It’s no secret to those who know me that I don’t do babies. I’m not the first one on the call list when a babysitter is needed, I don’t make an excessive fuss over them, and I tend to avoid the smaller, noisier ones. If they fall into the whiny category, I avoid all contact and flee the room. The disconnect stems from my inability to relate to these tiny beings, to communicate with them in a way I understand. Perhaps it’s the result of being an only child, or growing up in a neighborhood devoid of other children, or having a small family which never played the Baby Making Game- you know , the one in which someone is expecting all the time. I never had small cousins or nieces or nephews milling around at my feet. My exposure to infants was minimal, even into my teen and college years, and in the spirit of honesty, that was completely fine by me. Sure, I made it through the early years of my own two, with help, with guidance from baby masters like my grandmother and some friends. I may have not been the ideal maternal candidate, but I gave love and care, I educated and encouraged, disciplined, imparted wisdom to, and grew to truly love them with all my heart. As payment, I expected certain returns on my investments-a high level of literacy and verbal communication skills being the list toppers. Both my girls learned quite young to use words to express to me what they wanted. Whining got them nowhere, they quickly found out. Words got results, got them what they needed or wanted, so words were the accepted form of communication.
Fast forward some twenty-two years after the birth of girl number one. Without delving deeply into the whole, sordid tale, suffice it to say a long series of poor choices and rampant stupidity brought her to no good place, as one can imagine. At age twenty, she birthed a son. His beginnings were rocky, scary for all of our family, but he pulled through and made it out of the critical time. The little guy grew on me, though my contact was minimal. I made it very clear from the start what my role as grandmother was to be. I was not a built-in free babysitting service, I was not the Spoiler, I was not the child’s mother and would not be the primary raiser of the boy. There seemed to be a general understanding of the Law. In small doses, it was nice to see him as he left infancy and began to be a little human. I looked forward to giving him a vocabulary one day in order to convey to me his needs and wants.
Time rolled along, his first birthday, first tentative steps. My daughter moved out of walking range and we became carless. I did not see my grandson for many months. Then, over the summer, I had a health scare with an enormous ovarian cyst (don’t mean to brag or anything, but it topped 11 pounds!) and had to have surgery in September. Daughter was looking for an exit from her living situation, and I was looking for some help while in the recovery phase. With much hesitation on my end, I eventually agreed to have her and grandson live with us temporarily. While they were here, it concerned me that this little boy, nearing two years of age, had almost no language skills. It also concerned me that his mother was lacking in certain basic life skills for her age. It also concerned me that the mother had a nasty streak to her and seemed angry all the time. Angry and ignorant is a terrible combination.
Things did not work out so well. We lasted a little over a month before I could take no more and mom and child had to find new digs. It was for the best, as it became obvious my teaching efforts were unwelcomed by her, as well as my attempts to educate my grandson, which were viewed as rival parenting by my daughter. I was disappointed, but relieved to have the peace and sanity restored to my humble, boring world. Daughter estranged herself from me and went about her business of stumbling blindly through life. I healed rapidly, and began the mad winter preparations that follow Halloween and go to the New Year. I had my health back, and took advantage of that feeling with submersion into hard work. Everything clicked into place-Thanksgiving feast, a month of cookie making (seventeen kinds, plus other treats!) and Christmas decorating and shopping, even Joe got back on his feet. We still did not have a car, but somehow, he managed to get to work, to two different jobs, and I could get to the store for supplies. I would have passing thoughts of my daughter and grandson, I hoped they were safe and warm and dry and fed. I bought gifts for them. The boy turned two, though I did not see him when it happened. Christmas happened. The New Year came in.
Suddenly, we had an opportunity to buy a car. Joe could borrow the money from his first job- the car was inexpensive, not pretty, but reliable, inspected, and running. We set it up for Friday. Joe took the day off to take care of business. Two days before the Friday, a long time, good friend called with a dilemma. He is a roofer by trade, and the past year was not kind to him, and he fell short of what he needed to make it through the leaner winter months. He had run out of time and money on his living arrangements, and needed a place for him and his woman to live for a short time. Joe and I discussed, and set down parameters and time frames, and agreed to have them as houseguests, to begin Friday evening. The day before the Friday, my dad’s lemon truck (a bugaboo from day one) overheated once again. He set up a mechanic’s appointment for Friday morning, and since said mechanics is mere blocks from my house, he intended to wait it out here. The ingredients for the perfect storm were now in the pot and being stirred vigorously.
So, we have Joe and my dad here, both a bit curmudgeony and grumpy sorts. We have vehicles to tend to, we have friends coming later to stay, and we have many phone calls to make and elements to pull together. Around one in the afternoon comes a knock on the door. It’s my daughter’s latest boyfriend with my grandson, a pack of diapers, and a few clothes. Daughter has been picked up by the police on outstanding warrants stemming from unpaid fines from a four year old crime she committed. She assumed if she ignored the repeated warnings and threats, they would magically disappear and she could go about her business. So, here, grandma, and have a nice day. So long now.
Panic, shock, anger, confusion…I can’t even sift through it all now, let alone at that exact moment. I am not equipped for long term child care. My house was never baby-proof in the past, but even less so now, as imminent baby death sits on every flat surface and in every corner. I have no toys, no room, no food to speak of. Remember, we are to buy a car this day, and all our money is tied up for tax, title, registration, notary fees, and insurance. Christmas just happened. We are in a hole and have no wiggle room. And yet, here is this child, thrown into turmoil for so long, with no one else to come to. And here is my dad and Joe, getting all excited and animated and angry over the situation. And here is the phone ringing constantly with insurance companies and the garage.
Deep breath, I say. Without knowing who else to call, I rang up Children and Youth Services. I need help, and now. I need to know how long this situation will be, how long the mother is to be jailed, I need to know where the child’s father is, I need access to emergency supplies. A nice fellow sensed my distress and soothed the boiling to a simmer. He made calls for me to get what I needed, and left me his number should anything else arise. I sent my dad and Joe on their way to deal with the dual vehicle situations. I got in contact with the boy’s father and worked out a tentative schedule and expense sharing deal. I called my daughter’s father to let him know and to make sure we were all on board with immediate needs. Somehow, in the explosion of chaos, I pulled in calmness and a businesslike efficiency from some hidden source within.
The car was purchased. The truck was fixed and dad went home. The friends came and got settled in the room I readied for them. They even brought up the toddler bed from the basement , one I bought at a yard sale for my grandson, and was grateful my daughter could not find space for it when she moved. They offered to fill the house with food immediately, and did so. Joe went to work his second job. I fed my grandson and rocked him to sleep. My other daughter went to bed. My friends went to bed. In the quiet moment of alone time, I sat on the couch and finally let go of that deep breath. And sobbed quietly. The stress, the pressure, the panic, all passed now, left room for the flood of emotions that come with great upheaval of one’s humdrum, ordinary life. The release was necessary, and once done, left me once again peaceful.
I can see I have much work to do. My grandson needs great assistance with oral communication. He will learn as the other did that whining will get him nowhere. He will have to communicate with me somehow; I will accept pointing and babbling for the moment. He has the capacity to learn, I think he lacked only the teaching. I think he may be slower to develop, but I don’t think he can’t be reached or taught. I will learn how to get through to him. I will ask for help from friends and family. We will all pull together and find a way to make it work. There is a strong sense of community in my circle, and the notion that “it takes a village” is not foreign to us.
I may not be the Baby person. I may not have the skills to pull this off alone. I may need a hair transplant when all is said and done. But I can feel the loving hands of those who care about me and my family as they reach out to offer what they can. All will come out as it should. It will not be the first time in my life I stepped way out of my comfort zone, as that zone continues to expand over the years. Whatever may come as a result of this situation, I will learn, too, and grow, and communicate it to you, oh brave and kind reader of my words. Wish me luck as I trek across this new landscape without a map or compass.
Love and light to you,