Jacob (aka J-Baby, aka Part-Time 3rd Baby, aka Jake The Slug*) is doing one of my all time favorite baby moves these days. Every few minutes, as he plays with toys and big kids, he looks up at me to check in with a goofy, dimpled grin. Then he rapid crawls over, flings himself into my lap, and grabs a quick snuggle. Sometimes he pulls himself up into my arms for a full hug, leaning his head on me and sucking his finger briefly before flinging himself back to the carpet. It is one of the things that makes sitting on the floor to play endlessly (when I have to heave my baby belly back up to stand) totally worth it.
Oh. This. Baby. He has a special place in my heart.
I have been lucky to provide childcare for a baby I am allowed to fall in love with, because he belongs to one of my oldest and best friends, Melissa. While it is paid employment, he has come to feel like family. The months of intimate caretaking – all of the soothing and rocking to sleep in my arms – has formed a strong bond between us. When he leaves my care (freakishly soon) he will remain in my life. I will be able to hug and kiss him for years, watch with pride as he grows, and be there at his high school graduation to remind him that I used to feed him baby bottles and wipe his butt.
Jacob was only a squishy four month old baby when I started watching him. He spent his time observing the chaos of my house from the rock and play, being hauled around in the carrier while we chased Owen, and trying tummy time on the playmat (with TONS of help from my toddlers). I learned the differences between feeding him and feeding my own babies (no spitup!), and the particular bounce and rock that soothed him to sleep.
We played and snuggled and got used to each other during the first couple of months, through an amazing phase of growth and change. I got to watch and help him learn to grab toys and play, to move his arms and legs, and to mimic facial expressions.
I had him in the six to nine month phase, when routines had formed and fussiness had (mostly) subsided. We experimented with food together, Melissa telling me the new things he was trying each day. Feeding babies is one of my favorite messy activities; it gives so much insight into their personalities and preferences. J-Baby (the nickname my kids gave him) quickly exhibited his desire to self-feed, long before he was able, like Owen did. He vehemently spit out any food that did not please his taste buds, like Addie did.
In the nine to twelve month phase, we survived spring colds, teething, and ever changing needs together. The kids and I moved furniture and play spaces around to help Jacob learn to pull up to stand. We worked on baby sign language. He left the carrier to wiggle at gymnastics alongside Owen.
Now I get to watch the one-year-old, as he gets busier, funnier, and sweeter. Every day he makes noises that sound more and more like conversation (if you speak baby gibberish that is, which I do fluently). He no longer accepts just any toy Addie and Owen offer as a trade to get something from him; he has the drive and ability to go after the red car, or the green ball, or any contraband items (paper, shoes, dog toys). He has finally increased from slug to normal human speed in these specific moments, or when a door is open that he would like to use as an exit.
Caring for J-Baby, as meaningful and joyful as it is, is not without challenges. Babies are WORK. It has been a long effort (collectively, with his parents and other caretakers) to get him to self-soothe for sleep. He has his quirks, like all the rest – do NOT try to wipe his face or nose without protest. And he never gets my undivided attention, with my two around. Through exhausting sleep protests, clingy teething, and painful hair pulling phases, he has been mine three days a week, and I would not go back and give up this time for the world.
We have a daily, rhythm, the three kids and I, and the beginning of the end is bittersweet. This week I switched to only two days a week, and before long he will go off to new horizons and I will prepare for another third baby (who I do not pass off to someone else at the end of the day). I owe Jacob the world, though, for teaching how to care for three at a time.
* Slugs do not have feet, and so they – SLOWLY – drag the back of their body by inching the front across the ground, or drag the front of their body by pushing the back. This is also J-Baby’s preferred method of transportation. He does it around the floor, up and down the steps, and in and out of my arms. When not moving like a slug, he tends to drop like a limp noodle and/or curl into a ball. Although he has recently begun to crawl like a real baby, he has no need to move faster or better; his irresistible charm will have other people doing things for him for years to come.