James and I were babysitting for my Sister and Brother in law for a few hours on Friday night. I jumped at the chance to babysit. As almost 30 year olds (well – we’re 28 but you get the point!) we have no adult experience of babies. I was advised that our 8 month old nephew would almost certainly sleep the entire time, so there was no need to be briefed on feeds, nappy changes or the like. I wasn’t overly worried if he did wake, because I assumed my in-built maternal instinct would step in and I’d soothe him immediately (and be excited at the prospect of doing so!) So no problem either way, right?
Our nephew had been stirring for a few hours, and each time I heard him on the monitor I found myself legging it up the stairs in a sheer panic to check he was OK. I was already feeling tired by 10pm, which was when he decided it was time to get up for good. He was crying and after trying to settle him upstairs to no avail, I brought him downstairs with me and walked around the kitchen in circles with him, thinking the motion may do him good. I had to turn my face away from him because he usually cries at the sight of it, so the last thing I wanted was for him to see who was holding him and sob uncontrollably. So around and around I go, gently patting his back and moving about as rhythmically as I could, because that’s what sends babies to sleep isn’t it? Apparently not. I try this for a bit longer thinking he’ll go to sleep soon because he’s tired and that’s what tired people do. Not babies! I tell James to play a lovely piano version of ‘twinkle twinkle little star’, which ended up playing on repeat for 4 hours straight and I’m pretty sure it’ll be playing somewhere in the back of my mind for the next 84 years. He still didn’t settle.
James took over for a little while and did the same routine walking around the kitchen. I sit for a moment thinking ‘god, I’m tired’, then scorn myself for being so pathetic as to be tired after just 2 hours of baby being awake. As I’m sat contemplating how people juggle jobs and babies and life, I see James stumble over one of the cat’s toys, stubbing his toe in the process. James looks like he’s about to cry and for a millisecond I feel sorry for him, but this quickly dissipates when the baby starts crying again and I scowl at James for being so inconsiderate.
At this point, baby is really starting to realise we’re not Mum and Dad, and our two naive, inexperienced selves begin to panic because we honestly don’t know what to do if he goes full throttle. We weren’t prepared for this. Where’s my maternal instinct?! We find ourselves as a mini tag team passing him back and forth, making baby noises and whatever else we can to distract him from crying. It does seem to calm him, so we continue, albeit a little more frantically now that we’ve seen that it can work. My head’s gone a bit funny from all the walking in circles and amount of ‘shhhhhhh’ing I’ve done, I’m starting to feel woozy when I notice the cat with its head in the vase, chewing on the daffodils. My knowledge on cats is limited but I suspect they shouldn’t really be eating flowers so try to divert its attention by throwing baby’s soft toys towards it, to no avail. I try to grab the cat out of the vase at which point it scratches me, and baby cries some more. I don’t even feel guilty for calling the cat a knobhead at this point, I’m losing patience and my nerves are shooting through the roof.
The next 574 hours consist of us passing the baby between us in various attempts to keep him content whilst trying to control the cat from doing everything it shouldn’t be doing – eating daffodils, drowning in vase water, opening cupboards, climbing up the walls and leaping between high surfaces. It seems to sense when the baby is calming slightly and that’s when it chooses to jump and run about, ringing its little collar bell in the process and attracting baby’s attention so he’s up and alert and ready to see what’s going on. It’s at this point that I realise I should have remained in the bedroom all those hours ago, where he would probably settle at some point out of sheer boredom, with there being only a wall to look at.
The cat ramps it up a notch and starts climbing the blinds, which was really funny until I remembered I’m a responsible adult with a baby now, and the cat could pull the blinds down or break a bone if it fell. So I hand baby to James and try to pull the cat off, who clings to the blinds for dear life. We did laugh a lot here – somewhat hysterically – realising just how out of our depth we were in this entire situation. Even the baby was smiling. Everything was wonderful for a brief moment, until the cat jumped up again knocking something over, the baby starts crying and throwing his dummy on the floor and we’re straight back into operation try to settle baby mode. We speculate whether he may need water or milk or a nappy change. I google ‘how to change a nappy’ and scorn myself again for clearly not possessing the in-built maternal instinct I assumed would just be there. I text my friend who I suspected would still be up with her baby, asking how do I know if an 8 month old wants water. Said friend calls me and gives me tonnes of advice about follow on milk and sterilizers and teats and machinery. I am completely overwhelmed at this point and as if it weren’t apparent before, I realise how utterly hopeless we are at this whole ‘having a baby’ thing. I wonder why on Earth I was so naive to think we could do this and feel like crying out of resignation.
But then my Brother and Sister in law return home, and whilst laughing and commenting that I look awful, point out that he is perfectly OK and has cried because that’s what babies do. I realise that despite him being upset, the feeling of our nephew snuggling into me and calming down when usually he hates my face made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside.To see James doing such a great job being so calm, patient and loving with his nephew made my heart melt. Maybe that’s the maternal instinct I hear about. Maybe not everybody starts off as a pro. Maybe everybody during their first experience with a baby is just trying to find their way through. I love getting one to one time with our niece (who was in bed the entire time!) and nephew, and whilst I was a nervous, inexperienced wreck, I suppose everybody has to start somewhere! And whilst both of us may currently be the most inexperienced and useless babysitters of all time, the chaos was worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
I take my hat off to all you parents and carers out there, you truly are superheroes.