A couple times a year, my daughter Mary will drop off my grandson Jack at our house for a weekend while she and my son-in-law get out of town for a few days. Jack's nine, so he's pretty self-sufficient, and the weekends are far from taxing for us. Plus he's at that age where he's not yet annoyed or embarrassed at the prospect of hanging out with his grandparents, and so he's usually pretty good company and we manage to have some laughs. There are very few issues to deal with, though sometimes before bed we do have to pry the cell phone out of his hands. But all in all, no complaints.
Jack's the youngest of our grandkids, and it's no wonder that we like to take advantage of any chance to spend extra time with him. He's the last of the lot and all that, so we'd like to hold on to these times for as long as possible. And while my wife would never want to admit this, I know it's true that we spoil him terribly, much more than we did with the other grandkids. My wife does this because he's the youngest, but I do it out of sheer unadulterated guilt.
I know this is absurd, but I still feel guilty about the very first weekend that Jack ever spent with us, when he was just a baby. He was about nine-months old at the time, and his parents took us up on our offer to watch him for a weekend so they could have some time alone (and actually get some sleep.) My wife and I were geared up for the weekend, excited to be able to help out, see our grandson, and give our kids a break.
But I do remember, not without a little embarrassment, how miffed I was that I had to reassure my daughter about my skills as a baby-sitter. My daughter trusted my wife implicitly about taking care of Jack, but with me she was less confident, and I think she was worried that in the moments when my wife was not around, I'd get totally overwhelmed.
With a bit of a smarting ego, I told her that I had raised three children not that long ago and that I had seemingly done a pretty decent job. I reminded her that I was an active father from the very start, that I wasn't one of those patriarchs who dumps the kid off on mom and then ignores the midnight feedings and the diaper changes. I was there every step of the way, I rather huffingly told her, and I was pretty sure that I could handle a nine-months old infant now. I was defensive and a little righteous, I have to admit, which was a terrible combination, and it was probably inevitable that I would be forced to eat every one of my words.
I don't know how it happened, but somehow I had managed to forget absolutely everything I knew about child caring. I couldn't do anything right; I couldn't hold him, I couldn't feed him, I couldn't change him. Every time I picked him up he screamed like he was being attacked by a wild boar. Plus, Jack was a squirmy, active baby and he almost fell right out of my arms once when my wife got up to get another outfit. I was flabbergasted. I had been a pretty reliable baby-sitter for our own kids and even with the other grandkids, not that long ago, but now I was completely overmatched. I don't know I had forgotten everything, but I had. Pretty quickly my wife realized that I was strictly support-team here, with my only task being to transport horrific diapers from the changing table to the garbage can in the garage.
It was more than a little mortifying, to discover how utterly useless I was, but my wife was a sweetheart about it. She didn't get annoyed with my incompetence or openly state that she wished she rather had a sharp 12-year old girl as her help mate. Still, it was just about the longest 48 hours of my life. At one point, on Saturday afternoon, my wife asked me point blank if I wanted to take a nap. When I said "Yes," she said, "All right. Just sit there on the couch." I did as she told, and then she placed Jack in my arms. "Now, you don't have to do anything. Just fall asleep. I'm right here."
Within seconds both Jack and I fell asleep. I had forgotten how soothing it is to have a warm, sleepy infant in your arms. He had just had a bath and he had that great clean-baby smell, a combination of baby shampoo and lotion and that unmistakably sweet baby-ness. We both sawed logs for about an hour, until I felt my wife gently remove him from my arms and lay him down in the crib.
It was the best moment of the weekend for me, but it still didn't completely dispel the humiliation that I had felt. When my daughter and son-in-law showed up on Sunday, my wife told them that Jack had been a prince, and she added that Grandpa had been a huge help, too. My daughter gave a quick glance then, and probably noticed that I dropped my eyes a bit, but she didn't push it. In that moment I loved her and my wife more that I had ever before. And as for Jack, well, I know he has no memory of my debacle from that weekend. But I can't forget it. I'll probably buy him a car when he's twelve, just out of a delayed sense of profound Grandpa guilt.
Until Next Week,