Spevak: The great grandparenting gig

September 19, 2013 

Over the years, since first becaming a grandfather in 1998, I have spent a lot of time with my grandchildren. In some ways, it’s become the primary occupation for me and my wife, Sandy, since we have 16 grandkids.

Being with our grandchildren is a rewarding experience, although sometimes tiring. Their energy and enthusiasm brighten our lives. That same energy, however, can wear down a couple of old folks like us.

Recently, Sandy and I tried the most daring experiment of our grandparenting lives. We agreed to fly to Colorado and be co-nannies for the entire month of August for our newest grandchild, Owen.

Our daughter Megan and son-in-law Eric resumed full-time work in August when Owen turned four months old. Sandy and I, along with Eric’s parents, decided we would help Owen and give him two months of TLC before he began day care. We took August and the Eisenhards chose September to come to Golden, Colo., where Owen and his family live.

Upon arriving in Golden, Sandy and I asked ourselves: “Are we really ready for this? We’ve signed up for eight- to ten-hour shifts five days a week. (We did have weekends off.) Do we have it within us?” By then, however, we had no choice. We were committed to the most extensive babysitting gig of our lives.

I will put all suspense to an end. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Though we did use all 48 hours of the weekend (in our rented place a few blocks away) to sleep, rest, and recover before the next week started.

Sandy and I luckily have two talents that helped us get through the month. Sandy is great with babies; she loves them, and they love her. She has a special connection with them and seems to intuit what they’re feeling.

My talent is pushing a stroller and walking behind it. That is my survival technique for a fussy kid, first a father and then as a grandfather.

Using those talents and figuring out Owen’s routine, we made it through each day successfully, although sometimes barely. Fortunately, Owen is a happy baby with a mellow personality, with exceptional abilities in eating, sleeping and smiling.

Our typical day went like this. We arrived at Owen’s place between 7:30 and 8a.m. Owen was usually up and bouncy, literally. His parents had purchased for him a device where he could sit down and use his feet to bounce. And bounce he did, especially with encouragement from Sandy.

After a while he would start fussing. That would usually mean he was hungry. Megan had made sure there were bottles of mother’s milk in the refrigerator, supplemented with formula. Sandy had a sense that Owen was ready to eat a few minutes before Owen realized it, so the bottle was always warm and ready when he was.

After gulping down his bottle in Sandy’s lap, Owen was usually happy. He would lie on his back for a while, grab his feet, and smile. Sandy gave him special lessons in rolling over. Owen was a quick learner. By the time we had left, Owen was rollin’.

Eventually we would play a Baby Einstein video, which Owen watched intently. After a while Owen would get tired. After the second whimper, I would whisk him up, put him in his stroller, buckle him in, and head out the door. We would stroll until Owen fell asleep, which usually took between 15 seconds and 15 minutes.

After a 45-minute to two-hour nap, Owen (and I) would return to the house. Then Sandy and I would start the routine over for the early afternoon and often for a third round in the late afternoon.

By the time either Eric or Megan came home, both Sandy and I said, “Good to see you. He’s all yours.” Then we’d head out the door, get to our place, and collapse on the couch.

And, yes, we survived. We enjoyed Owen and appreciated Megan and Eric’s excellent parenting. But after a month it took us a week to recover. I doubt whether, as we get older, we’d be able to do such a long stint again.

But it was fun while it lasted.

(Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 30 years, are encouraged and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.)

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