2009-09-24 / Editorial Page

Dear Hearts and Gentle People

I am a grandmother. It is a joy I've waited a lifetime to experience so you can bet I want to do it right. I want to be the best mother-in-law in the world and I want my grandchild to think I'm the funniest, sweetest, snuggliest, and most unforgettable grandmother in the universe.

I have no way of knowing, however, if I've attained unforgettable status yet as my little punkin' is only seven months old and I see her not nearly as often as I'd like.

I was asked to babysit this past Friday since the regular sitter had to be out of town. My d-in-l teaches kindergarten and had to be at work early and my son had to head out early too, so the decision was made that I would make the hour and a half trip on Thursday and spend Thursday night.

I didn't sleep a wink Wednesday night, partly because I was excited and keyed up and partly because my soon-to-be bionic knee was hurting so badly I was popping pain pills every thirty minutes.

At about 4 a.m. I dozed off with, I'm told, one leg hanging over the bedside table and the other sticking straight up against the headboard.

I made a wise decision early the next morning and called my 87 year old mother to see if she could go with me to babysit since I wasn't sure I was up to scaling the three-hundred or so stair steps up to Punkin's room.

"You know I'll go!" she said enthusiastically. Mama, 13 years shy of 100 has more energy now than I'll ever hope to have. But, she does use a cane to help her walk.

She laughed and said, "Well, here we go, the blind leading the blind."

We left Thursday afternoon, loaded to the gills with clothes, snacks, presents for the baby, toiletries, a camera and, of course, lots of prescription medicine.

Kate, my granddaughter, is the most adorable child on the planet (I can say that, it's my column) and she, like always, started grinning when she saw us, and jumping up and down.

I ran to her first and took her into my arms. My son, God love him, quickly ran over and said to me, "Uh, Mama, have you washed your hands?"

Startled I said, "What? You mean today?"

"You know how we feel about that, Mama," he said apologetically, "we just don't want her getting any unnecessary germs."

I handed the baby over to my mother who I was quite certain had questionable hands after using a wet wipe to clean the Zaxby's chicken grease off her fingers. I wasn't about to squeal on her, however.

Now, this is where I've got some s'plainin' to do, Lucy.

At some time or other, between the years my children were born and today, the rules of raising children changed and, sadly, nobody told me.

I was huddled in some corner pouring over the complete works of Dorothy Parker when I should have been reading all the books on the new and improved ways of Bringing Up Baby in 2009.

Walking through a Babies-R-Us store one would think that babies have the potential to go through childhood without so much as a scratch. There are safety features on every retail item in the store.

There are electrical outlet plug and plate covers, cabinet locks, drawer latches, window locks, window blind cord wind-ups, finger pinch guards, door knob covers, corner cushions, edge guards and bumpers, crib rail covers, gates, stove guard, stove knob covers, and toilet locks.

I can see right now that we must have been the most careless generation of all time when it came to tending children because we had none of those things. We had our own ways of coping, though.

When my child would reach up and touch a hot unit on the stove, he'd jerk his hand back and scream to high heaven. "But," said my granddaddy, "I betcha he won't do that again!"

Our children learned by trial and error and we, as parents, pretty much learned the same way.

Today's babies aren't allowed cereal until they are several months old. We had just arrived at my mother's home after leaving the hospital with our first son, Lex. After his first bottle he wailed for thirty minutes or more until we could stand it no longer. We called Dr. Adair, my OB-Gyn.

"That boy's starvin'!" he said. "Give that child some food!"

Two of my aunts went into the kitchen, mixed up rice cereal, milk, and applesauce and put the concoction into a neat little contraption called The Infant Feeder. It was a huge hollow plastic cylinder, sort of like a hypodermic needle but with a nipple where the needle would go.

"BLOP!" I swear we could hear that stuff hit the bottom of Lex's stomach when he sucked it down! But he quit crying, by golly, and slept for 6 hours. Didn't hurt him one bit and made us feel a whole lot better.

Someone said babies are smarter than they used to be. Maybe so. My granddaughter sits in her Bumbo seat (another new invention that allows a baby who is totally incapable of sitting up to…well… sit up) and watches a set of DVDs called 'Your Baby Can Read'.

The child is seven months old!! The scary thing is, she is beginning to imitate what she sees and hears, and knows beforehand what's coming next on the tape.

In fact, I'm beginning to feel a little intimidated around her when we're alone, just the two of us. She'll look at me, then look at the TV, then at me again, and then the TV. It's sort of like she knows I'm old and don't know all I ought to know!

There are so many things to keep a child occupied these days. So many things to entertain them and make them laugh.

My mother and I were amazed at the things Kate has in her room. It's like Disney Land in there! Motorized swings that play tunes, stuffed animals that talk, and even 'sounds from the womb' to soothe a cranky newborn.

My husband was in college when our first son was born. We were on a tight budget. How did I get my little boy to laugh? I beat myself over the head with pots lids! He loved it! He would sit in his walker and cackle for hours while I did that.

And other than a slight headache now and then, that was some pretty good bonding time if you ask me. And cheap, too.

Another thing that kept my boys entertained that might be frowned upon today: they loved playing in the toilet. Yes, the bathroom toilet. I cleaned it, of course, and thanks to Clorox and Pine Sol, the bowl was shiny and devoid of all germs when they went "fishy-fishy." Well, most of them anyway.

I'll admit, if I had had some of the nifty little safety gadgets they have today my life would probably have been a little less stressful.

Let's just say, having two boys is…well, interesting. At Baptist Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, the ER staff offered to give me discount rates because I was in there so often.

Children today are bombarded with exciting, new learning toys. My boys learned the uses for stomach pumps, ipecac syrup, and why you never pump a child's stomach if he has ingested gasoline. (Give them milk).

Head and Shoulders downed by an inquisitive 3 year old while playing in the bathtub responds really well to the Ipecac.

A wood screw up the nose is no cause for alarm if one has a magnet handy. Unfortunately, we did not, which made for our eleventh ER visit. They really were so nice there.

You won't find those kinds of experiences in a book. Hands-on is the way to go.

I say all this not to condemn today's generation of parents but to encourage them to, how do you say it, chill out! So what if that baby eats a little dust off the floor? He/she will build up immunities that way and be healthier in the long run. Mine were.

In fact, mine turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself, and both are healthy and happy. I'm even sure they have good memories of the loving, though haphazard, way we parented. (Well, except for that unfortunate mishap with the alligator and the G.I. Joe).

And about this issue of spanking… I have a definite opinion on that one. No one shall ever lay a hand on Kate, no matter what she has done or said. She is a girl, after all, and if you bribe a girl with chocolate, everybody knows she'll turn immediately into a Princess. Plus, I'm pretty sure she's perfect so she'll never need to be corrected.

Little boys on the other hand may need a little swat on the bottom now and then. We tried hard to bring our boys up the right way so, actually, we didn't have to spank them all that much. We found that waving the guns around pretty much got the job done.

Still, it's hard to convince my son that I've been around babies before but I told him I've never heard of a case yet where a baby didn't survive a day alone with Grandma. My mother agreed, but being the diplomat she is, she "saw Josh's side, too."

"Be sure Kate eats her sweet potatoes. It's the day she eats sweet potatoes," he repeated. "And then her bottle, and that's all for supper, nothing else. Got that?"

"Yep, son. Got that."

Kate polished off the sweet potatoes in two minutes flat and wahwahed for more. So I gave her some leftover Zaxby's creamed potatoes and a few sips of a diet coke. She loved it. The fruit loops were just for fun.

"Nap time is 2:00 sharp," I was told. "If she doesn't go to sleep at 2, it will mess her whole schedule up."

"Got it!" I said.

At 2:00 Kate wanted to play, so we played. We swung on the front porch swing, we lay on our backs and each tried to reach for our toes. Kate succeeded, MeMa didn't.

Look, the way I figured it, as long as Kate was happy and was laughing and goo-gooing when mama and daddy got home, I'd done what I was supposed to do. No problem. All's well that ends well, right.

And anyway, what they don't know won't hurt me.

*Any views or opinions presented in this column are solely those of an over-imaginative, exaggerating grandmother who dearly loves her grandchild, and do not necessarily represent the views of those mentioned in the article

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Awesome article!!!