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The Baby Next Door

 

My next door neighbor is pregnant and due at any moment. The last time I saw her she was on her way out for a walk, to try and shake the baby loose, but I’m pretty sure he’s still in utero. She and her husband are going to be first time parents, and they have all of the new furniture and rabid anxiety to show for it. They’ve had parents and siblings and nieces and nephews traipsing in and out of the apartment for months, offering help and advice and a chance to practice their parenting skills. The two year old niece who cried 24 hours a day was especially good practice. Cricket survived the experience quite well, I think.

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“I survived, barely.”

But I am worried about how Cricket will react to having a baby next door full time. I hope that she will be protective of the baby, rather than frightened by him. I hope that she will see the baby as a fount of wonderful new smells, rather than a source of unpredictable noise and movement. Butterfly will, inevitably, want to lick the baby and I’m not sure if that will be allowed. I have my fingers crossed that my offers to babysit will be taken seriously, and that Cricket’s presence will not count against me. Our downstairs neighbor is a pediatric nurse, though, so if they’re choosing between us, I’m pretty sure she wins. Though I do spend more time at home, so I have availability in my favor.

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That tongue was made for licking.

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“I’m a sweetheart, Mommy. I don’t know what you’re worried about.”

When the most recent child visited next door, Butterfly took up her spot on the mat by our front door, and listened to the child’s voice, mesmerized. It’s possible that she thinks babies know all of the mysteries of the world, and if she just listens long enough she will absorb all of that wisdom. Or maybe she can smell them from across the hall; the mix of poopie diaper and sticky jam hands must be intoxicating. Maybe our neighbors will only ask Butterfly to babysit, and I will have to stay home with Cricket while she grumbles under the couch.

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Butterfly is a very good listener.

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“Do babies like duckies?”

I don’t usually get to be around babies, and I feel the loss. People talk about a biological clock, as if the pull towards having children starts and stops at a given time, but my clock has always been ticking. I never actively chose to be single or childless. There are so many people, especially nowadays, who have made those choices consciously and are satisfied and happy with their lives, but that’s not me. I would have liked to be a full time mom. I would have liked to put all of my research efforts into figuring out my own children, and all of my fight into making their lives better. I just wasn’t up to it in time.

I used to babysit as a teenager, for friends of the family, starting when their first born was only a month old. I was there for just an hour or so during the day to begin with, learning how to bottle feed him and change diapers. I babysat for him, and his younger brother, for a few years, until they got a live in babysitter to watch both kids so their Mom could go back to work. Most of what I remember about babysitting was staring into the pantry, looking for cookies. I even drank tea when I was babysitting, even though I never drank tea in real life. I was very good at reading Thomas the Tank Engine books, but less expert at the diapering business. As soon as I was told that boy babies will pee at you, I developed a face averting/arm guarding/diaper-as-pee-shield routine that slowed the whole process down.

I only did a little bit of babysitting when my brother’s first child was born, and that was me and Mom together, so she could be in charge of diapers and messier tasks, and I could teach Benjamin how to sing, and help him with his bizarre baby yoga poses. Most of the baby sitting I do now, with my brother’s four kids, is just hanging out, being an alternative to those bossy parents, and playing with trains and computers and other fun stuff. I don’t have to force them to brush their teeth, or keep them from drowning in the bath tub, thank god.

But I’d really like to have some baby time again. The incredible high of being able to make a baby smile, or just getting locked in baby eye contact for a moment, is unforgettable. Cricket also thinks she could be good at babysitting. She would be very good at keeping an eye on the baby and alerting sleepy parents to any incipient emergencies: like a dropped bottle, a stab of gas pain, a serial killer trying to get in through the window, or, you know, birds passing by.

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“Birds!!!!!!”

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

67 responses »

  1. I don’t have kids either, but my fiance’s daughter had a baby girl in September, and boy do I understand that “baby high” of just holding an infant and gazing into her eyes! We’re so lucky that we get to spend time with her AND his other daughter will be having a baby in July! I’m childless by choice (LOTS of reasons I won’t go into here), but I still love kids and am thankful I finally get to have some in my life. Oh, and Dewey Dude (my puppy) adores children and is very good with baby Anna 😉 I hope you get to enjoy your neighbor’s baby too 🙂

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  2. I don’t have biological children either…partly by choice and partly not. (It’s complicated.) I do have step children, but they were already out of the house when I married their dad. I have filled my need for baby and toddler hugs by substitute teaching at a local day care center. That may be something that you would like to look into. I hope your neighbor will let you babysit and that the pups will do well with the new addition to the neighborhood. 🙂

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    • Someone suggested volunteering to hold babies at the hospital, which sounds incredible, and I can’t understand why anyone would let me do that either. We’ll see where things go next.

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      • Our “local” children’s hospital put out a call for volunteers to hold their drug babies. I’d love to do that, but it is an hour away (That’s not really local, is it?). I wish it were closer. I’d do that in a heartbeat.

  3. What a wonderful post. I can imagine all three of you doting over a new baby. A new mum needs all the help she can muster. A new baby needs all the love they can attract. Keep us posted.

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  4. Birds? Really, Cricket. You should be more worried about politicians.

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  5. a wonderful offer
    of free child care
    may be a lovely
    aspiration 🙂

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  6. If anyone tells you “you can always adopt,” Rachel, please do Uncle Guacamole a favor and thwap them upside the head. Alternatively, let go with a string of profanities that lets them know such misdirected efforts at sympathy are not appreciated. Been there. Grrrr!

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  7. i don’t have kids, OR, it seems, a biological clock… at least i have never heard a tick from it… i think it comes from being bullied as a child… i didn’t like kids when i was one..

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  8. I love the expression “it takes a village” to raise a child. It’s important to be an aunt or uncle, a librarian, a story teller, a babysitter, a caring nurse…I think children need and deserve all that and I hope you and your adorable dogs can find a place in your neighbor’s baby’s childhood that makes it magical!

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  9. You would make a wonderful mum Rachel, but as the response from Jennifer above says, you can still be infinitely useful as as a surrogate aunt, and reading and storytelling is essential – you could begin writing little baby Cricket and Butterfly adventure stories for the lucky little boy or girl x

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  10. I don’t have kids, and it wasn’t through choice. Just one of those things. Like you, I babysat a lot when the nieces and nephews came along. After my divorce, I moved from the area and lived with a single parent of two boys, aged 4 and 6. Later in the relationship, we fostered teenagers, so I’ve had a bit of practice of kids of various ages. I confess though that I do not partiularly like said nieces or their kids, and the nephews I wouldn’t know if they knocked on the door. There’s a lot to be said for having dogs as our ‘babies’.

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  11. There are many ways to have a baby solo these days and lots do it. You’d be a fabulous mother I’m sure and the puppies would make great siblings. Think of the stories you could tell your kids! 🙂 Don’t give up a dream if you truly want it! ❤

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  12. This was another fun post to read. I don’t have children either but I do have a niece and nephew I get to spend time with. I tell them be careful what you ask for because the answer is always yes! I’m still smiling about the smell of poopy diapers and sticky jam hands being intoxicating to Butterfly.

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  13. We feel certain your soon-to-not-be preggies neighbors will feel incredibly fortunate to have you (all) as their neighbors, if they don’t already!

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  14. Dogs and babies communicate so much better than “grown-ups”.

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  15. Enjoyed this story! Thanks.

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  16. Well you make an excellent ‘mom’…even if your kids are short, hairy and hard to understand. It is ironic that you should post this particular topic today. I’ve just gotten home from a rather solemn church event and the elders invited in children from the age of 8 and older. For me it was a lessened experience because the younger ones could or would not be still as long as was necessary for the event. And I dimly recall being that young and how difficult it was for me to sit through long and boring talk after long and boring talk. So I don’t entirely blame the kid, but I do blame the parent who doesn’t or won’t control their younger children. And as a crusty old woman I don’t particularly like children – never had any and I’m one of those who isn’t sorry either. People used to tell me I’d have made a great mother though. I have to wonder what they saw in me that I missed. Because I never enjoyed children that much, even though I did a lot of baby sitting and even taught the really young (3 and 4 year olds) at one point in my church. I hope you are able to interact with your new young neighbor and that you find happiness in doing it. People really need more like you, who enjoy the interaction with kids.

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    • At my synagogue they have special monthly services for “families,” which really means for kids, with their parents proudly looking on. The prayers are shortened, the discussion is replaced with a story, and the kids from the Hebrew school get to participate in different ways. It is VERY boring for adults who are not the particular parents of those children involved, though.

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  17. I remember going on a National Geographic cruise. While the other adults listened to lectures in the evenings, filled with biological terms I could not recognize or pronounce, I snuck in with the kids to eat pizza and watch “The Golden Compass.” The only thing that would have made it even more perfect would have been Butterfly and Cricket – :-).

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  18. Oh my goodness, I wanna squish his face!!! Too cute!

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  19. Lovely pics!

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  20. Lovely pictures of Butterfly and Cricket!

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  21. Studies have been done that show children who grow up with dogs and cats have a stronger immune system, partly because they are exposed to lots of germs that they learn to fight off. So, you may be in the running for the babysitting job 🙂 I wish you well!!

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  22. And, while waiting for the big event to occur, it can never be wrong to celebrate a bit in advance: to all the crew members of the Cricket Pages, have a very happy National Puppy Day!

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  23. Hershey would agree with Cricket. She’s unsure about small children and the squealier and less predictable they are the less sure she is. Graham on the other hand IS sure about them, sure they’re up to no good and barks at them accordingly. Marsha however would happily meet anybody!

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  24. Babies everywhere. It must be spring.

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  25. I see your cute dog and know that there is lots of love around him. What a joy!

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  26. Thank you for liking my post! I’m still learning, so I just noticed that haha. I love dogs and think yours is adorable! I look forward to reading more posts by you!

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  27. Another post that made me smile and go ahhh.. and not just because of the excitement of a baby, a new arrival to watch over, even if it is only a neighbors but because Cricket is always so snowy white. I envy your ability to keep your babies so clean.

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  28. Rachel, you are always the best, completely generous with baring your soul. It’s good to be reminded that whatever our individual decisions, other ways of looking at things merit our compassion.

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  29. If the new parents don’t want your wonderful babysitting abilities, I’d welcome you to furbaby sit for me. Our kids are grown and left all the pets for us to continue raising. They’re fabulous but we have so many we don’t know what to do…when we’d like to go out of town, vacation, visit relatives without taking turns staying home with the critters. I’m sure once the new wears off and the fear of germs around a new baby calms down, they will be at your door regularly. You are a gift.

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    • You are so kind! I think the baby has started to recognize the sound of the dogs going out for a walk. When we pass the door with the dogs he just lets out a full on rant. Those are some strong lungs he’s got!

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  30. Love the photo of your baby with the stuffed bird. Awfully cute.

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  31. Love your observations on life and your precious dogs.

    Reply

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