It's weird, isn't it, the things that catch our attention at the prospect of a baby visiting? My honorary niece, Eleanor, (the daughter of my best friend) brought about this kind of crazy attention to detail when she was born last April.
When Eleanor was 5 months old, we offered to baby-sit every other week. Suddenly, my tiny apartment seemed overrun with hazards. I asked Tara to purchase outlet covers when Eleanor was still months away from crawling. The prospect of watching her on my own for two hours had me concerned. Though I have been an older sister - and thus around babies for most of my life - Tara usually did the delicate stuff. The handling of the baby. The taking of the baby from one place to another. Now, it would be all up to me.
I was grateful for my manual wheelchair, but knew it could use some work to be the best it could be for little Eleanor. Therefore, I set about finding pieces of my chair I had discarded. The guards that I previously saw as protecting clothing from my wheels now protected little fingers from the spokes. I also found the seatbelt, which had been more a nuisance to me than anything else had. I got out some basic spray cleanser and did my best to clean the chair itself. Then, I went to work, trying to figure out how in the world to install the seatbelt and guards. It took more time than you'd think, as I do not have anything resembling a mechanical mind.
In the coming days before my solo day with Eleanor, I searched for any information on parenting with a disability. I found nothing explaining how someone in my situation might take care of a baby, and I was shocked. Instead, I watched videos of mothers who were congenital amputees - changing diapers with their feet. I told myself, if they could do that, I could definitely do this.
I practiced handling a newborn baby doll. I practiced picking it up and laying it down. Before I went ahead with childcare all alone, I had Tara there to observe my baby-handling skills. The goal was simple. Pick Eleanor up and lay her down in her Pack-n-Play. Thankfully, the mattress wasn't too low and I was able to reach her, no problem. The seatbelt proved useful for the first time in years, anchoring me, while I handled her.
The work I did on the chair seems minimal, and it probably is. However, it's significant. When Eleanor goes about contorting herself in awkward positions to check out my wheels, my brakes, or my seatbelt strap, it's absolutely necessary to be belted in myself so I can hold onto her while she explores everything.
She loves my wheelchair, so much so that I'm not sure she recognizes me when I am not in it. When Eleanor arrived yesterday - dressed as the cutest, tiniest 9-month-old polar bear - she stared, trying to figure me out while I stood with my crutches. However, when I sat in my chair, she smiled, showing off her two bottom teeth.
Babies don't come with manuals, but sometimes it's better to figure it out as you go.
Photo: Eleanor's tiny newborn baby feet at 6 days old.