Jacob’s mommy needed a babysitter for the next eighteen months while she returned to college for an advanced degree, and I was two months into a hard-earned retirement and wasn’t very excited about this request.
My baby grandson was five months old, so he couldn’t talk, couldn’t crawl, and couldn’t stop filling his diaper. Up to now, his life had been spent eating, sleeping, and smiling at everyone around him. If I couldn’t take care of him, the alternative was to send him to a daycare.
I had announced my retirement after thirty-seven years in education. I took the engraved clock I was given as a memento for all my dedication (it has never worked and only gathers dust), and was looking forward to doing nothing but recovering my health and sanity. I suffered from a nervous tic in my right eye, a compulsive eating disorder, and work-induced PTSD. I no longer smiled nor slept and my blood pressure read like a Texas Lotto billboard.
I don’t know who needed who more, but while I figured it out, I decided to help with Jake.
For the next twelve months, I ditched my executive suits for Capri’s and Wal-Mart sweat pants. My power lunches downgraded to diet frozen dinners and PBJ’s, and I spent many happy hours at McDonald’s and the neighborhood park.
After years studying all about learning theories, educational innovations, and other academic mumbo-jumbo, it was time to put it into practice.
When he wasn’t eating, sleeping, or filling his diaper, Jake and I read. We started with one-word books and soon progressed to the peek-a-boos and the kind you press a button and it makes noise.
We explored everything both indoors and outside, and long before he could talk, we conversed. He pointed to things when I asked him questions. He went and got objects when I asked him for them.
He learned to crawl reaching for his favorite books, and he learned to stand picking out a book off his book shelf. Once he learned to walk, he would toddle over to me with armloads of books he wanted us to read. He also learned to sing and dance to his grandma’s favorite music videos.
At the end of one year, it was time to go our separate ways. I hated saying goodbye to Jacob, but he is very social and needed kids his own age. I needed folks a little closer to mine. I was still available if he needed me, but we needed to send him to daycare.
Before we parted, he told me I was his best friend (and I was probably his first), but there will be many more friends in his life. I will always count him as one of mine. The year I spent raising Jake changed me forever.