Self-help gurus often recommend stepping “outside the box” as a way to learn more about yourself. After uprooting our lives and moving to Ecuador over three years ago, I can certainly attest to the wisdom of this strategy. I’ve discovered how to live life more fully than I could have ever imagined. I’ve relished reviving dormant talents and interests like art and writing.
But you can also learn a lot about yourself by doing something you haven’t done in awhile.
Like taking care of two babies full-time after 35 years.
We had planned on visiting our family in the fall anyway, so when our son told us he and his wife wanted to attend an out-of-state wedding and asked if we would consider watching our oldest granddaughter (2 years,
3 months) and grandson (almost 8 months) we jumped at the chance.
Up close and personal time with those two sweethearts? Absolutely! Our two children were a similar age difference and we did what we thought was an admirable job with them all the way to adulthood. How hard could four days be?
We arrived a few days early to experience the flow of daily life before we took over. We babysat part of a couple of days to get warmed up, then were on our own starting last Thursday afternoon. The rest of that day went well and we were feeling good about the long weekend ahead.
Then Friday morning arrived.
Our grandson is first to rise and usually wakes up around 6:15 in the morning, so I was surprised to hear noise and scuffling outside our bedroom at 5:30 AM. That’s 4:30 AM Cuenca body clock time (Ecuador doesn’t do Daylight Saving Time), uncharted territory for the Staton’s. We’re accustomed to rising after the sun. I realized I was alone in bed. What’s going on? Where in the world is Cynthia??
I stumbled out the door and there she was standing in the hallway holding our grandson with a panicked look on her face. The family’s two dogs were scratching and barking behind the master bedroom door. “I’ve accidentally locked the damn dogs in there and don’t know how to get the door unlocked,” she hissed.
Talk about unintended consequences. She’d closed the door to keep them quiet because they were restless and it was too early to feed them. That strategy had obviously failed, and now she couldn’t shut them up or get them out!
Let me tell you about these beagles. They’re fed twice a day, and every time they act like death row inmates awaiting their last meal before execution. An hour and a half or so before their bowl is filled some diabolical alarm clock goes off in their brains and they start relentlessly following you around thinking it’s time to eat.
Like zombies from “Night of the Living Dead” they just keep coming no matter what you do. Ignore them–fuss at them–shoot them point blank with a shotgun–look down and there they are, hovering with a hopeful look on their faces.
So now they’re trapped behind a locked door and going nuts. Cynthia’s panicking, I’m half-asleep, and our little grandson’s looking around with a “What the hell’s going on around here?” expression. Somehow our granddaughter is thankfully sleeping through all this hullabaloo.
We find a nail to stick in that little hole next to the knob and unlock the door. I quickly feed the dogs so they’ll shut up then go downstairs to make some coffee.
Even with all the early action I apparently wasn’t fully awake, because I find myself staring at the entire filter basket of coffee grounds I somehow have managed to dump all over the counter and kitchen floor. That’s a LOT of teeny tiny little coffee grounds. And they’re everywhere.
When you spend time in someone else’s home you learn where the dishes, silverware, and cooking utensils are. How about the whisk broom and dust pan? Or the Dustbuster? Uh, not so much.
I’ve been up like 10 minutes and already I feel like a zombie from “Night of the Living Dead.” I’m aimlessly wandering around–turning on lights–looking in closets and cabinets–rambling around in the garage. I’ve got to get this mess cleaned up before the kids and dogs come downstairs, so I’m on my hands and knees at 5:45 in the damn morning improvising with what I can cobble together–a HUGE yard broom, cookie sheet, and a ton of wet paper towels.
Can you picture this scene? Funny, right? At the time I was not amused.
We clear those early hurdles and the morning actually goes pretty smoothly. After lunch Cynthia is putting the oldest down for her nap and I’m on the floor playing with the baby.
Uh, oh–I smell something, and I know what that something is. Great, I get to change a poop diaper.
Since I was working a lot when our own kids were little, I didn’t participate in this gruesome activity too often. But that was way back in the days of cloth diapers and big safety pins. With these modern diapers I’m thinking, “No problem. I’ll go knock this out.”
I plopped Aaron on the changing table, got a new diaper ready, undid the soiled one–and stood there in stunned silence gazing at a gigantic train wreck of gag-inducing feces.
How was this possible? The poor boy just shit half his body weight. This looked like what a baby elephant would excrete.
I was frozen in disbelief. Aaron was not.
Instantly his hands shot down to–well, you know where his hands went.
Now I’m freaking. I desperately grab some wet wipes and barely stop his poopsicle fingers from going into his mouth. I get his hands clean but now what?
I need one hand to fend him off, one to lift his feet, and a third I don’t seem to have to wipe his butt.
I’m trying to use my elbow like a sword to parry his constant thrusts (in my panic it doesn’t occur to me to hand him a toy to keep him busy) and contain the damage. Like the morning coffee grounds, I’m finding crap in impossible nooks, creases, and crannies. By the time I get him cleaned up and re-diapered I’m pouring sweat and “pooped” in a different context.
Ah, but there’s still the little pj’s he’s wearing that have to go back on. The kind with about 50 tiny snaps holding it together. In my inexperience I’d undone every one of them top to bottom Superman-opening-his-shirt style when all I really needed to do was unfasten the few around his legs.
I’m clumsily snapping as fast as I can and he’s thrashing around like a fish out of water. At this point I’d love to give up and call for assistance but these four days are just getting started and I’ve got to do my part.
He gets upset with my plodding pace and starts crying. Great. If he disturbs Addison’s nap this is going to be a l-o-n-g afternoon so I scoop him up half-snapped and run down the hall to the playroom. I shut the door and say, “You do what you’ve gotta do because I have to get you back together before Cynthia comes in here and wants to know why I’m putting on your pajamas in the middle of the playroom floor.”
Sometime after 9:00 PM, we stagger across the finish line of Day One. We’re starving and exhausted, but all we really want is a big glass of wine and some peace and quiet. We’re wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into. I think I ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich before collapsing into bed.
For what will be a 5:00 AM start time tomorrow—-.
There’s a happy ending to this story. It turns out that we were just a little rusty after sitting on the bench for so many years. Every day got progressively better and by the last night the kids were in bed as we relaxed on the couch watching the Emmys and eating a bowl of peach ice cream.
Would we do it again? I assure you we would and we will!