Elliot was a 32 year-old childless man living in Toronto in 2015. He and his wife Nora had ruled out having children. Neither of them identified as “kid people.” They shared a close, fulfilling relationship and felt satisfied making their life as a couple.
That fall Elliot’s close friend at work, Steve, received devastating news. His wife Lauren was diagnosed with cancer. Steve and Lauren were new parents. Their daughter Zoe was just 2 months old.
“I’m quite sure that I’m one of the first people Steve told about the cancer” Elliot says.
He offered to help in any way he could.
Steve took him up on it almost immediately. A week after their first conversation, he called Elliot to ask for a favour.
Short-notice Babysitting Request
“Steve wanted us to watch Zoe while he took Lauren to the doctor,” Elliot says. Steve and Lauren didn’t have any family in, or even near, the city. Zoe was still young and they hadn’t gone through the process of vetting or trying out any babysitters yet.
“He knew we were not an experienced ‘kid couple’ when he asked,” Elliot says. “But he was desperate. He really just needed someone to come over and do the bare minimum for a few hours, to keep his kid safe and alive while they went to the doctor.”
Both Elliot and Nora felt anxiety at the prospect of caring for a child for hours, neither feeling suited or qualified for the task. But, their friend’s need loomed larger.
Elliot and Nora agreed. They would go to Steve and Lauren’s house and stay with Zoe on the afternoon of Lauren’s oncology appointment. Neither of them had any clue what to expect.
“We actually Googled ‘How to look after a baby for two hours,'” Elliot says. “We wanted to show up looking like we knew our stuff, so that Steve and Lauren could at least feel at ease leaving Zoe behind. We didn’t find much, but we all got through it. “
The Start Of Something Good
Lauren’s appointments continued regularly for the next several months. Elliot and Nora quickly assumed the role as official babysitters for Zoe during those appointments, showing up for every single one.
Lauren responded well to her cancer treatments, and eventually began to heal.
Two years after the original diagnosis, Lauren’s cancer was in remission and the two families had grown incredibly close. Elliot and Nora now serve as Zoe’s extended relations in the city.
“We love her like she’s our own little niece, there’s no doubt,” Steve says. “We definitely overcame our anxiety about being suited to care for kids.” While they still don’t plan to have kids of their own, the relationship with Zoe has added a new dimension of joy to their life that they didn’t know they were missing.
“We take her off their hands a few nights a month so they can relax together and enjoy a date night, and we can play with her. She’s at a very interesting age now, developing a real personality,”
“There’s still a lot of emotional healing Steve and Lauren need to do after and experience like that,” Nora adds. “We really enjoy being able to help them, and getting to see Zoe grow too.”
Baby Care Tips: Elliot & Nora’s Advice
Before agreeing to care for a baby, one absolutely should:
- review guidelines for safe sleep
- review infant first aid and choking response
- know how to use the family’s thermometer to check for fever
- confirm emergency contact info
- defer to the directions provided by baby’s parents or caregivers.
With that under your belt, Elliot and Nora have a few tips to share from their experience to make you feel more comfortable as a stand-in caregiver.
On Newborns. “The first time I held Zoe, before Lauren got sick, I remember feeling super awkward and self-conscious,” Elliot says. “I realize now looking back that I was just expecting too much of the situation. When babies are very little, they mostly just needs to be held, changed, fed and kept safe. If you’re doing that, you’re doing a good job.”
“Don’t expect to get any sense of the kid liking or disliking you. They don’t express much, and they sleep a lot. The upside here is there’s no pressure on you to ‘entertain’ a newborn. Your job is really just to keep them safe and comfortable.”
Nora adds that because newborns are so fragile, you can also never be too cautious. If you are concerned that the baby has a fever or is unwell, seek immediate medical attention.
Play tips – use what’s on hand: “Babies learn by playing with and interacting with their surroundings,” Elliot says. If you wear a brightly patterned shirt (especially black and white), a 3-month old baby will be mesmerized and have a great time just looking at you and reaching for your sleeves.
“I had a black and white checkered sweater that I wore to Zoe’s every week for the first month or so. She just wouldn’t take her eyes off it, she thought it was so cool. She’d smile and reach out.”
You can also wave or dangle high contrast items or fabrics in front of them to get a reaction. You’ll get bored before they do, but keep it up.
“Even when they get to three or four months old,” Nora adds, “you’ve most likely got the best toys going for these little kiddos attached to you: fingers, toes and your face!” These are some of your best resources for entertaining babies up to six months. (They’re also great cognitive development tools.)
Watch out for movers. Around five to seven months, baby goes through a transition period and really starts acting like a little person. They can sit up for longer periods of time, will be rolling or attempting to roll. They’ll take their first meaningful stabs at crawling and speech, and convey emotional responses with face and voice. “Essentially,” Elliot says, “Zoe got easier to read and more fun.”
“Just be very aware that baby who has up to this point stayed where you put them might now move in unexpected ways.” If you need to step away from a baby of any age – to use the washroom, attend the stove, etc, – always secure them safely in a play pen or crib.
Have fun. “As Zoe grew up and became more playful, I rediscovered a really silly side of myself that I’d just outgrown,” Elliot says. “As adults, interacting with other adults, you’re very aware of being ‘funny’ in an entertaining sense; being interesting and relevant and witty. I had that down but I’d forgotten how to make weird sounds with my mouth and act like a fool. With a little kid you can just goof and have a great time. It’s actually way easier in a lot of ways.”
“I used to think that being an adult was interesting and playing with kids was boring,” Nora says, “but that was because I didn’t remember how to play, and I wasn’t comfortable. Now, I definitely prefer hanging out with Zoe to some of the adult functions we attend. “