The Write Prescription: Follow the leader

Being a grandmother is a beautiful thing; so is being a mother.


“I’ll change him. You sit,” I said to my daughter who I thought deserved some pampering since the birth of her son two weeks earlier.

I know that changing diapers for baby boys has its challenges. After the shock of being showered by my son the first time I changed him, I had become adept, I thought, at keeping all participants dry. But that was 30 years ago. It appears I’m a little rusty.

I prepared. I laid Milo down on the changing table, unfolded the new diaper, unsnapped the onesie, untaped the old diaper. As I pulled it off, I made a little tent from a wipe and placed it strategically over Milo. In what was to have been one smooth move, I wiped Milo, slid the new diaper under him and simultaneously whipped off the wipe and began to fold the diaper into position. Alas, too slow. I cleaned the pee from the wall, Milo’s cheek, the changing table. I grabbed another diaper for a second try. Again, I wiped the wall, Milo’s other cheek, the changing table. Third try, who knew an 8-pound baby could hold so much liquid?

Now I was laughing as hard as Milo was crying. I give my daughter a lot of credit for not coming in to see what was going on. Fourth try, I finally got a diaper on the baby, barely attached on one side and drooping around his knees. I brought the now screaming baby out to my Frannie.

“Why doesn’t he have any clothes on?” she asked.

“No time,” I mumbled. “He’s hungry.”

I returned to the nursery. Threw out all the diapers I went through, tossed the wet chucks lining the changing pad, and put the damp onesie in the laundry. Perhaps Frannie should put a collection jar next to the changing table, a quarter for every wasted diaper.

But Milo was happy, feeding rapturously. As I watched, Frannie, a mother for only two weeks, adjusted the diaper one-handed. For whatever reason, she still trusted me, and handed Milo to me to burp and get him dressed. I picked out a new outfit, got his feet and arms in the proper places, zipped him up and was about to congratulate myself for doing something right, when he spit up. A lot. Outfit in the laundry. Found a new one. Figured out how the snaps worked and, “tada,” a dry, clothed baby.

I want so much to be a good grandmother. I raised three of my own, but my early efforts with Milo haven’t been promising.

Young mothers have so many resources these days. They have TikTok and YouTube instructional videos, consultants who can tell you how to wear your baby in a carrier, and Emily Oster, the new Dr. Spock. They have something called a Snoo, a bassinet that rocks your baby to sleep and records his sleep/wake cycles. My daughter has friends who were mothers before her who sent her lists of what she would need, tell her that, yes, they too wake up in the middle of the night wondering where their baby is, or start pumping breast milk without attaching the bottles the milk is supposed to go into. I’m sure I have stories like that, but I don’t remember them.

And my daughter has a resource unusual in the days when I was a young mother, a husband who is present and involved, there for you when you want a nap or a long shower or to walk the dog unencumbered.

I make myself useful in nonbaby ways. I clean the bathroom, doing a better job than I do on my own, even wiping the dust collected on the toilet plunger. I vacuum and wipe counters, and change sheets. I make soup and ask Frannie if I can fix her anything, as if I can really do anything in the kitchen besides add ingredients to water.

I am good at holding Milo, though, letting him curve his little body into the shape of me. I’m good at rocking and singing and making eye contact while I talk nonsense. When he is a little older I will read books with him, and dance and hold his hand as he takes his first steps.

My mother died before my children were born. I think about what I missed, and it had nothing to do with diapers or dressing. All I wanted was for her to be there, to bestow her unconditional love not just on my children but on me. I wanted her to sit next to me, even if only in silence. I wanted her to marvel at my babies and to tell me I was doing a good job.

My diapering skills have come back to me. I know I will be a good grandmother. What I want to be, though, is a good mother as my firstborn charts this new course in her life. And so I sit with her. If she asks for advice I offer it. If she wants to know how I solved a problem, I tell her. If she needs reassurance, I provide it. 

And I am more open with my mistakes, my regrets, my vulnerabilities, all of which I kept hidden when Frannie was little. Now she knows how I left the house at her bedtime and didn’t return until the babysitter said she was asleep. She knows how I could barely breathe the first time she had a fever. And, perhaps my biggest regret, she knows how hard I wanted her to leave my side and join the other children in playgroups and at school, while I should have been honoring who she was, not what I wanted her to be. 

So that is what I am doing now. Following her lead as she learns to follow Milo’s, which right now means changing another diaper.