This week brought back a myriad of memories. Several weeks ago, My neighbor asked if I would care for their three children (6 years, 4 years, an 10 months) while they went on a cruise. I am 68 years old now, but I think of it as the new 38, so I said, “Sure, it will be fun!” Last night their parents returned from their trip, and today I sit in my recliner reflecting and recovering from the week with three small children realizing that 68 is really 68.
The children came on a Friday evening ready for bed. That sounded easy enough until the parents left and the tears started to flow. I spent thirty minutes comforting the girls while their baby brother slept blissfully in his crib (pac and play). Since my bed is very high, I had designated the living room as the dorm. The girls were on each end of the sofa, and I was on the loveseat. However, the first night, the girls needed my on the sofa next to them with their arms clinging to me. LESSON one: children need security. They need to know that someone loves and cares for them. After a few minutes of hugs and lullabies, they were asleep, and I was on the loveseat.
LESSON Two: Children still love lullabies and music. When my children, an then grandchildren, were small, I always rocked and sang to them. “Jesus Loves Me” and “Over in Kilarney” were there favorites, and now at 68, they still worked. I know I sang each of these songs at least a hundred times this past week. There is nothing more precious than having a baby fall asleep in your arms as you sing “Jesus Loved Me”. It was true at 28 and still true at 68.
The next morning we were up early so we could get the oldest to a baseball parade and preseason celebration by 8:30. LESSON three: mothers need to know how to organize. The ball uniform was laid out on the bed ready for a sleepy child to get into. While she and her sister were dressing, I was dressing and feeding the baby. I was determined that breakfast would be healthy so we had scrambled eggs and toast. The checklist began: breakfast finished?Check! Everyone dressed? Check! Diaper bag packed? Check! Everyone in the van? Check! Seat belts on? Check! We were on our way to drop off the oldest one to join her team. Sister, baby ,and I stood on the sidewalk and watched the parade and took pictures to send to mom and dad. We were back home about eleven and just enough time for lunch and a nap before we had to be back at the ball field for a 2:00 game. LESSON four: always choose a nap over doing chores when you can at 28 or 68.
Thank goodness for the nap because it was a long afternoon with a preschooler and a 10-month-old on my hip. LESSON five: mothers at 28 or 68 have to have eyes in the backs of their heads in order to keep up with children at a ballpark. Don’t let the three-year-old wonder off, and don’t let the baby eat a discarded potato chip. Also be ready to cheer and to take a picture of the oldest when she gets her very first softball hit. I must add that when you are not organized you forget the stroller which would have been a big help with these things. Stroller? Unchecked!
Of course by the time you’re ready to go home, the children are all hungry again. Healthy food is no longer on my mind – what will be fast and require no preparation is now the criteria. So, off to the local fast pizza establishment we go. We are home with hot pizza and breadsticks and everyone is happy.
Then it is bath time. Again organization. Have the pajamas ready, bubbles in the bath, and detangler for the girls hair. Ater their baths, as they are wrapped in their towels, I remember that nothing smells better than a freshly bathed child. Now the girls are on their bed /couch, and I’m cuddling the baby as the TV is broadcasting cartoons. LESSON six: children make the decision on what channel the TV is turned to. It was true at the age of 28 and still true at the age of 68. However, parents still have veto power, and I used my veto power on SpongeBob SquarePants. We find My Little Pony makes us all happy: cute little colorful horses that teach life lessons about being friends and being kind. In an hour we are all asleep.
In the middle of the night I remember LESSON seven: all mothers live in fear that something will happen to their child. I wake up and look over at the baby. He is still in the same position that he was in when I placed him in the crib and my heart stops. I reach over and touch him on the top of his little head and he moves. My heart begins to beat again. I wondered how many times I had done this with my own children – Gotten out of bed to check and see if they were still OK. Part of this lesson is not to allow this fear to rob you of the joy of the moments you have with your child.
The next day is Sunday and anyone who takes children to church knows you need to refer to lesson three – be organized! Clothes are laid, out breakfast is served, and the checklist begins. When I arrive at church with my new little family, everyone is amazed that at 68 I am doing this. I just smile and say, “Oh, they are no problem.” In reality I don’t quite feel 28 inside anymore – maybe pushing 38. The oldest child chooses to sit on the pew in front of me next to a friend of mine. The three-year-old is glued to my side, and the baby is in my lap standing up and checking out everything and everyone around him smiling. They all three love the music and the singing. Of all mornings, I have been scheduled to stand and read a scripture. I wonder how I am going to handle this. Take the baby with me or hand him off to the friend on the front pew? I choose option two. As I hand the baby over to her, she asks, “Will he cry?” I smile and say, “I don’t know.” Thankfully, it is a short passage, and baby looks straight at me smiling as if he think I am reading revelation chapter four just for him. I pick him up on the way back to my pew and thank my friend. LESSON eight: don’t be afraid to ask for help. I don’t think I did that as well at 28 as I do at 68. Friends take the girls to children’s church and baby sleeps contentedly in my arms.
After church we drive an hour to my daughters house where I apply rule eight some more. Everyone wants to help and play with the children, and I am thankful for the help. As we return home that evening, I stop at McDonald’s for happpy meals -once more throwing healthy foods to the wind. I know why they ate called “happpy” – children are happy for the silly toy, and mothers are happy they don’t have to cook. Baths, cartoons, and sleep.
The dreaded Monday arrives. Back to lesson three – organization. Dress, breakfast, and now add on lunch boxes a book bags. Do the checklist and be at school before 7:55 or you are late; we are there at 7:30. Drop off child two at pre school and then back home. Clean and do chores – baby gets lunch and then we nap. When we pick up child one, I am swept back to 28. She comes running out so excited and her long brown hair flying. The same way my little girl did except with long blonde hair. My heart aches a little.
Monday through Tuesday the schedule is the same except for a softball game thrown in on Tuesday night. Thursday night the children’s parents return to hugs, kisses, and squeals of delight. I’m not sure who missed whom the most, and It is a sweet reunion.
This morning I woke up at six ready to start again, but I could stay in bed as long as I wanted to. I chose to stay in bed until 10 o’clock – I couldn’t do that at 28 but I can at 68. I’ve cleaned up the dorm room, fed the animals, and chosen to write. My legs and arms are little sore from carrying a 20 pound baby around all week and picking up a three-year-old who also needed to have a hug or two now and then. I am happy to have some peace and quiet and to be able to do what I need to do, but I do miss them. keeping three children for six days at the age of 68 has brought back memories from 28, and reminded me of the words, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I may think I am still 28 but my arms, legs, back, and knees are reminding me loudly that I am not 28; I am 68. I love children and respect parents today who are juggling children, jobs, and marriages. This week has reminded me of how much energy and patience parenting requires.
I was also reminded this week why my children were not allowed to have pets until they were older and able to help take care of them. My 13-year-old beagle Annie was so overwhelmed by three children in the house, she laid in her bed most of the time looking at me with sad eyes as if to say, “What about me?” I also have an inside cat with a litter box. Litter boxes and dirty diapers are not a good combination. And the cat really hates to have his tail and whiskers pullled. Add two outside cats and 20 chickens, and I would have been overwhelmed even at 28.
It reminded me that mothers sometimes forget themselves in the midst of mothering. The first school day the children were dressed, fed, and ready to go when I looked down and realized I was still in my pajamas. I have never cared to see mothers out in public in their PJs, but as I quickly pulled on a pair jeans, I realized how that might happen very easily. Several times after feeding the children, diapering and feeding the baby, I would sit down and realize I hadn’t eaten yet. I also realize that maybe now I have a dog, three cats, and 20 chickens because I miss caring for my own three children who are now grown. I love planting flowers and watching them bud and blossom. Maybe that is a metaphor for raising children and watching them bud and blossom. It goes so fast from 28 to 68. LESSON ten: don’t wish these exhausting days with children away. Take time to rock, sing, play, and nap. Sixty-eight will be here before you know it.