Tomi's mom dropped him off.  She thanked me for my help as she placed him in my arms.

"Errrrrr...  No problem." I said, and smiled anxiously.  Once again his little baby eyelids were drooping, but he was determined to stay awake. 

The first half hour wasn't too bad.  The nursery wasn't full yet, and Tomi was happy to crawl around on the floor and play with toys.  Although, his definition of "playing" with a toy was "throwing it with all his might at another baby".

There was some kind of big, plastic structure on the floor that accepted coloured balls through various openings.  The balls would roll through hidden passages inside the structure and appear at other openings lower down.  Hours of fascinating fun for baby, yes?  No.  Tomi just wanted to whip those balls at the other kids' faces.  I played catcher, intercepting each missile on its way to the potential victim's head.

When Tomi tired of that, he decided to make friends with the other kids.  Although, his definition of "make friends" was "crawl right up into the other child's personal space and then claw at that child's face".  Again, I was the interceptor, grabbing his tiny wrists and moving his fingernails away from the other babies' eyes.  

"No, no, sweetie," I cooed, as Tomi fought against my interventions.  The other babies blinked and looked worried.

Eventually, I got distracted by a three-year-old who had climbed up onto the Play-Doh table.  In the 30 seconds it took me to get her down to floor level again, Tomi crawled up into the lap of a toddler who was sitting on the floor and grabbed at the older child's face.  Micah, the hapless victim, began to wail.

I scooped Micah up and shookled him on my hip; rubbed his back;  murmured soothingly that he was OK now, everything was OK.  Eventually he quieted down.  I put him back down.   However, I noticed that from that point on, Micah kept one eye on Tomi at all times.

Keep in mind that Micah was approximately twice the age and twice the size of Tomi.  Tomi can't walk yet.  Micah can run.  Micah could easily have defended himself from little Tomi, theoretically.  But clearly Micah is a gentle soul, not at all used to abuse and completely clueless in the arena of self-defence strategies.

Micah managed to keep a safe distance between himself and Tomi for the remaining time, except at one point when he got cornered.  His brown, Bambi-eyes grew wide and he backed up as much as he could to squeeze himself against the wall.  As Tomi crawled closer, Micah began to shake his head slowly back and forth, murmuring in a horrified voice: "No. No!"  I believe his brief life flashed before his eyes.  

Ever alert, I grabbed Tomi, and the day was saved.

The last half-hour minding Tomi was a marathon.  He got more and more tired, hence more and more grouchy.  Feeding him from his bottle helped briefly.  I noticed that he was sweaty (for some reason Babyland is always broiling hot) so I took off his tiny hoodie.  But as time wore on, the distractions I offered became less and less effective, and his wails more frequent.

We had a quarter of an hour to go when I started watching the clock minute-by-minute.  I could have paged his mother (Babyland has a high-tech paging system to summon parents) but it became a challenge I couldn't resist to last out the final 15 minutes.  I paced the room in complicated patterns, jiggling him.  He twisted in my arms until he was facing down, so I flew him around like an airplane.  When he continued to sweat, I remembered hearing that the fastest way to cool down a cup of hot coffee is to blow on it.  So for the last ten minutes I blew on Tomi's bald head.  If I stopped, he would cry, but as long as I blew on his head with every exhalation, he could tolerate existing.

Finally the clock ticked over to 12:00:00, and I waited for the rush of parents at the door.  No such luck.  The service ran overtime.  I was like, are you kidding me?  My whole body is aching from carrying this heavy child around for over an hour.  And I can't stave off a meltdown much longer.  

I was about to page Tomi's mother, when another volunteer offered to take him.  

"Maybe he just wants a nap," she said.  "I'll see if I can get him to nap." 

"OK," I said, knowing that there was no way on God's green earth that Tomi would settle down.  She disappeared into "the quiet room".  Moments later, I heard loud wailing coming from behind the closed door.  Shortly thereafter the volunteer re-appeared and paged Tomi's mom.  The hand-off was accomplished.  The wailing retreated down the corridor, turned a corner, and then there was quiet.

OK, so there were still a dozen hyper toddlers zinging around the room like a giant, multiball pinball game.  But in my heart, I knew peace.

I was sore for three days after minding Tomi.  Lifting and carrying him was way outside my usual workout parameters.  My shoulders, arms, back, butt, and thighs hurt so much I had to take a Tylenol to fall asleep.  But I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world.  And when that crazy-making little guy comes back to the nursery next time, I'll be the first to volunteer myself to look after him.   I guess I have some maternal instincts in me after all.

P.S.  Not that this makes me want to become a parent.  I'm happy to constrain this type of experience to 1.5 hours once every four weeks.  I still say that, for me, borrowed babies are the best babies.

P.P.S.  Despite that I can't resist the urge to brag a little.  All the parents who saw me with Tomi assumed that he was my son.  When I told them otherwise, they were surprised.  "He seems so attached to you!" they'd say.  Chyldkere: I'm doin' it kwite well, aktualy!


Warped Mind of Ron said...

Congrats on sucessful baby watching! They get a little flustered when one gets lost don't they? LOL... Sounds like a tiring, painful and wonderful experience. Kids can be a pain, but you also get the benefit of hugs and affection too.

desi said...

Reminds me of my days as a preschool teacher. Oddly, they don't always stay the way they were as little ones. The biggest a--hole in my class is now a missionary, helping the poverty stricken starving kids in Africa. After he's done this for a few more years, I'll consider his debt paid. What I'm saying is that there is still hope for Tomi.

MichelleB said...

It reminds me of when me and my hubby recently celebrated our 10th anniversary.

Our two boys were asleep in their cribs and me and my hubby shared some wine by the fireplace. He bought me a gorgeous diamond necklace from and we talked for hours.

Around 1 am, both babies woke up and cried, and we didn't get back to sleep till after 7 am! But what can you do!

Karen said...

I agree with you completely... borrowed babies are the best. I love my nephew and I love spending time with him, but I love giving him back too.

Anonymous said...

You know all there is to know about the crying game...

Nicole said...

This cracks me up :D
I know what you mean with seeing / taking care of Babies part time only :D
I love them, but I'm glad we don't have any, grin :)

Tomi seems to be a handful, jee.

Anonymous said...

Watching somebody else's baby takes a lot of caring and compassion. I don't know how people do it.

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: Truly, kids are intense at both ends of the spectrum. Fortunately we don't have to worry about losing any because there's a waist-high, locking half-door at the entrace. I couldn't figure out how to unlock it myself, on the first day, which means it's foolproof as well as childproof. ;-)

Desi: That's amazing. I guess there's also hope for the son of a woman I worked with. He squashed a baby rabbit to death with his bare hands when he was three. Disturbing... but not necessarily an indication of his eventual personality.

MichelleB: I suspect you may be a spam. Notify me if I am mistaken.

Karen: Going home to my own quiet house seemed like such a luxury after that morning! :-)

Unsigned: Good one. :-)

Nicole: I just hope he doesn't stay so attached to me as he grows bigger. If he wants to be carried around all morning, he'll have to stay small and light. ;-)

Whatigotsofar: Women's brains are actually hardwired to produce an opiate-like chemical when snuggling a baby, or even thinking about snuggling a baby. So for women, the snuggling is its own reward, even if the baby is fussy. At least, within limits.

Sabrae said...

ewwww the first hour would have literally KILLED ME! lol!!! Hence the reason I have dogs and not children YET! lol

Dianne said...

I can take just about everything but wailing.

I wonder why Tomi is so aggressive so early.

I get the not sleeping and the restlessness, my son was like that, but the throwing and the clawing?

I have always enjoyed other people's children :)

Sparkling Red said...

Sabrae: I have heard that a puppy can be as much work as a human baby. Maybe you're better equipped for babies than you think. ;-)

Dianne: I don't know anything about Tomi or his family, beyond what I saw in the nursery. However, his older brother is a pleasant, well-behaved child. I think Tomi's just a very interactive kid, and doesn't yet realize the consequences of his explorative movements. I hope!

Nicole said...

I hope that too - for your health & sanity :D

jameil1922 said...

better you than me. i'm not a fan of screaming, crying children, either (who is), particularly when they're not mine. i've been known to yell, "give it what it wants!" at 26 i've never changed a diaper. i like the kids you can give back, too. that's why i want to skip being a mom and be a grandma. however, since that's not possible i'll get around to the mom thing eventually.

Aurora said...

Yes I am also surprised that Tomi is so aggresive. He's getting a lot of your attention as a result.. and clearly he likes that. It sounds like such an interesting experience, watching little baby minds grow :)