By Sunday night, my sleep deficit was mounting like a stack of unpaid bills. Was somebody waking up every twenty minutes, or did it only feel that way? I ticked off the list. New diapers? Check. Fresh bottles? Check. Good burps? Check. Pleasant room temperature and blankets in place? Check.
The babies’ new routine with us strangers—and without their mama—in a foreign environment had disrupted them. And we might have ruined them for self-soothing by dazzling them with too many daytime delights. Hopefully, their life of leisure at our place wouldn’t make life harder for their mom when they returned home. As usual, she texted the next morning.
How are the babies?
I thumbed a message back. Happy and smiley. They’re up a lot at night, though.
Are they fussy during the day too?
Not at all. Probably because they’re held all the time. Sorry to spoil them for you.
No, that’s perfectly fine. Lol
On Monday, I began to notice that while I maintained both my gross and fine motor skills, my brain was mushy at the edges.
I interrupted the story I was telling my family at the dinner table that evening.
“Wait. What was I saying?” I pursed my lips and frowned. My girls fed me snippets of what I had just said, but I shook my head. “Nope, it’s gone.”
Monday night arrived like the end of a glorious vacation. The reality was stark: I was at the mercy of six-month-olds, and there was nothing I could do about it. Would they sleep at all tonight? Or was the party about to start?
At ten o’clock, Husband and I sat in the dimly lit living room, each of us feeding a baby.
“Say the mom decided to give them up,” he whispered to me as Minnie drifted off in his arms. “We could take these two.”
“You sound like Dicka.” At the sound of my voice, Mitsy switched her eyelids open, then fluttered them shut again.
We tucked the infants into their beds and crept from the room. Maybe tonight they’d sleep for a few hours at the same time. Then the ensuing silence sang me a lullaby, and the stillness rocked me to sleep.
But the night shift began at eleven-thirty. This time, Mitsy’s arched back and caterwauling announced her disdain for her bed, in case I had forgotten. I picked her up and ran through the list again. Bottle, diaper, burp, blanket. All complete. Then I pressed my lips to her forehead. No fever. Teething? Her mother had included a tube of numbing gel with the girls’ things, so I rubbed some on her gums. I cuddled her until she dozed off, returned her to her bed, and tiptoed out.
Fifteen minutes later, a wail sliced through the quiet. This time, Minnie. I repeated the process I had just finished with her sister. Then I swayed her in my arms until her eyelids floated shut, and the truth hit me: A couple of six-month-olds were holding me hostage. If I had been a POW, I would’ve told the babies all the secrets by now. And on top of it, I suffered from Stockholm syndrome; my heart brimmed with affection for the most adorable captors in the world.
On Tuesday morning, my shift over, I shuffled the babies off to my girls and stumbled into the kitchen. I slapped around on the counter until I hit the coffeemaker, sprinkled some coffee grounds into the old filter from the day before, realized my mistake, dumped it, and started again. New filter, fresh grounds, start button. Oops. Forgot to add the water. Soon, though, I settled into a chair with a steaming cup of joe. I can do this thing, I told myself as the caffeine coursed through my body. It’s just a week.
I had cleared away work commitments and extra activities, and as I had done years earlier with my own infants, I set the bar low.
“I’ve got nothing to do but hold babies,” I had told their mother the day they came home with us. And it was still true. But as the daily concerns that usually claimed my mental space evaporated, so did my vocabulary.
“The guy who works with pipes in the bathroom called back today,” I told Husband when he returned from work.
He chuckled. “The plumber?”
“Yeah.” I passed a baby to him. “His number’s on the counter.” But by accident, I had scrawled only six digits on the scrap of paper.
Later, the little ones’ mother texted. I’m missing the babies too much. I’m going to get the rest of my business done today, so I can get them back tomorrow.
Tuesday night washed by in a blur of bottles and diapers and beauties in blankets. I might have stayed up all night—or I might have slept for an hour as the sun hovered on the eastern horizon.
On Wednesday morning, I loaded the car and drove our little house guests back home. I slurped their cheeks one last time and then deposited them into their mother’s arms.
Back at our place, the girls and I bustled about the house. We folded up the pack-n-plays, started a load of laundry, lugged out the garbage, and stowed our stash of baby toys. Then I sank into a chair and scrolled through pictures on my cell phone. Toothless smiles and matching dresses with tutus. Mitsy clutching Minnie’s hand during tummy time. And every combination of people in my house—visitors too—grinning while holding the infants. My heart squeezed.
For now, the babies were gone. But give me a good night—or two—of sleep, and I’d happily do it again.
*To learn more about Safe Families for Children, click here.
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.