Skinned Knees and Baby Burritos

Would you trust this man to baby-sit your children?

On May 13, I will turn 26. I am at the point in my life where I have started seriously thinking about settling down, getting married, and starting a big-nosed, melon-headed family. This serious thinking terrifies me, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend, whose yen for a ring is only surpassed by her desire to steal cute kids off the street. The pressure is mounting. Am I ready for all this?

Last weekend, I found out how ill-prepared I actually am.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, my girlfriend Julianne and I journeyed to the city of Baltimore to look after two girls who poop their pants and find me hilarious. My niece Charlotte is two, recites Blake poems, frequents the zoo (her favorite animal is a kudu), and lives solely on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My niece Claudia is 5 months old, drools, and enjoys shiny objects and breast milk. These two innocent, unassuming children would test both my patience and my sanity.

Julianne and I decided to divide up the responsibility: She would watch the active two year old, and I would take charge of the gummy midget. For our excursions outside of the apartment, I was given a baby carrier to wear. A baby carrier can best be described as a harness that attaches the baby to the unwitting dupe like some sort of giant, adorable goiter. So, while Julianne was free to run and play with Charlotte, I walked along like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Our first excursion was to the garden in the rear of the apartment complex. Charlotte demanded that we each pick up a rock and race with it. When asked why, she responded “Because they’re here.” She made a good point.

After many races, she demanded that we all sit down on a bench. That was easy enough for my girlfriend and the toddler. As for me and the drool machine, we resembled a pregnant woman getting in and out of a beanbag chair. As soon as I managed to sit down, Charlotte was up again, ready for the next adventure.

Then, tragedy struck. On the way home from our walk to a nearby gazebo, Charlotte fell and skinned her right knee. There were tears. When Julianne tried to take a look at the injury, she was met with a cry of “DON’T LOOK AT IT!” As we continued on, Charlotte walked with a pronounced limp, stopping several times to lift up her dress and examine her wound. We tried to clean the scrape but again were met with resistance.

When we returned home, it was time for dinner and for Claudia’s bedtime. On top of my baby-carrying duties, I was put in charge of Charlotte’s dinner — which of course consisted of peanut butter and jelly. As soon as I set Charlotte’s plate on the table, Baby Claudia began to cry, and cry, and cry.

My sister had showed me how to swaddle Claudia, wrapping her in a blanket to hold down her arms and legs and producing what can only be described as a baby burrito. But that night, even though I wrapped the baby in her favorite Mexican dish, she still bawled. For the next three hours.

I expected Charlotte to be jealous of all the attention that Claudia was getting, but she just sat there eating her sandwich like nothing of importance was going on. By 7 p.m., Charlotte was ready for bed. We laid down on her bed and read a few books. As soon as I had finished the second one, she turned over and fell asleep. It was just like clockwork.

But Claudia would not cooperate. I tried cradling her in my arms and rocking her in her favorite rocking chair. My arms fell asleep faster than she did. Whenever I did finally get her to sleep and would try to set her down in her crib, she woke up and started screaming again.

We entered a horrific cycle. Claudia would cry for ten minutes, giving herself the hiccups. Then, she would fall asleep, but because she had given herself hiccups, she would wake up and cry once more. It was an endless, terrible loop: Cry, sleep, hiccup, cry. Cry, sleep, hiccup, cry! CRY, SLEEP, HICCUP, CRY!

After hours of attempts to get Claudia to sleep, she finally passed out. Julianne and I collapsed on the couch, exhausted after just a few hours with these children. Tired and abused, Julianne leaned in and whispered, “We’re never having kids.”

SUCCESS! If only I could quell her desire for that ring.

Article © 2008 by Mike Meagher