The hour of need

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

She was up­stairs for all of 40 min­utes. Plenty of time, of course, for all three chil­dren to go com­pletely nuts.

When my sis­ter called to ask if I could watch Au­tumn while she made an im­por­tant phone call Tuesday even­ing, I didn’t hes­i­tate. The thought of watch­ing two in­fants and a tod­dler made me anx­ious, but Kate and my brother-in-law, Eric, have stepped in a mil­lion times for us. I agreed us­ing my most overused phrase, the one I drag out when I’m too tired to dis­cuss lo­gis­tics but fine with the com­mit­ment: “Sure, we’ll fig­ure it out.”

Ba­bies, like an­i­mals, sense when you are at your most vul­ner­a­ble. The re­al­ity of hav­ing my 1-month-old niece, 3-mon­thold daugh­ter and tod­dler son all in my care put me in a cold sweat.

Ev­ery­thing seemed kosher at first. Au­tumn was hang­ing out in a bouncer seat as I held Hadley, who prefers to perch like a par­rot with an arm over my shoul­der for the best view of the room. Ol­lie was watch­ing a movie. But as soon as Katie went up­stairs, Au­tumn’s bot­tom lip curled in a pic­ture-per­fect pout that would have been adorable had, you know, an­other adult been around to see it. And to save us.

Hadley started whim­per­ing in my arms as Oliver abruptly upended a bin of build­ing blocks in search of “Man”: a plas­tic fig­urine he in­sists must drive his fa­vorite toy trac­tor. Only Man, who is smaller than my thumb, can com­man­deer such a mag­nif­i­cent ma­chine; he’d been miss­ing for days, of course. I’d searched for him as Ol­lie de­layed bed­time the night be­fore. I kept hop­ing he’d for­get Man and move on to one of the other three bil­lion trin­kets in the house, but that’s just not the tod­dler way.

So I was dodg­ing Ol­lie’s blocks while crouch­ing awk­wardly by Au­tumn, now cry­ing in tan­dem with her cousin from the bouncer. The in­de­ci­sion of what to do, who to help was over­whelm­ing. I was in­stantly taken back to when we first brought Hadley home: one per­son need­ing eight arms.

Though it was all hap­pen­ing as I’d wor­ried it would, I didn’t want to bur­den my sis­ter by beg­ging for help (or mercy). It had been, like, five min­utes. Maybe. She prob­a­bly hadn’t even di­aled the phone num­ber.

It was one of those mo­ments I had to ex­am­ine from afar so I wouldn’t panic: the tele­vi­sion blar­ing a chil­dren’s movie no one was watch­ing, though the re­mote was nowhere to be found; me in my crum­pled dress clothes, vi­sion ob­scured by sweaty hair; the liv­ing room I’d care­fully picked up that morn­ing oblit­er­ated in min­utes.

Aban­don all hope, ye who en­ter here.

I might not have been so fraz­zled if I hadn’t been solo par­ent­ing this week. With Spencer 3,000 miles away for work, the weight of han­dling ev­ery­thing child-, home- and work-re­lated had me mak­ing lists to or­ga­nize my to-do lists. I set an alarm on my phone so I would eat lunch and re­mem­ber to use the re­stroom be­fore fly­ing down the high­way to pick up the kids. I mean, only some­one badly in need of a trop­i­cal bev­er­age could for­get some­thing like that.

I sound high-strung, I’m sure. Folks do this ev­ery day; our babysit­ter is one of them. I just ran­domly thought of a child­hood friend, her younger sis­ter and their triplet sib­lings . . . their mom al­ways seemed col­lected, though I can’t imag­ine she ever sat down for more than two min­utes. Def­i­nitely made of stronger stuff than me.

But I had to pull it to­gether Tuesday. I set­tled Hadley in a bassinet where she could watch her brother (cheap en­ter­tain­ment), then got Au­tumn’s bot­tle ready and sat nearby to feed her. Hadley could see me, too, so she qui­eted down. Au­tumn ate. Once my niece was calm, I flipped the girls: Hadley get­ting a bot­tle, Au­tumn watch­ing us from the bassinet.

My tod­dler took ad­van­tage of the spot­light mov­ing off his sneaky head to dig around in the kitchen. I had, of course, for­got­ten to put the child safety lock back on a cabi­net af­ter putting away dishes, and kids have radar for that sort of thing. Ol­lie re­turned wield­ing a full col­lec­tion of mu­si­cal pots and pans. While I fed Hadley, he per­formed an orig­i­nal ditty I’d call “Ut­ter Dis­ar­ray, Panic and Bed­lam — Please Get the Advil (Part I).”

Re­ally added to the am­biance, you know?

I knew enough Tuesday to rec­og­nize this was funny, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. When my sis­ter fin­ished her call, I heard the guest room door swing open be­fore she raced down­stairs. I’d switched the girls again. Au­tumn was passed out and drool­ing on my shoul­der while Hadley whim­pered from the bassinet, which I was point­lessly rock­ing with one foot. Ol­lie was sit­ting next to me with a small LEGO tro­phy he pre­tended was a cup; he reached over to shove it in my face so I could “drink! drink!”

“Well, this is a pic­ture,” she said.

I might have laughed, but that would have star­tled Au­tumn. Also, the “cup” was al­most block­ing my air­way.

Katie sprang into ac­tion with Hadley and called her hus­band, our back-up; he picked up din­ner on the way. The sight of Eric walk­ing in with a ro­tis­serie chicken, reach­ing out to free my arms from their baby prison . . . if I’d known that mo­ment of re­lief and grat­i­tude would come 10 years af­ter he started dat­ing my sis­ter, I might not have been so tough on the guy. (We all love him now.)

So we sur­vived. And even got the kids bathed. Kate and Eric stayed un­til well af­ter Ol­lie went to bed and my heart rate had re­turned to (mostly) nor­mal.

Spencer was due back Thursday even­ing. If his flight was de­layed, even for 10 min­utes, please check on us.

And if you find Man, ask him to pick up more chicken.

The kids in sim­pler, less chaotic times.

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