I Don't Know Anything About Babies -- I'm Just the Grandmother
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I'll never forget the day I stood beside my daughter as she delivered my first grandchild, tears streaming down our cheeks as the room resounded with squeaky cries. Visions of helping to swaddle, bounce, and bathe my beautiful granddaughter swam through my head. Ah yes…it was going to be perfect. I'll never forget that day...the day I learned that this mother-turned-grandma knew absolutely nothing about babies.

I'd like to think that I have at least my fair share of experience with babies. I raised six children—all of whom survived the effort. I also taught childbirth classes for the community hospital and belonged to the local La Leche League breastfeeding group. None of this, however, qualified me to do more than make faces through the window of the hospital nursery.

The first clue to my ignorance arrived when the nurse bustled into my daughter's room to whisk the baby off to the nursery. With practiced grace, I took the bundle in my arms and dutifully placed her, tummy down, in the bassinet. The nurse glowered at me as if I'd just bounced the baby off the floor.

"We never place babies on their stomachs," she scolded. "They should only sleep on their backs."

I frowned at the news. I was sure I remembered having to put babies on their stomachs to avoid them inhaling milk when they spat up, not to mention to prevent the backs of their heads from getting flat. Nowadays, however, these adages no longer hold true, and flat heads are apparently in vogue.

Strike one for grandma.

My next culture shock came when my daughter, preparing to leave the hospital, asked me to pick up formula and bottles. Standing in the baby aisle at the local discount store proved quite an education. For one thing, bottles are no longer bottle shaped. They are elaborately decorated affairs with bent necks, rubber hand grips, and vent holes in the bottom. (Doesn't the milk leak out?) Rubber nipples are all but unrecognizable: the fancy "orthodontic" variety look as if they'd been squashed by an 18-wheeler—and don't get me started on the "teething" nipples that are studded with rubber cleats like a soccer shoe. Then there was the problem of formula. Today there are roughly as many types of formula as there are brands of boxed cereal. Formula comes equipped with "comfort proteins," lactose substitutes, DHA, ARA, soy, and a host of other additives. One must now have a Ph.D. to select the right formula.

Strike two.

Slightly dazed after the formula aisle, I scoured the shelves for diaper pins—just in case. Finding none, I asked a nearby clerk.

"Diaper...pins?" She viewed me with suspicion. "We don't carry anything like that."

Strike three. Grandma's out.

Things were little better once Baby was home. With every simple task came another lesson to bring me firmly back into the loop. First, I learned that adhesive tabs on diapers are a thing of the past. Velcro closures are the latest thing adorning the well-diapered baby, meaning no more tearing diapers during changes and no more tape stuck to the baby. Unfortunately, I've found it also means the closure can work its way off. Twice I discovered a soaked, undiapered infant after my "expert" diaper job came undone and headed south for the winter.

Advances in diapering hardly stops there. Baby wipes now have their own electric warmers to keep bottoms cozy, and diaper pails are outfitted with mechanisms to prevent odor. No more unceremoniously dumping in dirty diapers. A highly complicated process twists, shunts, bags, and vacuum seals diapers individually. (For all its grandeur, however, I noted the same old familiar aroma when the pail is opened to empty its contents.)

I try to keep up with technology. I own a computer, a cell phone, and a home theater system—and I can operate all of these without incident (for the most part). However, my grandchild's bassinet is a true technological wonder. No longer a place for sleep, it comes bedecked with a control panel worthy of the cockpit of a 747, allowing the bed to light up, play music, voice activate an electronic mobile, and vibrate to simulate the motion of a car. The only thing missing is the ability to change its own sheets when the newfangled Velcro diaper vibrates its way off.

Even the baby's swing has been a force for me to reckon with. The first time I used it, I secured the baby into the seat with a harness befitting NASA's space program and looked around for the handle crank.

"How do you wind this thing up?" I asked my daughter.

"You don't," she replied. "Just push the button."

Button? There were six buttons and two dials on the darn thing. Today's swings offer lights and music, music without lights, lights without music, and an infinite variety of speeds. Afraid of hitting the wrong switch and catapulting the baby into the next room, I admitted defeat, deferred button-pushing duty to the mother, and retreated to the rocking chair with two aspirin and a cup of tea to mourn the lost days of handle cranks and diaper service.

Despite the feeling that I just got chipped out of the Ice Age where babies are concerned, I have found that not everything has changed. I'm still waiting for the advent of the automatic bathtub, the cure for colic, and the self-dispensing night feeder. I have high hopes for the latter; after all, they've already invented one for pets. Meanwhile, after struggling with the learning curve, I think I finally learned enough about babies to buy my granddaughter's first Christmas gift: an electronic play gym with 56 functions that teaches babies to count, say hello in five languages, and perform basic calculus. I just hope it comes with a how-to video so I can turn it on.

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