As a follow-up to last Sunday’s column about snake handling, I was going to write this week about what an extraordinarily reptile-filled summer I’ve had. But then something even more exciting than turtles and toads and snakes and skinks came into my life.


More specifically, grandbabies. Two wiry little cousins, red-faced and hollering at the top of their lungs, entered the world the second week in August. June Violet, two days past her due date and weighing in at an even six pounds, was born in Kentucky on August 12 to daughter Leigh and son-in-law Matt. Before she’d made her way home from the hospital, son James called from east Tennessee to say that daughter-in-law Natalie had officially gone into labor.

I say officially because for the past several weeks, Natalie had suffered not only with strong contractions but also two kidney stones. She landed in the high-risk obstetrics unit at UT Medical Center when she was not quite 34 weeks along, which gave us all a terrible scare. Thankfully, she was able to hang on for a couple of more weeks until August 14, when Clara Lynn decided it was time to be born. She tipped the scales at only five pounds and four ounces but was declared healthy enough to go home the very next day.

Now the real fun begins.

Fun for me, anyway, because I’ve signed on to help take care of the little babies’ older siblings—June’s big brother Eli, 22-months old, and Clara’s big sister Emmie, who turns sixteen months old today—until the new moms get back on their feet. I’ll help with the newborns, too, of course. But since I can’t feed them and since their tiny legs terrify me when time comes to change a diaper, I prefer toddler duty.

Which includes diaper-changing, too, of course. Wiping drippy noses. Washing grimy little hands before mealtime. Both kids still turn up their noses at good stuff like fried chicken and black-eyed peas. But they’re crazy about sliced pepper-jack cheese. And “pouches,” nifty little foil envelopes that hold a full serving of pureed fruit and vegetables that can be squeezed directly into the mouth. No spoon, no mess. At least some of the time. Emmie’s also a big fan of hot dogs and guacamole, while Eli prefers almond-flour crackers and Greek yogurt.

Eli’s favorite pastime is climbing whatever can be climbed, from stairs to stepladders to the back of the sofa. The more dangerous, the better. He also enjoys stirring woodchip mulch with a big sharp stick. Emmie likes to go high in the backyard bucket swing and to rearrange the contents of any cabinet that’s not rubber-banded shut.

Both love books. I’m unspeakably grateful for that. But why do toddlers insist on hearing the same story over and over and over again? “Five Silly Monkeys” is adorable the first time through. Amusing the second time. Annoying the third. Ditto for “Over in the Meadow” and “Big Red Truck.” Although he doesn’t use crayons yet, Eli has a Thomas the Tank Engine coloring book that he adores. Of the hundreds of children’s books I’ve read aloud, never have I encountered a story as stupid and boring as the one in that coloring book. Which just might mysteriously disappear next time I go for a visit.

Fun times, these. Exhausting but fun. And if there’s one saying I’ve heard for years and now know to be true, it’s this: There’s a reason why women in their fifties don’t have babies.

(August 24, 2014)

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