“Hello,” said an unfamiliar voice in answer to my greeting. “I’m sorry to be calling you so early. I’m Danny’s* mother. He played with your kids a couple of weeks ago.”
“Yes, I remember him. No problem that it’s early. I’m just glad it isn’t my mother letting me know my father had had another heart attack. We had visited them over the weekend, so when the phone rang this morning, well…I’m very glad to hear your voice, Danny’s mother.”
I heard the young woman’s laugh before her reply. “My name’s Christine*. I need a favor if it works out for you. I hate to ask because you don’t even know me, but I’m really in a bind. Danny asked me to phone.”
“And, what does your charming three-year-old want you to ask me?” I chuckled as I added, “Does he want to take one of the girls to a movie? Red-headed Deni* is one year older, and Jamie* is one year younger than Danny.”
“Oh, gracious me! Don’t rush those years,” the mother gasped. “No, I need a sitter for him today. My usual babysitter just phoned to say she can’t watch him. I’ll be finished at work just after Noon. I’d be glad to pay you to watch him if it would be okay.”
“We’d be delighted. The girls will be so happy to have a friend to play with. You can plan on Danny eating lunch with us.”
And, that’s how my new income stream began. I’d been toying with the idea but hesitated until the mothers called or came to my back door. Most days, I had four or five daytime kids added to my three resident kids; but, sometimes I had as many as fourteen little munchkins waiting for lunch.
The preschoolers pretty much occupied each other, so only the baby of the house took more time/effort. Susie* now sat in a high chair, feeding herself, kind of. She still wanted to be rocked while she enjoyed her bottle, but she no longer needed/wanted my help. Susie pulled the bottle in and out of her mouth, chatting between slurps. Then, one hand shoved the bottle back through her lips while the free hand played with my hair or pushed against my face.
I found it surprising how smoothly I adjusted to Susie’s changing independence. Truthfully, I hardly noticed… until one of my young daytime charges didn’t measure up to Susie skill with a bottle.
I’d just finished reading a story to the preschool crowd sitting at my feet. Ten-month-old Susie scooted her body away from the corner and stretched out in the middle of the playpen. “Susie tired,” declared two-year-old Jamie, her African-American sister.
I reached for the lightweight blanket to cover Susie when the screech of a much younger infant exploded from the crib in my bedroom. Deni took the blanket out of my hand, gently laying it over her sister.
“Okay, kids, how about you go play outside for a bit. I’ll feed the crying visitor and get a snack ready for you.” Cheers and claps rang out as each youngster suggested a favorite snack on their way through the kitchen to the backyard.
Sitting in the rocker, warm milk ready for the tiny customer, I held it out to him. His eyes focused on mine. I waved the bottle over his face. His lips moved as he noticed the bottle, but his hands never moved from his sides. “Well, little man, take the bottle,” I said with a smile. “That’s what you’re crying about, isn’t it? Here; take it.”
I lifted one of his hands, positioning it on the curve of the bottle. His teensy lips sucked like the tip of the bottle had already found the target. “C’mon, Davey*, hold your bottle. You aren’t gonna grow up to be one of those men who needs his wife to do everything for him, are you? Here; hold on to it.”
I placed the tip of the nipple near his moving lips. The infant lurched forward just enough to latch on. Boy, did Davey go for it. No way was he going to come up for air. “Whoa, Cowboy, not so fast; you’re gonna choke.” I pulled the bottle back, but Davey clamped down harder.
Slipping the tip of my finger in the side of his clenched lips broke the seal. The baby coughed and took a deep breath before expressing his red-faced frustration. In mid-scream, he burped so loudly it startled me. “Feel better, Davey?” I put the nipple back in his mouth. The loud sucking began before the rubber tip found its spot; milk dripped down his chin.
I held his bottle in one hand while he drank but continued trying to interest him in holding his own bottle. No go. As soon as I let go of his little forearm, he flapped his hand and grabbed my ear. “What’s wrong with you Baby? Don’t you want to feed yourself?”
Perhaps God wanted to spare Davey; a thought popped out of the reaches of my questioning mind. How old is Davey?
I began to laugh, apologizing between giggles. “Oh, you poor little Davey. I’m so sorry. Of course, you can’t hold your own bottle. You’re only six weeks old!” Because Susie was still a baby, I had automatically reckoned any baby could do what she did, duh.
A few days later, I experienced my own episode of unjust criticism. The authority had completely misinterpreted what she’d seen.