From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

I Was Born for This Job

If I’d known grandchildren were going to be so much fun, I’d have had them first.


As a novice grandma, I eagerly looked forward to the first time I’d hear, “Mom, can you keep the baby a couple of days?” My response? “I’m ready! How soon can you get here?”

The calendar was cleared of bridge clubs and tennis matches. The crib was set up in the guest room, and friends were put on alert that I would be holding open house for the debut of our little princess. This cherub, a living, breathing angel, was to be all mine for two-and-a–half days. Talk about your dividends!

And talk about your responsibility! Instinct told me that taking care of my child’s child was going to be a whole different diaper pail. (Diaper pail—what we Neanderthals put dirty cloth diapers in before laundering them. Yes, we laundered them.) I invested in a fresh copy of Dr. Spock. I was actually worried that if I didn’t do a good job at this baby-sitting routine, they wouldn’t let me do it again.

The new parents arrived with a two-week supply of clothes, enough disposable diapers to soak up the Mississippi River, an entire zoo of stuffed animals, stroller, car seat, an itinerary of their hourly whereabouts for the next two days, the phone number of their pediatrician (60 miles away), their personal copy of Dr. Spock (with notes in the margins), and six pages of instructions. They left the collie at home.

The instructions included a 6:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. feeding/sleeping schedule. The baby must have read it because she followed it to the letter, even though there was a notation that “these times are estimates.” That darling baby had been in this world barely four months, and she had four people ready to do her bidding, willing to keep a record of said bidding and call it a schedule. Our son’s parting remarks were classic father-of-first-child edicts.

“Now, Mom, let her cry sometimes.” (What kind of sadist did I raise here?!)

“You don’t have to pick her up every time she opens her eyes.” (I’ve waited four months to pick this child up whenever I want!)

“It’s a matter of discipline, you know, and it must start early.” (This from a boy who at 15 needed 45 logical reasons he couldn’t hitchhike 300 miles to a high school basketball tournament.)

I was up at 5:30 that first day. She made me sit and watch her breathe until 6:45. Grandpa went to work and didn’t get to stay home and watch her breathe. For some reason he didn’t think that a major sacrifice.

My beautiful granddaughter and I had a wonderful day. I dressed her in her finest and we danced around the living room and strolled up and down the block. She responded beautifully for all the potential grandmothers who dropped by, then slept most of the afternoon, no doubt worn out from being adorable. She continued to follow the schedule. What a good baby!

What a joyful experience—pleasuring in that first grandchild. As I held her I looked into her father’s baby eyes again. They crinkled and sparkled with each toothless giggle. I nuzzled the soft cheeks and inhaled the sweet baby-fresh scent, long forgotten and greatly missed. This grandchild had added a dimension to life impossible to measure or explain. And all her father’s sins, from colic to wrecking the family car, were forgiven.

The second night, Baby decided to see how quickly Grandma could get to her crib when she called. Grandma hit the floor running each time. Baby called at 1:00, hungry. I fed her. She called at 2:30, wanting to smile and play. At 4:00 she was chewing her fist. I fed her. At 5:00 what I had fed her at 4:00 reappeared all over her and the crib. We both slept through her 6:30 feeding. I don’t think she missed it.

She remained happy and content for the rest of our time together, glorying in her star status, until five minutes before her parents walked in the front door. At that moment she woke up screaming, for no reason I could comprehend other than she had forgotten the schedule. They found me, her parents did, hair stringing, shirttail out, walking the floor and crooning. Her mother grabbed my precious from me. Immediately the crying stopped. I never convinced them that Baby hadn’t done that for two days.

But I had passed my maiden grandbaby-sitting test, and they did let me do it again. And again. And again. And so did our other children, so by the time I was rocking my seventh baby grand, my beginner’s luck had seasoned to old pro status.

It’s been 20 years since I heard the first, “Mom, can you . . .?” and my response is still, “I’m ready. How soon can you get here?”

Billie B. Chesney

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