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“Don’t worry,” she says. “After you take care of Carson for 24 hours, you will.”
I arrive in Madison, Wis., for a seven-day visit that will include a day and night alone with Carson. Little do I know that through a series of small experiences, those 24 hours will become a crash course in something resembling the theory of relativity because it involves energy, movement and time.
Of the three, time is most important. I learn that immediately, when I observe how insanely happy my daughter and her husband become when I offer to take over for 24 hours.
Although my grandchild is as cute as he can be, he is a handful because he knows exactly what he wants and when he wants it, and it never involves amusing himself alone. I hope I am up to all those hours “on duty.”
His parents depart, 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, and Carson cries only a little. Good start. I sit down among his toys and feign fascination with multi-colored plastic rings. We stack them. We knock them down. He points to a box. We put shapes in. We take them out. I pick up a toy that makes music. I push the button once. Twice.
We have just played with 70 percent of his current favorites.
His parents have been gone 15 minutes. Now what?
My son (briefly in town) offers to drop me at the library, where the children’s section is strong on toys. I’ll have to walk home in 90 degree heat and 87 percent humidity, but at least it’s something to do.
I pack the diaper bag and, for the walk home, sunscreen, insect repellant and a hat. I wonder if it’s bad for my back to do all this lifting and sorting while holding a baby on one hip, but Carson prefers to track my every move, so I do it to keep him happy.
We arrive at the library at 1 p.m. With Carson on my hip (my back is complaining a little), I scout the territory. We begin with an animal puzzle. I make sounds. Moo. Oink. Peep. He listens. It is now 1:05. Baa.
How many five-minute intervals of waking time are there in 24 hours?
I won’t think about that. Instead, I check my watch, which might be broken because it hasn’t moved at all.
We move to the library’s toy kitchen. Carson puts a lid on and off a pot for half a minute. A toy fish amuses him — briefly. Then something good happens: a 4-year-old boy leaves his computer to approach Carson. As the boy comes closer, so does his mom.
I practically throw myself at her, trying to make conversation. I would have discussed the Madison sewage system or the virtues of Fox News, if she wanted to, just to keep her son around. But after her son stirs pots on the stove with Carson, she has the audacity to go home.
Somehow we make it through 20 more minutes, and then I push the stroller home, sweating profusely. We arrive at 2:15, which is still too early for nap time. I’m hot and tired and low on ideas, and Carson’s parents have only been gone two hours. How will I survive 22 more?
I invent baby games. I play baby games. I let Carson feed Cheerios to me, one by one. I ignore the fact that he is using the same sticky fingers to feed Cheerios to the dog and to himself.
But I cannot rest. I must prepare for our next adventure, a trip to the swimming pool with my son and his friends. I repack: bathing suit, snack, sunscreen, hat, money, pool cards, towel, pacifier. If I forget something crucial — the sippy cup, for example — I could spoil the whole trip.
After a mere 45 minutes, Carson awakes.
The pool trip goes well, although the big old-fashioned pool clock seems to have caught the same disease as my watch.
Finally, it’s home again for dinner, bath and bed.
With Carson asleep, I check in with my own body. Everything is tired and my back, in particular, is killing me. I want to lie down but if I don’t clean up now, tomorrow will be impossible. I run around hanging towels, stacking toys and washing dishes. I also feed the dog, let him out, and pay a moment of attention to him.
By the time I collapse into bed at 9:15, I’m a wrung-out puppy, too. How did I do this with my own two children, in increments of time that were not just minutes, not just 24 hours, but years?
I know the answer. I did it the way I just did with Carson, finding victories so small that I haven’t even written them down: pride at coming up with good ideas for what to do, pleasure at keeping him happy, joy in watching him learn to communicate. And the wonderful feeling that he likes me. The truth is: I had a blast.
When his parents come home, they ask me what was difficult. I tell them Carson cried in the morning, but not much.
Oh, and I was tired, I guess, but time heals all. I don’t feel that way now.
Small victories. That’s the right way to describe this experience. I feel good.
Marion Franck is a part-time resident of El Dorado County, with her primary residence in Davis. She writes a weekly column for the Davis Enterprise. Her column appears occasionally in the Mountain Democrat.