Monday, August 21, 2017

The Ella Chronicles: 26 Hours With an Infant

About a month ago, JC and I were commissioned to watch my baby niece Ella, while my sister and BIL went down to the Cape to celebrate their one-year anniversary. Despite the fact that I had laughed when my sister got pregnant, saying to her and my BIL, "Don't ever expect me to babysit," I was thrilled when she asked me to do so. I love Ella to pieces, and was excited by the prospect of having a full day with her.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those people who so arrogantly thinks, "How hard could it be?" when it comes to spending time with an infant. I'm well aware of the responsibility and the neediness of children this small; this is one of the (many) reasons I was never sold on having one of my own. I like my sleep. I like my free time. I like a quiet atmosphere. I'm selfish. Babies mess all of this up. Plus, my own mother was a stay at home mom, and despite the fact that my sister and I were both relatively good children -- we remember reducing our mother to exhausted, exasperated tears on more than one occasion. I knew babysitting for a day would be work.

But, on Saturday morning, at 10 AM, JC and I showed up at my sister and BIL's house. "We're reporting for duty!" we exclaimed, and tromped into the house. My sister came to the door with Ella asleep in her arms. She walked us through the house, showing us where everything was, briefly explaining Ella's routine, and giving us some tips for the day. When she finished, my BIL asked, "Do you guys have any questions?"

"I don't think so," I said. "We've never babysat a baby before. We wouldn't even know what to ask."

"You can text us with whatever you need," my sister said. "Ready to take little nugget?" She started to hold Ella out to me. Ella was still sleeping.

"Should we put her in her crib?" I asked. My sister snorted. "She's not going in there," she said. She held her out to me again and I took her. Ella woke up for a moment, looked around, then then put her head on my shoulder. I tried not to swoon.

"Okay," my sister and BIL said and slowly walked to the door. "We're leaving now." They stood in the doorway. They looked at us. They did not leave.

"Okay, have fun!" JC and I said.

"Okay, we will! Thanks for watching her!" they said. They continued to stand there.

"Sorry, this is just weird for me," my sister said. She pantomimed picking up the baby carrier. "I usually have both of my hands full."

We all laughed. Finally, my BIL opened the door and stepped out. My sister followed suit, but not without throwing a look back at the house. They slowly got into their car and drove off. JC and I walked over to the couch. At this point, Ella was starting to wake up. I sat down, and put her on my lap, facing us. We made faces at her. She made faces back at us. We smiled at her. She smiled back at us. We cooed at her. She cooed back at us. She gave us a huge, beautiful smile, and JC snapped a picture.

"Send that to L," I said. "They were having trouble leaving her."

"True," JC said, and texted the picture to my sister.

"Awwwwww, my sweet baby!" my sister responded.

"Everything's going to be fine," JC said, and it was -- for the next 30 seconds.

We've got this, right?


10:15 AM.
 Ella's smile turns to a grimace, as she looks around the room and realizes her parents are not in it. Her adorable little face contorts into a look of horror, and she lets out a wail. 

"My sister said she didn't finish her bottle. She's probably hungry; it's right over there," I say, pointing to a bottle on a coffee table. JC fetches the bottle, and hands it to me. I put it into Ella's mouth, but she continues to scream, bubbling milk up and out of her mouth, down her chin. 

"Oh no I'm going to choke her," I say, and quickly remove the bottle from her mouth. JC grabs the burp rag and wipes off her little chin. I bounce with her around the room as she continues to cry.

10:30 AM.
 Ella is still sobbing, and JC is now holding her, walking around the room with her. He walks with her over to the window AC unit and stands in front of it. Her crying starts to slow. "I think she was just hot," he says, as he fans the baby in front of the window. Her crying becomes a whimper. 

I start trying to blow up the children's pool I brought. "This is going to take forever," I say.

"I'll do it," JC says. "Take Ella." We trade.

11:00 AM. 
JC has blown up the pool, and the three of us go outside. Ella still has a sad little look on her face, but she's no longer crying. I'm holding her and rubbing her back. "I'll fill this up so the water warms by this afternoon," JC says, and begins filling the pool with water. I switch positions with Ella so that I can see her face, and watch her face start to turn to what we so affectionately know as "fussy face." 

"Oh no," I say, and sure enough, fussy face returns to wailing. I lift her up and smell her bum the way I've seen my sister and BIL do. Nothing. "Maybe she's hungry now," JC suggests, and we bring her back inside, trying to give her the bottle again. Again, she spits milk at us as she screams. I bounce her around the house to no avail. I bring her over to the AC unit, but she continues to cry. 

Her poor little body is hot now, and her face is bright red. My heart is breaking, because I love my niece, I don't know how to help her, and her sad little expression just kills me. I want to cry, too. 

11:30 AM. 
Ella is still crying off and on. Mostly on. JC and I are taking turns holding her and bouncing her around, and every now and then she stops crying for a second. However, the reprieves are much shorter than the periods of wailing. 

"She hates us," I say, distraught. 

"She misses L and J," JC says. 

"I love her so much, I want her to feel better," I say.

"I know," JC says, "It's okay. She's crying, but she's okay."

11:45 AM.
 Ella is still wailing. JC is holding her. "Can you check her body for me? Like her arms and legs. Give them a once-over."

"What's wrong with her arms and legs?!" I ask, my voice raising in panic.

"I don't think anything," JC says, "But let's make sure there's nothing obvious we're missing here. No cuts, or scrapes, or bug bites that might be bothering her." I check; there's nothing. "Okay, that's good," JC says. He hands the baby to me as his phone buzzes. It's a message from my sister.

"How's baby?" she asks. JC and I look at one another.

"Are we going to be honest?" I ask, "Or..." 

"She's great!" JC types into his phone. After a second, he adds a smiley face and hits send. 

"Oh good!" my sister responds. 

"Ella is fine," JC says to me. "We don't need them worrying about her on their day at the Cape." This seems reasonable. If something really was wrong, we'd tell them, but rationally we both know nothing is really wrong. As if on cue, Ella lets out an extremely high-pitched scream. 

JC takes her from me, and I make a fresh bottle as she wails. I hand the bottle to him and he puts it into her mouth. She takes it, and starts drinking from it as though she's never been fed a day in her life. The wailing slows to weeping, to whimpering, to sniffles. It stops. She gulps her food. JC and I look at one another with bewilderment, but we're happy.

12:01 PM.
 My dad texts me.

"My parents are on their way," I tell JC, excitedly.

"Okay great!" he says, matching my enthusiasm.

"And your parents will be over at 1:30!" I say.

"That's true!" he says. We both look out the window longingly. Ella finishes her bottle. We burp her, and she cuddles into my shoulder for a minute. It's blissful. Then, she remembers her parents aren't home, and begins to cry again. Again, I try bouncing her around the house. She's not having it.


12:45 PM.
 Ella is weeping. We hear a car pull up. My parents get out of their truck.

"My parents are here!" I say, leaping off of the couch. They come into the house. My dad walks in with their new puppy. My mom comes in and says in a perfect grandmother voice, "I hear someone is being fussy!" JC hands Ella to my mother. She stops crying. My mom takes Ella into her bedroom and closes the door. JC and I collapse onto the couch. My dad looks at us, and laughs.

1:30 PM.
 JC's parents have arrived, and everyone is gathered in the backyard. JC's mother is holding Ella. 

Sidebar: My niece is an extremely serious child. She treats smiling like it's a scientific experiment. Now, when I curve my lips upwards, just so, people throw parties for me, and insist that I'm the best thing they've ever seen. Why is this? Must do more research.

She's sitting on JC's mother's lap, smiling. "You're just the most beautiful little thing," JC's mother tells her. She gives his mother her lopsided smile: the one where half of her face participates, and the other half lags behind. It's adorable. Everyone loves it. JC's mother is no exception. "Oh my goodness, just look at you!" she says. Ella coos.

"Do you want to hold her?" JC's mother asks JC's father.

"Sure!" he says, and puts Ella on his lap. She smiles at him.

2:45 PM.
 We've moved the group inside. Ella is back with her grandmother, and still seemingly content. She coos at her grandmother. She coos at her grandfather. She coos at JC's parents. She turns her little head on a swivel and looks at JC and me. She stops smiling. 

"She's glaring at us!" I exclaim. "Did you see that?!" I ask JC.

"I saw it!" he says.

"No she's not!" the parents proclaim in unison. They laugh at us. JC and I exchange glances. We know what we saw.

4:00 PM.
 JC's parents have left, but my parents are still there. "Let's get this baby in the pool," my dad says. JC and I take her into her room to put her into her little swimsuit (which looks more to me like something a woman would wear in a conservative place, like Saudi Arabia), and her little sun-shielding bucket hat.

"I may be a waterbaby, but you can't make me have a good time."
We climb into the pool and sit her in it with us. She splashes around, clearly loving it, but scowling, as if to say, "You can't make me have fun without my mom and dad." We oooh and ahhhh over how adorable she is -- because she just is the cutest thing ever -- and then we take her into the house and put her into her pajamas.

She can scowl all she wants, but luckily, still frame video footage shows the truth. 

6:30 PM. 
We've eaten dinner, and my parents are starting to pack their things. Ella is sitting on my dad's lap. "Are you guys mentally ready to take her back?" he asks us.
"Mimi, don't leave me with those two."

"No but for real, Papa, don't leave me with those two."

"She hates us," I say.

"She does not!" my mom says.

"Stop saying that," my dad says. 

He hands her to me. They bid us goodbye and leave. 

6:40 PM.
 Ella has not begun to cry since the adults with experience have left, and we count our blessings.

"Should we put her into her bedtime diaper?" JC asks.

"Yes but like... she's not crying right now," I say.

"Let's wait," JC says, and reads her a story.

She starts to fuss, so we take advantage of this to put her into her bedtime diaper, and her sleep-sack, which makes her look like an adorable little caterpillar in a cocoon. She falls asleep.

7:00 PM.
 She's still asleep. But this is bad. My sister's instructions clearly state that we are supposed to give her a bedtime bottle, read her four stories, rock with her in the chair, and that she will fall asleep at 8:30. It's too early. She can't be asleep yet.

JC stands up and wiggles his arms a little bit. She doesn't wake. He wanders around the house. She snores on his shoulder.

"I think we just need to put her to bed," he says. 

We do. But we know, we just know, she's going to wake up hungry -- and soon -- so we make her a bottle anyway, and wait.

7:15 PM.
 Ella is in her crib, in her room, with the door shut. We are sitting on the couch in a daze. The monitor is next to us on an end table. 

"How do we know this thing is working?" I ask JC.

"It's working," he says.

"But how do we know?" I insist. "I don't hear anything."

"It's fine," JC says.

"I don't trust it," I say. I stand up. "I'm going to go talk into the one in her room. You tell me if you can hear me out here."

"Okay," JC says, and takes the monitor, putting it near his ear.

I start to walk to Ella's room, but turn back. "When I talk to you, do not respond into the monitor," I say.

"I won't," he says.

I tiptoe into Ella's room and walk over to her monitor. I pick it up. "Hello hello can you hear me?" I say. I put the monitor down, and tiptoe back out of her room. 

"I could hear you so clearly," JC says. 

"Okay good," I say. We resume a stunned silence.

"Let's go lie down," JC says. 

We do. Ella wakes up and cries.

8:00 PM.
 Ella has eaten her last meal for the night, and is sobbing as JC holds her and rubs her back. We sing to her. She cries. We try to read her a book, but she has no current use for literature.

"Do you want me to take her?" I ask JC. 

"No, it's okay," he says, though his face says otherwise. He bounces her around. She cries. He sighs. I grab her from his arms and start patting her back. "Shhhh... shhhhh..." I say. I'm doing literally the same thing JC was a minute ago, but her wailing turns to a soft weeping... to a whimper... to a sniffle... and then she's snoring in my arms.

"Good work babe!" JC says beaming at me. I'm holding Ella, leaning back a little too far. I'm going to need a much stronger core if I ever plan to be a mother, I think to myself. I hold her and rub her back for a little while longer, and then slowly make my way to her crib. 

Slowly, slowly, I put her in the crib. I take a step back. Her eyes open, and she screams. I snatch her back up and start rubbing her back again. "Shhhhh... shhhh..." I say. The wailing becomes a weep, becomes a whimper, becomes a sniffle, becomes a soft snore.

I sit in the rocking chair and rock with her for a bit.

"Do you think I can put her in the crib yet?" I ask JC.

"Ummmm... maybe wait," JC says. I do. 

Finally, I determine it's been long enough, and slowly stand and walk to the crib. I start to put her into it, but this time put my entire upper body into the crib with her. I lean forward as slowly as I can, leaning into the crib as much as I can. I lower her to the bed, but keep my torso pressed against her body. She stirs, but she doesn't wake. Slowly, I move my arms out to the side - like I'm a bird getting ready to fly, but still keeping my upper body pressed against her. She doesn't move. I lift myself slowly off of her. Still asleep. I stand up straight and watch. Still asleep. I take a step back. Still asleep.

I turn to JC -- who, at this point is lying on his back on the floor -- and gesture that we need to leave. He stands up, and we walk out of the room. Ella's room is the creakiest room in the world, but luckily, she doesn't wake up.

We go to bed by 8:40 PM.

2:26 AM. 
My eyes snap open and I'm wide awake. What woke me up? Was it the baby? I look at the monitor. It's silent. It wasn't her. 

Good, I think. She's still asleep. She's so quiet. But...why is she being so quiet? L says she makes a lot of noise in her sleep. Why isn't she making noise? She's supposed to be making noise. The monitor is working -- we checked it -- so it's not a monitor malfunction. Why is she being so quiet?! She should be making noises. You have to breathe to make noise. OH MY GOD. WHAT IF SHE ISN'T BREATHING. OH MY GOD. SHE'S NOT BREATHING. OH MY GOD. THE LITTLE BABY ISN'T BREATHING. OH MY GOD ELLA OH NO!

I fly out of the bed and go stampeding down the hallway. I burst into Ella's room and stop, letting my eyes adjust in the darkness. I walk over to her crib and look in. She's wiggling around in her little sleep sack. She looks like she's doing a little dance. But she's moving. She's snoring softly. You have to be breathing to snore. She's breathing. I let my heart rate slow to an acceptable pace, and watch her snore. When I feel calm enough to leave the side of the crib, I tiptoe back out of the room, shut the door, and head back to bed. I fall into a fitful sleep, waking up at least once each hour.

6:40 AM.
 Ella is cooing quietly in her crib. We can hear her through the monitor. I get up to make her a bottle, as JC goes into her room to pick her up. She gives him a delighted look, like Oh wow! You're still here! Good work -- you passed my test! He takes her out of her sleep sack, and cuddles her. I hand him the bottle and he feeds her. We put her on her bedroom floor, as we know my sister often does, and watch her as she wiggles around.

My sister and BIL have an infant that sleeps for 10 solid hours. How in the hell did they get so lucky? I can only pray that my future is as bright.

JC says, "I really could go for an iced coffee. You want one?" 

"Yes please," I say. 

He hesitates. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine," I say, as Ella gives us her little lopsided smile. 

"Okay," he says, "I'll have my cell phone." He leaves to get us iced coffees.

I pick Ella up and change her diaper, which she lets me do without a fuss. I put her into a fresh onesie, which she also seems fine with. Who is this baby?

I bring her out into the living room and lay her on her little mat. She rolls around on the mat, batting at the mobile above her head, cooing gibberish contentedly the whole time. She does this for a solid 40 minutes.

7:30 AM.
 Baby starts to fuss, so we give her another bottle, and she falls asleep on JC's shoulder. My sister and BIL will be home in a couple of hours, and we've finally learned some tricks.

8:30 AM.
 Ella is back on her little mat on the floor, playing happily again. She starts to fuss, so I put her in my lap and make faces at her. I play "Snapchat Baby." She smiles at me.

9:30 AM.
 Ella falls asleep on my shoulder. I scooch my body so I can lie down too. She doesn't wake up. We take a quick nap.

When a baby falls asleep on you, that's the position you're stuck in.

10:15 AM.
 Ella becomes fussy face again. We feed her again. We change her diaper. She goes back to smiling and cooing.

"Aunt M, you look exhausted, but don't I look so cute?"

"Okay, let me tell y'all a story about everything you did wrong yesterday."
11:10 AM.
 Ella is beginning to fuss for real. We try to feed her a bottle, but she's uninterested. The door flies open and my sister and BIL come inside. "Hi Baby!!" my BIL exclaims. JC hands her to him, and she settles down. I hand him the bottle I just made, and he puts it in her mouth. Now she's ready to eat.

"It sounds like staying at home would be fun," I say to my sister, "But clearly, you can never actually get anything done with that little one and her needs."

She lets out a snort, and nods. "I know," she says, looking pointedly at her husband.

We're exhausted, but everyone survived. Success.

12:30 PM.
 I'm driving JC home, and I'm heading through an intersection I'm unfamiliar with. The lines on the road look odd to me, and I'm confused. I pull into the wrong lane, and I'm face-to-face with oncoming traffic. I pull back into the correct lane. No one honks; everything is fine.

The fact that I was in the wrong lane, for even a second, upsets me deeply, and I can't get past it. I can feel it building in my chest. I can't stop it. "I can't," I say. 

"You're okay," JC says. "Everything is okay."

"I can't," I say again, my voice growing shrill. 

"Everything is fine babe," JC says soothingly.

"I can't," I say one last time, my voice on the edge of hysteria now. I start to sob. I wail. 

"Okay sweetheart, it's okay," JC says. "Pull over into this parking lot and let's take a break." I pull into the parking lot, and shut the car off. I throw my head against my steering wheel and wail-scream. "I'm! So! Tireeeeeeeeeeeeeeddddddddd!" I sob.

"Shhhhh.... shhhhh...." JC says, rubbing my back. "You're okay, everything is okay." He continues to rub my back, much like he did for my niece not even an hour prior. I continue to sob. My wailing turns to a weep. To a whimper. To a sniffle. I stop crying. 

I totally get it now, Ella I think to myself. One minute everything is fine... until it isn't. My reaction was swift and uncontrollable. I'm exhausted. I've never related to an infant more. 

I drop off JC, make it home without incident, fall up the stairs to my room, onto my bed, and pass out.

6:30 PM. 
I wake up confused. Is Ella okay? I remember she's with her parents now, so of course she's okay.

I roll over and grab my phone and text my sister.

"How's little baby doing?" I ask her. "I miss her soooooo much."

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