Friday, March 21, 2014

Sitting Duck

A famous scene from I Love Lucy features Lucy and Ethel on a factory assembly line, attempting to wrap chocolates. They start off confident but grow increasingly panicky. As soon as they manage to wrap one, they are met head-on by one more. And yet another.

And so it goes with trying to diaper six-month-old quadruplets. The only difference was, as frantic as I felt, I never resorted to stuffing a messy diaper down my shirt. I did, however, find a dirty wipe that night in my pocket.

Nothing could really prepare me for the energy required, nor the exhilaration and enjoyment, of caring for the Quad Squad.

Momma Laura provided a crash course. The extensive instructions, for a mere three-hour gig, left me questioning this particular new experience on my 52/52 list. But while Laura got herself and her four-year-old daughter, Leah, ready to go to lunch and run errands, I had no choice but to dive in.

By the time I headed upstairs, all four babies were awake from their morning naps. I peered into their cribs and was greeted by a series of bewildered faces. Each of them eyed me as if thinking, “Wait, you’re not my mommy!” Yet all it took was a bit of sweet talking before each one smiled up at me. Gaining their trust and swooning at their reciprocal smiles proved to be the easy part.

All the babies appeared hungry and anxious to be picked up from their cribs. Laura said she and her husband generally carry two babies downstairs at a time. I winced. I could either take one baby, leaving another crying, or I could attempt two at a time. With my questionable coordination, I shuddered at the possible outcome. I tightly cradled each baby with my right arm and grasped the railing with my left, making four separate trips.

Once I had them settled safely downstairs, I commenced The Changing of the Diapers. Although I hadn’t changed a diaper in over twelve years, it proved to be much like riding a bicycle: albeit it a messy ride. To my surprise, they were the only four diapers I changed. We experienced several false alarms over the next few hours, but after some sniffing and undressing sessions, I eventually discovered just a whole lot of tooting going on.

Two babies seemed content as soon as they were out of their cribs and in clean diapers. The other two made it clear they wanted to be fed, pronto. Yet pronto wasn’t an option—not with having to prepare food for four.

I studied Laura’s written instructions for the babies’ lunch bottles: six ounces of warm water, three scoops of powdered formula, and three scoops of cereal—all shaken well in each bottle. I recalled this same routine, with my own sons, as requiring about three minutes. With four bottles to prepare, it should have taken no more than fifteen.

But bottle preparation took far longer due to my anxious trips, at roughly two-minute intervals, into the adjoining living room to check on the babies. Sure, I could see them from the kitchen sink, and that ten-yard line of vision seemed sufficient when I had my own children—especially after Baby #2, when parental supervision became way more lax. But there were four of them that day, none of whom were mine, and it had been years since I’d been responsible for the safety of even one. No, I couldn’t look away for a single minute. This could be the day each of them learned to crawl! At any moment, one of them could find a throat-obstructing-sized object to pop in his mouth!

During one such trip into the living room, I made the mistake of carrying the second bottle, shaking it as I studied my young charges. Little Ryan, whom Laura had wearily warned me hadn’t napped that morning, spied the bottle. He quieted for a moment, and then as I walked away without making good on my unspoken promise, he began to wail. Obvious lesson learned too late: Never tease a hungry baby.

“Just one more minute, Ryan,” I called from the kitchen, as the minutes passed. “I’m almost done, sweetie!” Sure, I’d lied to my own children—as often as necessary—but I felt much guiltier doing it to this tiny, trusting baby I’d just met.

Once all the bottles were ready, I arranged the four babies in their boppy pillows in a semi-circle on the floor. As Laura had shown me, I folded two receiving blankets on top of each pillow, put the bottles in their stuffed-animal bottle proppers, and braced the bottles on top. The babies began eating, with great great gusto. I sat on the floor in the middle, congratulating myself on a job well done. Except the job was far from over.

Over the next half-hour, I readjusted bottles at least twenty times and cleaned up spit-up just as many. Laura had told me to burp them each after every two ounces. Yet there was no way of knowing how much they’d eaten unless I took the bottle out of each baby’s mouth and removed the bottle-cover propper, which I obsessively did every five minutes.

To my relief, they were patient. They were also professional burpers. They got every bit of indigestion out of their systems with ease, as evidenced by my formula-drenched black sweater.
Logan and Madalyn fell back to sleep while eating. Reghan drank half her bottle and then seemed happy just looking around and cuddling with me. But that cuddle was short-lived, because Ryan apparently wasn’t just hungry; the poor little guy wasn’t feeling so hot. At six months (given their two months prematurity, their development was closer to four months), Laura and I agreed it was possible he was cutting his first tooth.

Ryan wanted to be held. Oh, I was good with this! Every time I picked him up, his cries turned to smiles. There is likely no sweeter experience in the world than watching a baby’s cry turn to a smile. The only problem was that three other babies also needed attention. Every time I snuggled with Ryan, one of the other babies needed to be burped, or moved, or held. And every time I put a momentarily smiling Ryan down to attend to one of the others, he cried again.

Lay one baby down, pick up another. Lay down that one, pick up the next. Burp, change messy bibs, check diapers. Holy Mother of God! This routine wasn’t humanly possible! But, Momma Laura did this, day in and day out. With a four-year-old daughter who also needed care. Laura was my new hero. No, she was clearly a superhero.

Babysitting the quads demanded every second of my attention. I never once glanced at the TV. I crossed my legs, afraid to take a bathroom break. I knew this experience would be challenging, yet I had no idea how mentally and physically exhausting it would be.

Still, what surprised me most wasn’t the work involved. What amazed me was how quickly I became attached to these babies. In three hours, I fell in love with each of them. And, I got to know them not just as a set of quadruplets, but as four individual little people. I discovered and appreciated not only their physical differences but also their individual personalities.

Maddy and Logan both proved easygoing, mostly content to try to grab at their toys. Reghan enthralled me by being fascinated by her siblings, staring at them with wide eyes and breaking into a huge grin whenever I put one of them close to her. She and Logan even held hands as they gazed at each other: a major swoon moment. And while little Ryan might have cried the most, in between he also offered the most giggles. And baby giggles? They outweigh everything.

But by the time Laura and Leah returned, it was clear the Quad Squad was ready for their afternoon nap. Following Laura’s directions, I swaddled three (Maddy, who recently learned to roll over, was no longer swaddled) and I took them upstairs, one at a time. Two immediately fell asleep. One simply lay there smiling up at her crib mobile, and Ryan broke free from my clumsy swaddling and needed to be rewrapped. I softly rubbed his forehead until he calmed, his eyes fluttered shut, and he fell asleep.

This was a moment from early motherhood I vaguely remembered—yet didn’t fully appreciate back then. That afternoon, I could have stayed for hours, stroking this sleepy baby’s head.

As I walked out of the bedroom, I grinned and embraced the thought of grandchildren. It might take some time and some convincing for my two single, twenty-something sons to eventually go along with the idea. But me? I was ready.

By the time I reached the second stair, one of the babies begin to wail. I hesitated. Then I kept on walking. After all, Momma was home now.

Four babies? They brought forty times the work. And forty times the joy. I would do it all over again. In fact, I’ve already offered a repeat visit and look forward to seeing the Quad Squad soon. I’m working on my multitasking skills and saving every ounce of my energy. And praying my superhero powers finally kick in.

If so, I’ll be changing diapers and making bottles faster than the speed of light. I will be Super Sitter. You can bet your sweet boppy pillow on that.

Babysitting quads: Would you race into the opportunity or run away? Are toothless baby smiles the best or what? What are your favorite babyhood moments?


  1. I only had the one time, where I was in charge of a baby, and had to change my first diaper, and it almost killed me. No way could I handle 4 at once. Just wait til they start moving around!

    1. Bluz: I actually made the mistake of saying to Laura, "Oh my God! How are you going to handle this when they're two or three?" Her eyes got huge and she said, "I really don't want to think about that."

  2. You wore black to burp a baby? Four babies? You're a risk taker for sure, lady! :D

    I wouldn't take on quads for a three-book deal (okay, maybe) and toothless baby smiles are in my top five---though giggles trump them!

    My favorite babyhood memories are naps with a full, milky baby lying next to me, breathing deeply, maybe with one hand clutching my finger. Ah, bliss!

    1. Sarah: They're always sweetest when they're sleeping. :-)