Summer is a magical time for most in my world. We live near the coast, school is out, days become relaxed and evenings are for lingering. This magic is fleeting, though. Leaves are starting to fall and some nights dip into the low seventies. I have been blessed beyond measure this summer to have spent lots of time with each of my two granddaughters. I will soon be returning to a class of twenty-seven or more nine and ten year olds, and I will be ready. In reality, balancing the learning and emotional needs of a room full of children during the school day (while navigating through the national, state, and district mandates) is much easier than caring full-time for an infant or toddler. To my daughter and son-in-love and to my son and daughter-in-love…I don’t know how you do it. Every. Single. Day.
I am in my second week of providing full-time day-care to my almost four-months-old granddaughter in my son and daughter-in-love’s home. Nature being as kind as it is, I had forgotten just how much energy (all of it) goes into meeting a baby’s needs for an entire day. And I don’t even get up for the middle of the night feeding! My day is about twelve hours of heat a bottle of breast milk, feed the baby, burp her, amuse her for approximately 40-45 minutes rotating among the semi-reclining bouncy seat with toys, the musical floor gym with toys, the upright seat with toys, sitting her on my lap and reading her stories, walk the open floor plan, then when she starts to cry I take her to her crib and lay her down with her pacifier and her white-noise machine. Diaper changes take place when necessary throughout the schedule. If she doesn’t sleep right away I rock her until she’s drowsy then try to make the transfer to the crib without her noticing. Then I prepare or clean up a meal, start or fold laundry, and try to write or read for a few minutes. This is when I will see and hear the baby begin to twitch on the baby monitor and start up the next bottle to repeat the cycle. Four to five times per day until one of her parents gets home. These efforts are rewarded with drooly smiles, happy wiggles, and countless snuggles. So worth it.
My daughter and seventeen-month-old granddaughter spent several weeks living with us this summer while her husband was assigned to a temporary duty station so I had lots of opportunities to mind the “big girl” too. “Big girl” as in one nap per day. Maybe. The toddler routine is a bit more flexible but no less demanding. Meal times consist of preparing the food, setting it before the child in her high chair, coaxing her to eat it, then cleaning it out of the high chair, off the floor, out of her hair and diaper, and then going straight to another activity. A day might include three meals, three snacks, a swim (preceded by catching her to spread sunscreen all over her), working on colors with flashcards (they’re all blue), a walk around the cul-de-sac, blowing bubbles, pulling leaves off the mint plant and smelling them, trying to guess which of the hands behind her back has the Joker in it, reminders that dogs don’t like when you pull on their noses or or grab fists-ful of their fur, several stories, a dance party, wrestling her into a clean diaper intermittently, investigating the kitchen cabinets that aren’t locked, climbing up and down the stairs for fun, chasing games, wardrobe changes, a play-date or a gym class, and, if we’re really lucky, an hour-long nap in there somewhere. The rewards for my efforts when I’ve got her? Attempts to say, “Grandma,” outstretched arms and a plea of, “up,” huge toothy smiles when she sees me in the morning, unlimited cuddles, and offers of help “hup” all day long. Again, so worth it.
This summer, for me, had more magic in it than usual. Less down time, but the magic came in seeing these little ones learn the most basic things just as my own children did (when I was younger and had more energy). It was gratifying and humbling. Bonding with my granddaughters was a gift that will still be appreciated long after most purchases or vacations have been forgotten. Exhaustion will pass. The memories are mine forever.
There is another take-away from my summer of little girls: a reminder that parenting is hard work and the rewards are not always immediate. Just because I once did it doesn’t give me license to have specific expectations of my students’ parents during the school year. Yes, having to ask for paperwork several times or being stood up for a conference after I stayed late to accommodate the parent’s schedule is trying, as is being told by a student that they didn’t have time to study for their quiz because they had a baseball game or getting constant emails asking questions which I have already answered in the weekly progress report newsletter, in class, and on the classroom website. However, we are all doing the best we can. If your child gets to school clean, fed, and happy, then you are doing a wonderful job parenting. Even is your child is rocking only one of the three, you are doing a wonderful job parenting. And I am going to remind myself of that from September through June. I get it. Enjoy the last few days of the magical summer, and let’s make a different kind of magic during this school year.