I am now officially retired. Okay, I’m a writer and writers never really retire. I am now officially not getting paid regularly (which probably makes me ever more of a writer than I was.) Retirement, the few months of it that I have already experienced, appears to be like an infinite number of Saturdays strung together. I’m liking this.
I haven’t heard an alarm clock in ages. I can stay up and watch bad movies if I feel like it. I can drink coffee in bed in the morning while doing the New York Times crossword puzzles if I choose to. I can get up when I am damn good and ready. Tinker on my motorcycle when I want. This is the kind of life I always envisioned; I should have retired when I was 21.
But… I appear to have a lot of time on my hands. With all the coffee drinking and crossword puzzling, I don’t really, but those around me seem to think that I do. As a result they have taken it upon themselves to find things for me to do. They find organizations and charities that need the help of a volunteer writer for their campaign/activity/event/image/fundraiser. I do what I can when I can; but there is one volunteer job that takes priority – Carson.
Carson arrived in the world on May 14 last year. He is my first grandchild, the firstborn of a new generation in my immediate family. It’s a position that I once held about 69 years ago, so right away we bonded. Anna, who is both his mother and my daughter, is on parental leave; a situation which is apparently a lot like retirement minus the sleeping in, staying up late and crossword puzzles. From time to time she does have activities that are incongruous with toting around a little one, so looking around, she spies someone who apparently has a lot of time on his hands – grandpa!
Now I am not completely unfamiliar with babies. We had two of our own who managed to survive babyhood and grew into relatively civilized people. I agreed to occasionally look after Carson, assuming babies haven’t changed that much in the intervening decades. I was wrong. I mean the basic functions are still the same; but the way they manifest themselves is quite different.
Baby activities fall into four categories – eat, destroy diapers, play and sleep. This is their entire world. On the surface it looks a lot like retirement; except the diaper part, not yet anyway. With that much in common, Carson and I should be quite compatible.
Category 1 – Eating. Back when I was a new parent and dinosaurs roamed the earth, food consisted of amorphous goop being spooned out of a jar into the baby’s mouth. Neither the babies nor I questioned what the goop was, where it came from or what nutritional value it had. The only criterion was whether they would swallow it or spit it across the room. Carson has a nutritionist dictating his daily intake of stuff that is good for him. When his mother isn’t looking, I feed him cheese buns from the Glamorgan Bakery. He loves them. That’s another thing. Modern parenting dictates that babies should feed themselves at an early age. Carson’s food is chunked and placed in front of him and it’s his choice to eat it or rub it in his hair. Mealtime takes forever, and clean up takes twice as long.
From food, we go to Number 2, literally. When my babies were babies, disposable diapers were new and all the rage. World’s greatest invention. I hear there is a movement to go back to cloth diapers. Good luck with that, modern parents. The biggest challenge in Carson’s diaper changes is that as soon as the diaper is whipped off, he turns into a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, twisting and flipping in four directions at once. Why hasn’t someone invented the baby straight jacket? Preferably with a Velcro backing to stick in one place.
No. 3, Play Time: Carson is crawling now. The last time I baby-proofed a house was 1989, so a bit of a refresher learning curve here. His favorite toys are the Christmas cactus, the cat’s tail, dropping things down the hot air register, disassembling the CD collection and chasing dust bunnies found under the couch. You can feed him as much as he can hold, but there is still room for kibble from the cat food dish. I should put a GPS tracker on him.
Lastly, Napping: Here Carson and I have found common ground. He’s still a three-nap-a-day guy and I would really like to be, so I can learn a lot from him. Someone, probably his personal trainer, dictates that routine is vital to his development, so nap time is regular and rigid. This was open for debate from him initially, but now he has conceded that when we descend into the basement TV room and snuggle into the Lazy Boy recliner, it is nap time. No debate. He sleeps; I watch motorcycle or airplane documentaries, Star Trek or movies with lots of helicopters and explosions until I fall asleep too. When we wake up, the cycle resumes: Diaper change, food, play and nap again.
That leads me to the most important piece of grandparenting advice: Always try to time the end of the nap to coincide with the arrival of the actual parent. This means the diaper change responsibility falls to the next generation. Being a volunteer does have its advantages.