With 3 children born in 3 1/2 years, my life was busy in the 1980s. I had no nearby family to help with childcare, so I learned to improvise.
Rachel, 5 years old, was a good natured child. Once in a while, I let her be a big–girl. She could stay up and watch a video or we could have together-time, but only if she was quiet while the others napped. Rachel loved to be up with Mommy.
One day, I dared myself to paint the bathroom while the kids napped. I found a can of pretty miss-mixed paint for only a couple of dollars. Desperate for a change, I couldn’t pass up it up.
It took me longer than I thought to paint the small bathroom walls. Of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, Jonathan, then 1 ½, woke up much earlier than usual. I heard him fussing in his crib and decided this would be a great time to let Rachel, who’d been watching a movie, be an even bigger girl. I needed our only bathroom to be usable before Hannah woke up.
“Rachel, would you like to babysit Jonathan while Mommy finishes painting the bathroom? You can be my big-girl assistant.” I said, holding a box of unopened graham crackers.
“Okay,” she said looking at the box. “What do I do?”
“Jonathan’s awake, but I am going to leave him in the crib a little longer so I can finish the bathroom. I just need you to talk to him, give him toys, and play with him.”
“What about the graham crackers?” She said, eyes glued to the box.
“If he starts to fuss a lot or cry after you give him toys and talk to him, then you can give him a graham cracker; but talk to him and play with him first. Okay? Can you do that?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I give him graham crackers if he cries?”
“That’s right!” I took the first package of crackers out of its wax wrapping and snapped the crackers on their dotted lines, and then loosely placed them back in the wrapper, then in the box. I put the box of crackers and a cup of water for Rachel on a placemat, on top of the dresser; and gave Jonathan a bottle.
The bathroom was right across Jonathan’s bedroom. I chatted to them while I worked. Jonathan cried and fussed a few times. Whenever I heard his fussing turn into a cry, I would talk to him. If it continued, I’d ask Rachel to give him a piece of cracker.
“I already did,” she’d say.
“You’re doing such a great job, Rachel. You’re a great babysitter! And a great assistant, too!” They were quieter than I expected. I enjoyed listening to Jonathan’s gibberish and Rachel’s comforting words, and I was very grateful she was there.
Finally, I was almost done. “Just a little bit longer,” I said. Rachel didn’t seem to mind watching her brother, and was doing a great job at keeping him calm.
I hurried and cleaned up. Hannah, 3 1/2, would be up any minute. She’d need my help in the bathroom. I wanted to keep her hands off the wall. But, I needed to change Jonathan’s diaper first. I came to a dead stop when I walked into his room. “Oh no! What a mess!”
There was a mixture of slobbery graham cracker paste plastered all over Jonathan’s hair, his face, his clothing, the crib railings and bedding, and the walls. There were globs on the carpet where he spit them out. Rachel’s face and hair had pasty smears. “Where are the rest of the graham crackers?”
“They’re all gone!” She said pointing to the empty box.
“You used an entire box of graham crackers?” I said in shock.
“I gave them to him so he wouldn’t cry,” she said, hoping she wouldn’t be in trouble. I couldn’t get too upset at my 5 year old daughter. She had done me a great favor.
“It’s a big mess, but we can clean it together,” I smiled at her and began to clean up the mess. I couldn’t bathe Jonathan as long as the paint was wet. It took countless baby wipes and damp paper towels to clean the mess. I used a soapy washcloth to get the semi-dried paste out of his hair.
Rachel was a trooper and stuck it out till the end. I thanked her for “babysitting” and for helping clean up, and told her how much I appreciated her assistance. I was especially thankful Hannah needed extra sleep that day.
Do you have any similar experiences you would like to share?
By ~ Elizabeth Yalian ©2013