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The Baby Next Door

 

My next door neighbor is pregnant and due at any moment. The last time I saw her she was on her way out for a walk, to try and shake the baby loose, but I’m pretty sure he’s still in utero. She and her husband are going to be first time parents, and they have all of the new furniture and rabid anxiety to show for it. They’ve had parents and siblings and nieces and nephews traipsing in and out of the apartment for months, offering help and advice and a chance to practice their parenting skills. The two year old niece who cried 24 hours a day was especially good practice. Cricket survived the experience quite well, I think.

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“I survived, barely.”

But I am worried about how Cricket will react to having a baby next door full time. I hope that she will be protective of the baby, rather than frightened by him. I hope that she will see the baby as a fount of wonderful new smells, rather than a source of unpredictable noise and movement. Butterfly will, inevitably, want to lick the baby and I’m not sure if that will be allowed. I have my fingers crossed that my offers to babysit will be taken seriously, and that Cricket’s presence will not count against me. Our downstairs neighbor is a pediatric nurse, though, so if they’re choosing between us, I’m pretty sure she wins. Though I do spend more time at home, so I have availability in my favor.

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That tongue was made for licking.

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“I’m a sweetheart, Mommy. I don’t know what you’re worried about.”

When the most recent child visited next door, Butterfly took up her spot on the mat by our front door, and listened to the child’s voice, mesmerized. It’s possible that she thinks babies know all of the mysteries of the world, and if she just listens long enough she will absorb all of that wisdom. Or maybe she can smell them from across the hall; the mix of poopie diaper and sticky jam hands must be intoxicating. Maybe our neighbors will only ask Butterfly to babysit, and I will have to stay home with Cricket while she grumbles under the couch.

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Butterfly is a very good listener.

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“Do babies like duckies?”

I don’t usually get to be around babies, and I feel the loss. People talk about a biological clock, as if the pull towards having children starts and stops at a given time, but my clock has always been ticking. I never actively chose to be single or childless. There are so many people, especially nowadays, who have made those choices consciously and are satisfied and happy with their lives, but that’s not me. I would have liked to be a full time mom. I would have liked to put all of my research efforts into figuring out my own children, and all of my fight into making their lives better. I just wasn’t up to it in time.

I used to babysit as a teenager, for friends of the family, starting when their first born was only a month old. I was there for just an hour or so during the day to begin with, learning how to bottle feed him and change diapers. I babysat for him, and his younger brother, for a few years, until they got a live in babysitter to watch both kids so their Mom could go back to work. Most of what I remember about babysitting was staring into the pantry, looking for cookies. I even drank tea when I was babysitting, even though I never drank tea in real life. I was very good at reading Thomas the Tank Engine books, but less expert at the diapering business. As soon as I was told that boy babies will pee at you, I developed a face averting/arm guarding/diaper-as-pee-shield routine that slowed the whole process down.

I only did a little bit of babysitting when my brother’s first child was born, and that was me and Mom together, so she could be in charge of diapers and messier tasks, and I could teach Benjamin how to sing, and help him with his bizarre baby yoga poses. Most of the baby sitting I do now, with my brother’s four kids, is just hanging out, being an alternative to those bossy parents, and playing with trains and computers and other fun stuff. I don’t have to force them to brush their teeth, or keep them from drowning in the bath tub, thank god.

But I’d really like to have some baby time again. The incredible high of being able to make a baby smile, or just getting locked in baby eye contact for a moment, is unforgettable. Cricket also thinks she could be good at babysitting. She would be very good at keeping an eye on the baby and alerting sleepy parents to any incipient emergencies: like a dropped bottle, a stab of gas pain, a serial killer trying to get in through the window, or, you know, birds passing by.

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“Birds!!!!!!”