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A Grandmother Meets the Nanny Cam

How surveillance transformed a family catastrophe.

Key points

  • So much has changed since they were parents that grandparents can feel like novices when they babysit.
  • The risks that today's parents worry about are ones grandparents may have never imagined, but they must learn to use the new protective gear.
  • Finding a way to laugh about our struggles with the alien new technology can bring the generations closer.
This post is in response to
How Humor Can Uplift Your Spirits During Hard Times

Recently, I found myself the full-time nanny of my 2-year-old grandson Aiden, by default. A medical emergency put my daughter in the hospital, with terrifying symptoms. We live in different cities, so I relocated to a hotel near her with my psychiatrist husband who continued to work remotely, while my son-in-law kept his podiatry practice going. It was me—hopelessly unprepared and with no time to catch my breath—or no one.

To say the prospect was ‘daunting’ barely covers it. I hadn’t changed a diaper in 40 years. I hadn’t even held Aiden in the previous 18 months of COVID. I feared he’d be as panicked about his mother as we all were (though mercifully, he accepted me as a substitute).

On the one hand, then, I got to be with my grandson all day. On the other hand, every single thing that I hadn’t forgotten about child care had changed.

My introduction

The first morning, my son-in-law briefed me on the many house rules and what was where. A sunny day, I imagined taking Aiden out on his little red scooter. His Sherman-tank of a carriage looked so unlike the umbrella strollers I’d used with my children, I asked for instructions on his walking harness. My son-in-law, who’d never used it, tried positioning the two little pads on Aiden’s shoulders, with the leash emerging from his chest. This couldn’t be right—I’d have to walk backwards! Little did I know it was a metaphor for the day.

For a while, Aiden and I chased one another around the living-cum-play room, dumped all the plastic blocks on the floor, raced all his trucks and dinosaurs, and floated his collection of rubber ducks in a giant plastic dish I stupidly filled with water, not foreseeing the inevitable consequence. The room was nearing a tipping point. Time for a walk!

But first, a diaper change. Aiden, in the 98th percentile for size, weighed 34 pounds, more than I lift at the gym. Somehow, I hoisted him to the changing table, got his pants off, and cleaned him up. But when I went to put the dirty diaper in the unfamiliar high-tech pail, I encountered the first of the baby locks that—now that I noticed—were on every door, drawer, appliance, and toilet seat in the apartment. How was I supposed to open it with one hand on Aiden, who had perfected what his parents referred to as “the alligator roll,” and the other holding the very dirty diaper? I’ve repressed all memory of how I did it.

But when I cried out, “Aiden, Aiden, you’re killing me!” in desperation at failing to wrestle the squiggling toddler into his shirt, my phone rang. It was my daughter, laughing uproariously. “Mom, this is better than anything on Netflix!” Only then did I realize the nanny cams around the apartment connected to her smartphone. She’d seen it all!

Soon, my daughter was whisked away for tests, and I was back on my own. In truth, though the surveillance was freaky, I really needed her help.

We venture out

It was an unseasonably hot day, and one glance at the fleece-lined carriage returned me to the puzzling harness. This time I started with the leash in the back, which put the shoulder pads under Aiden’s arms, but at least I could walk behind him. Now I had to get on my coat and his shoes and my shoes and his mask and my mask and find the keys and his water bottle and, most importantly, Blue Rabbit, all stuffed into a pack. Out on the sidewalk, I discovered that Aiden couldn’t yet ride the scooter. Instead, he stood on it with both feet, and I had to bend over at the waist and push it myself. We did not get far.

Almost immediately, though, we arrived at the entrance ramp to the underground parking—a steep incline that descended halfway under the building and then became a symmetrical exit ramp up to the next street—a giant halfpipe that Aiden was keen to explore. We ran down, me carrying the scooter and holding him back, like a gladiator restraining a runaway chariot. And then we continued running up the other side. At this point, I was dripping sweat and removed his jacket (no small feat, given the harness), which I now carried, along with the scooter and pack. We turned left, investigating every door and subway grate. Rounding the building, he wanted to do it all again. Now I absolutely had to remove my coat, too, which joined the pile of everything else I was carrying, while gripping my end of the leash. Aiden was heading for a third trip around, but wasn’t it time for lunch? What about a nap?

Home again

I’ll skip the near-terminal fallout of our making it to the apartment door and discovering the key didn’t work. Eventually, we got in, stripped off, cleaned up, ate lunch, fought down the diaper pail, and collapsed into sleep, Aiden in his crib and me on the couch. No question which of us needed it more: I’d barely slept since my daughter’s symptoms had appeared.

Aiden and I survived the day. We survived the two weeks before we were able to hire a nanny. My outdoor missteps with the scooter mirrored the indoor ones that my daughter enjoyed from her hospital bed: squeezing Aiden’s foot into what turned out to be a sleeve, my kitchen sink water-play scheme that left us drenched, my repeated failures to get Alexa to take me seriously, and on and on.

Eventually I learned to open the baby locks with one hand. Eventually I learned the many no-no’s—the elevator buttons and laundry room, let alone the garage ramp—but Aiden and I had tons of fun breaking the rules first. We became deeply acquainted. But it was The Marx Brothers meets the Stasi, all the way.

On the one hand, the webcam, streaming our very own Comedy Central, was a lifeline between the three of us. On the other hand … There was no other hand.

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