Baby: A Cautionary Tale

November 22nd, 2004

So I am having company for Thanksgiving, and I am a little worried about it. I'm worried because one member of the company is my niece, who is still a baby, and she's going to be staying with me for a week.

I know most people are all, “Ooooh, how cute,” over babies, but the truth is, they make me REALLY nervous.

For one thing, I am always afraid to hold them, because there is a strong possibility I might drop them on their heads. The reason there is a strong possibility of this is because it actually happened once.

I would just like to say, though, that although I did once drop a baby on her head, it wasn't so much of a drop as it was a long slide down my body when I didn't hold onto her tightly enough, so that when her head did hit the (carpeted) floor, it didn't THWACK as much as it lightly thumped. The baby was FINE. I still see her to this day, twelve years later, and she has obviously suffered no damage to the cranium that I can tell. She gets good grades and has lots of friends. Her parents should really let the whole me-dropping-her thing go.

The truth, though, is that fear of dropping them is not the only reason babies make me nervous. The fact is, babies are extremely devious. Seriously. I know they look cute and innocent. And they ARE cute.

But they are not innocent. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by their appearance. Because babies are secretly just waiting to mess with your head. How do I know this? Read on:

Okay, so when I was a teenager, my favorite summer job was babysitting. I didn't like babysitting babies, because babies don't like playing with Barbies. I liked babysitting kids, especially kids who owned Barbies, because then we could play with them.

Generally this worked out well, but sometimes, the parents in the neighborhood would get the VERY BAD IDEA to send their kids to camp for the summer, leaving me no one left to babysit but our town's Barbie-less babies (FYI, children under four are no fun to play with Barbies with. All they ever want to do is make Barbie go to the store, not go around solving crimes while two-timing Ken with GI Joe. I'm just saying).

Because I spent so much time babysitting older kids, I was not familiar with the ins and outs of sitting for actual babies. So on my very first babysitting job ever involving an actual baby, I asked a more skilled babysitter, a friend of mine named Elizabeth, to come along to coach me. Things were going fine—we played with the baby, fed the baby, bathed the baby. Then, as I was changing a diaper, I turned away for a minute to get something.

That's when it happened.

“Don't!” Elizabeth cried.

I stared at her blankly. “Don't what?”

“Don't ever turn your back on a baby on a changing table,” Elizabeth said. “They can roll off it.”

I laughed. “Elizabeth, this baby is only a month old. It doesn't know how to roll yet.”

“You never know when it will learn to,” Elizabeth said. “Knowing babies, it will probably be the very minute you turn your back on it.”

I thought Elizabeth was being a little bit of an alarmist. I mean, what are the chances of a baby learning to roll over AT THE EXACT SECOND your back is turned?

Those of you who know babies know the answer to this question.

But back then, I was still a baby novice. I didn't believe her. How could such a sweet, innocent looking thing do something so DEVIOUS as learn to roll over the exact second I'm reaching for the baby wipes? Impossible.

Fast forward a year. I'm fourteen. I have a LOT more babysitting experience under my belt. I had soothed colicky babies. I had changed hundreds of diapers. I had kept dozens of kids from breaking their arms by not letting them climb trees, and instead, making them stay inside with me and play Barbies. I was basically the babysitting bomb. NO ONE got hurt on my watch. NO ONE.

All the kids in town had gone to summer camp, so I was spending my days sitting for an actual baby. I will call her Julie. I liked Julie because she was a cheerful baby. An only child, just under a year, crawling but not walking, Julie liked to sing, and in general had a good attitude towards life. We had a good thing going, Julie and I.

The problem was, I didn't like Julie's parents. They didn't have a good attitude towards life in general. For instance, they didn't believe in turning on the air conditioning while they were at work and I was babysitting, because apparently Julie and I weren't worthy of air conditioning. So I wasn't allowed to turn it on. NO MATTER HOW HOT IT GOT.

I was willing to put up with this, however, because Julie was such a good, undevious baby, who never spontaneously rolled off the changing table or gave me any trouble AT ALL.

Well, one day it got REALLY REALLY hot. I mean, like in the hundreds.

I knew I couldn't turn on the AC, but poor Julie was sweating REALLY hard during her nap. So I took the fan out of the window (her parents had put one of those square fans in Julie's window, MILES away from her crib, which did her no good at all since none of the air even got on her) and put it in front of Julie's crib, so that it was blowing right on her—but still on a shelf out of reach of her little fingers in case, God forbid, Julie should choose that day to learn to climb out of her crib, something she had never done before.

Julie seemed extremely grateful, proceeded to sing, and promptly fell asleep doing so.

Then I went downstairs to watch All My Children.

About an hour later, I heard Julie singing, so I knew she was up. I went upstairs to take her out of her crib and change her diaper.

Except, that when I got upstairs, Julie wasn't in her crib.

Instead, she was sitting where the fan had been.

IN THE OPEN WINDOW.

THAT DIDN'T HAVE A SCREEN.

WITH HER LITTLE LEGS DANGLING OUTSIDE, OVER THE EDGE.

My heart totally stopped beating. I swear, I thought I was having a heart attack right there. All I could think was, OH MY GOD, I FORGOT TO CLOSE THE WINDOW.

And I felt HORRIBLE, because I really liked Julie, and if she fell out that window and rolled down the porch roof before I could stop her, she would hit the concrete steps one flight below and break her neck and die, it would be ALL MY FAULT.

And it was true that I was only fourteen, and honestly hadn't considered that a one year old baby might learn, THAT DAY, to climb out of her crib, crawl across the room, and then climb out the window.

But it would still have been ALL MY FAULT. No matter how many times I explained that this was a baby who had NEVER climbed out of her crib before–this was a baby who couldn't even walk—people were still going to ask the obvious question:

THEN HOW DID SHE CLIMB OUT THE WINDOW????

I don't know. I will never know. I will never know how that baby got up onto that windowsill. This was the freaking devious baby trick of all baby tricks. My friend Elizabeth, though she could not have predicted this one in a million years, had been one hundred percent RIGHT!!!!

Back to Julie:

The thing was, she was sitting RIGHT ON THE FAR EDGE of the window, towards the outside. If I startled her—and she was deeply involved in her song—she would fall out the window, onto the porch roof, which she could possibly roll off, then plunge to her death.

So I did the only thing I could think of to do.

And that was to sneak up on her, grab her from behind, pull her to me, and drop to the floor, yanking her out of the window and down onto me.

Which is exactly what I did.

You should
have heard her scream. She was OUTRAGED! I had spoiled her groovy sitting-in-the-window time!

Meanwhile, I thought I was going to throw up.

It was then and there that I learned the most important lesson there is about babies:

They are NOT to be trusted. NEVER trust a baby. They have only one thing on their babyish little minds, and that's MESSING WITH YOUR HEAD as much is as humanly possible.

When Julie's parents got home from work that day, I told them what had happened. I was sure they were going to fire me for taking the fan out of the window and leaving it wide open like that. But they needed to know that Julie had learned to climb out of her crib, not to mention climb out the window.

They didn't fire me. In fact, they seemed to find the whole thing sort of amusing. I guess the fact that she only would have fallen onto the porch roof made the story seem less dramatic. My assertions that she COULD have rolled from the porch roof to the ground did not seem to impress them very much.

In fact, you could tell Julie's parents were kind of proud of her for being so resourceful. Like you so knew they were going to go to dinner parties and tell the story of how their precocious daughter learned to climb out of her crib and out the window, all in the course of like twenty minutes, in order to give her babysitter a total heart attack.

They did, however, take my advice, and buy a screen for the window.

So you can see why I'm a little nervous about my niece, the baby who is coming to visit me this week. You can be the best, most attentive babysitter in the world, and there could still be one thing you've overlooked, and that will be the one thing a baby will totally use to her advantage to MESS WITH YOUR HEAD.

Fortunately my niece is bringing her parents with her. Still, this week, I'm keeping all the doors and windows in my house closed. And LOCKED.

If you have a baby visiting you, you would do well to do the same.

More later.

Much love,

Meg