When the butterflies of early romance in a marriage flutter away and are replaced by familiar, banal worries — like baby-sitting — life can suddenly turn on its head. So, when I decided to play ‘mother’ to my two-year-old daughter (a switch of roles that’s hardly seamless), I had no idea what I was in for.
If you’ve become a baby bore already, you would do well to move on. If you still want to know what it was like, it was like this: even as the wife gets a much-needed break for a show of Sex and City: The Movie with a friend, I am at sea, with no back-up support.
The baby slowly gets suspicious (‘what’s dad up to and, by the way, where’s mom?’). As I discovered, there is no perfect baby to sit for. And mine? Not quite the kid who would make life somewhat less miserable.
Frankly, I was not doing anything I had not done before. Occasionally, I had put my little one — her name is Zaheen — to sleep. I have also tried my hands at messier jobs, like making her comfortable at the mobile toilet. So, the task at hand did not seem intimidating initially until the baby suddenly stopped being a bundle of joy.
In Anne Fine’s children’s book Flour Babies, widely used as a class project for young students in UK schools, each student has to look after a bag of flour as if it were a baby. Halfway into the book, one of them gets so sick of his bag that he shoves it into a drain. Nothing so drastic happens in real life. But I do try, I have to confess, shoving a few shards of jujubes from the refrigerator into the kiddy’s open mouth.
Not so cute and cuddly
Putting the baby into the bathtub is easy, because babies love their time in water. But how on earth do moms manage to pull them out? I had all my resources handy: the pram, the stuffed toys and the television remote (yes, even a two-year-old these days can be a sucker for the idiot box). Yet, Zaheen shrieks her lungs out, with her mouth in regrettable proximity to my ears.
Shinchan, the eponymous prankster on one of the cartoon channels that young ones swear by, finally does the trick. Television is indeed a virtual baby-sitter. As Zaheen watches Shinchan’s shenanigans, I head for the refrigerator again, pull out a few mango cubes and try feeding her. She drops some. Some she blurts out. Mango cubes over, the baby suddenly goes looking around for mom. The first place she checks out is the loo even before I can bolt it shut. The living room? The kitchen? The second bedroom? The balcony? She’s simply not there.
“Mommy has gone out to get chocos and wafers and balloons,” I warble, as I point to the community centre shops visible from the balcony. The excuse miraculously works.
Several such hitches later, my babysitting stint gets over: sooner than I thought it would. The wife arrives home and the baby is now safely back in her care. My mission (to keep her fed, dressed and alive) succeeds.
A few lessons on life
On a scale of 1-10, I gave myself eight for the five hours I played mother. But that’s not the only achievement I came away with. This odd job that came in the form of a professional assignment had its own lessons. Baby-sitting probably represents the final frontier of trust between a parent and the child. It’s not a father's job to dress babies up or comb their hair even if they will do it rather well. The father’s best efforts will be no more than a mechanical and slam-dunk exercise, while the mother will instinctively deliver a masterstroke.