We flew to the city early that morning to try our hand at a weekend babysitting Henry, our 5-month-old grandson, for the first time.
He’d been subjected to our care in other moments — while his parents sat on the beach or ran out for ice cream. But it had been more than 30 years since we cared for a baby still in the wake-in-the-middle-of-the-night stage. And that wasn’t in a city of millions where we knew literally no one who could help us out in a pinch.
He cried for the first half-hour, even though he had eaten his fill and was dry. I put him in the swing, held his hand and sang while his grandfather tried to figure out how to work a TV smarter than we are. Henry finally drifted off.
I wasn’t sure how we’d manage, two new grandparents who grumble at each other in the mornings when we don’t get enough sleep. But one look at Henry’s full, toothless grin when he woke from his nap told us he trusted our efforts, even if we didn’t.
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Mom texted every hour or so: How’s he doing? What’s going on? How is Bailey dog? She’d left us three pages of instructions, which included phone numbers for the pediatrician and their favorite restaurants that deliver.
That first afternoon we set out for the park, where, we were told, Henry loved studying the trees. Grumps complained about the heat, and my heart raced as I strolled Henry into the street and across five lanes, looking every which way for rogue cab drivers.
Native city dwellers whisked by us at a rat’s pace. It was hot, and by the time we reached the park, sweat streamed off both of us. Henry cooed at the trees, unfazed. I plodded on while Grumps stretched out on a park bench, and Bailey sought the shade beneath it.
Once back at the apartment, we sat with Henry, marveling at this little creature who looks a little bit like each of his grandfathers, depending on the hour.
That night, I honestly don’t remember how we got him to sleep, but we did. I know we bathed and fed him, and I read “Goodnight Moon” to him, even though his mother swore he didn’t like bedtime stories. He seemed to stare at the great green room and the red balloon, but the telephone, not so much. (He’ll never find the rotary phone in a game of I Spy.)
Morning came way before dawn for Henry, so I grabbed a bottle from the fridge, neither of us opening our eyes much as he fed. But then, he cooed and smiled and cooed some more, lulling both of us into cuddles under the covers.
Every time we see Henry we have to learn his rhythms anew. Babies, I’ve discovered, change in minute ways, almost within moments. One second he’s having tummy time, and the next he’s rolled over into a whole new world of learning.
He wakes with tiny baby acne and by noon, his skin is clear and soft again. Here, he’s crying so hard you think he’ll never stop, then he sighs and gives up, gently rocking to Mozart as if he hadn’t a single care. (Which he doesn’t really.)
You don’t notice these things so much when you’re in the middle of raising them. It’s when you don’t see them for a few weeks that the changes glare.
By noon that day, we dodged puddles on our grand adventure to take Henry to lunch. In his stroller perched next to us, his full eyes followed the clatter of plates, the occasional siren, the angry horn. In a matter of minutes, he was asleep again, and we ate our burgers without worry.
The next day would be the test, though. Grumps would be flying home, leaving me to manage the dog and the baby alone for a few hours until his parents returned.
At 6 a.m., we called Uber for the trip to the airport, and as I shut the door behind my husband, baby in my arms, I worried what to do next. It seemed too early to take the dog out, but by 7, I knew it was time.
As I plugged Henry into the stroller and suited the dog up with her leash, I took a deep breath, thinking: You can do this. Once outside, the world buzzed around us. Kids zipped scooters between walkers and strollers. Toddlers chomped on bagels while grandfathers sipped coffee.
Henry cooed his own good mornings at all as I circled the blocks, searching for a spot the dog would deem acceptable. I don’t know who was more relieved when she found one — Bailey or me.
I recently celebrated my birthday. A year ago I had no idea that a gift from my daughter and son-in-law would lead to this early morning stroll with my grandchild in the middle of a bustling city.
But there you are, my pre-60 dread transformed into joy by a tiny boy who smiles at me with eyes that look a little bit like mine. Glory day.