I loved babysitting when I grew up. Heather Hermalink was my favorite babysitter ever, and I emulated everything I could about her. When she sold her broken down, ratty ten-speed bike at a garage sale, guess who bought it? She painted her finger nails? So did I. She wore a headband daily, well obviously I had to find a matching one, right? And she babysat. A lot.
She wasn’t much older than me, maybe four or five years, and eventually she moved away, and I took over much of her babysitting – including that of the boy and girl who moved into her house. When I went to college, I discovered that there were parents living nearby who loved having responsible college students babysitting for them, and by my junior year, I had a family that I nannied for regularly – three days a week for several hours each day.
That family had the sweetest little baby boy. He was about three months old when I first met him, and he was one of those happy guys who was never bothered by anything. I got along well with his mom – who was new to the area and had a husband who traveled all week long – and she often stayed around just to chat with me.
I loved watching him. While his mom sometimes had the tv on in the background to keep her occupied, I never wanted anything to distract me from his cuteness (this may also be partially due to the fact that I was with him fewer than twenty hours a week rather than 24/7 with a traveling spouse). I watched him learn to eat from a spoon and delighted in finding new favorite foods for him. I remember his mom telling me that she was amazed by how much better he’d eat with me than he would for her. We went for long walks through the neighborhood whenever the weather was nice – even though it required me lugging his large stroller down two flights of stairs (welcome to apartment living in Chicago).
It wasn’t all sweetness and light though.
I also had to change his diapers. And I swear that boy had the worst diapers of any child I’d ever met. Or maybe I was just a naive college kid who had yet to be initiated into the real stinky diaper society. Regardless, it still holds some unpleasant memories for me.
One day, his mom was in the kitchen, having not quite left the house yet – one wall away from the boy’s bedroom. I was in his bedroom changing a particularly nasty diaper. He was on his gorgeous high honey oak changing station when I began the task of gingerly dismantling his explosion. As I lifted his Polo onesie (his auntie worked for Ralph Lauren – you can only imagine the wardrobe this boy had!), I saw that he had succeeded in blowing out the back of the diaper.
I sighed and turned to the wardrobe to get a change of clothes for him while my adorable, immobile charge lay admiring his pinky toes. I rifled through the wardrobe to find one of my favorite outfits, and I finally found it buried deep among other – probably equally adorable – outfits. I turned back to the boy just in time to see him roll over for the first time. He was rolling off the changing table that I’d neglected to strap him into because … well, he didn’t move and he was filthy and I didn’t want to get the mess further smeared on him and his clothing. Neither of those is a good reason, but it is what it is.
I was across the room, a good six to seven feet away, as I saw his body tilt downward and towards the hardwood floor a good four feet below – remember, this was a very high changing table. I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast, before or since. Somehow – someone was looking out for him that day – I managed to lunge across the room and get my arms out before he landed on his beautiful, perfect head and split it open or worse. I caught that little boy inches from the ground as my knee thunked solidly into the floor. That hurt. It really hurt, but I was focused on ensuring the boy was ok.
Needless to say, he began crying. He didn’t scream, as I don’t think I ever heard him truly panic cry, but he was not a happy camper. He didn’t like his adventure of plummeting off the changing table, and he probably picked up on some of my panic, not to mention the abrupt catching and halting of his fall. I quickly righted him into my arms and began soothing him to the best of my ability, hoping that his mom would have left before this incident.
I’m not that lucky, in case you’re wondering. Within seconds, I heard her thundering into the bedroom to see if everything is ok – she’d heard a thunk (my knee) and her baby was crying. Note that her son was still filthy and partially exposed, as I’d already lifted his onesie up before discovering the need for a new outfit. I explained it away as me having gotten a new outfit that had fallen and my knee having hit the floor (true) as I bent down to pick it up with him still in my arms (not so true) and that he was just a little startled (mostly true).
She believed me and went on her way, shortly leaving the house to go about her day. As for me, I stood there for a full ten minutes, holding her precious baby and thanking whoever it was that kept him from brain damage. I didn’t notice the stains on my shirt until after I’d gotten home, but I figured it was a small sacrifice for a worthy baby.
Nonetheless, I’ve never again left an infant unstrapped or in a position where he could roll or fall from a high place. I’ve never stepped away from a child placed on an elevated surface. And I don’t think the mom ever learned the truth of what almost happened to her precious boy.