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My Father-in-Law, the Nanny


Granddads Do It Better

The morning of my first day back at work was a blur of making bottles, blow-drying my hair, and gathering up stray pacifiers. I was trying to figure out how to lift a carton of grapefruit juice from the fridge without dropping Benjamin when Eli walked through the door. Argh! Hadn't I asked him to ring the doorbell? What if I'd been wearing just a towel?

"Hello, sweetheart. I went shopping last night  -- you won't believe what I paid for this stuff," he said.

My entire body tensed up when I looked into the bags stuffed with scratchy one-ply toilet paper, the wrong brand of diapers, and enough tomatoes to cover every surface in my apartment.

"There's my little monkey!" he said, reaching for the baby. "Give him to me. You go get ready. "

"It's okay, I have him right now. You're going to be with him all day," I answered, hugging little Benjamin a bit too tightly. "See this notebook? It'd be great if you could keep a log of his feeding times, naps, and diaper changes. I wrote down the doctor's info and our work numbers on the inside cover. Oh, and here's a list with all of my instructions."

He barely glanced at the four-page guide I'd spent the better part of the weekend typing up (burp cloths in the bottom dresser drawer, easy on the "Baby Mozart," etc.). Suddenly, hundreds of dollars a week seemed like a fair price for someone who would at least pretend to listen to me.

I spent the first weeks agonizing over whether I'd done the right thing. On one hand, I never had to wonder if the stranger I'd hired morphed into an abusive monster when I left. And Eli was surprisingly meticulous about keeping track of Benjamin's naps and feedings, he hardly turned on the TV, and he went on tons of long walks.

But repeatedly screaming "Did the baby like the cereal?" into the phone until he finally understood what I was saying was frustrating. And since he was staying over on Tuesdays and Wednesdays  -- his commute can take up to an hour each way  -- I felt like our home was being invaded. The worst, though, was the constant criticism. How could I use chemical-laden wipes, he'd ask? Did I want Benjamin to get a diaper rash? I was starting to think it was just too much to handle.

Then, one Sunday evening, as I was battling the Monday's-coming blues, my mother-in-law called.

"I saw the baby this weekend," she said. "He's adorable!"

"No you didn' haven't seen him in weeks," I answered, confused.

"But I did! Eli showed me the video he's been taking of him. It's mostly of him lying there on his mat, but it's very cute. He played it over and over last night."

That's when it hit me: Here's a guy who loves his job so much he wants to relive it on the weekends. The highly recommended sitters we'd met with had seemed warm, experienced, and responsible, but what I finally understood is that while you can pay someone to listen to you, you can't pay someone to love your child the same way his grandfather does.