Sarah has been trying to get me to babysit our infant niece. A four-hour dry run for the terrors of fatherhood isn’t the worst idea in the world, I suppose, but I am far too spineless to do it alone. I agreed to it only if Sarah came with me.
When we arrived at Ben and Ursina’s Hyde Park townhouse, my first shock was just how much stuff the kid had. Lillian already owns more property than Donald Trump. Among her recent acquisitions: an army of stuffed animals; an extensive library of Elmo™ board books; a Pack ‘n Play more posh than a Gold Coast walk-up. She’s also got a state-of-the-art video hookup that enables her parents, when they can’t watch her flail around in her crib in person, to watch her do so on TV.
The jewel of her real estate holdings, though, is her room. Two of Ben’s friends, both are immensely talented artists, painted the walls. They decided that the room would have a jungle theme and brought in a projector to cast images from a children’s book onto the walls. For two days they traced the scenes with a pencil and painted over them. By the time they were done, benevolent elephants, gorillas, and giraffes surrounded Lillian on all four walls. It was like her own personal Disney film, with her as the star.
Ben and Ursina went out for dinner, and there wasn’t a whole lot of babysitting to do. Sarah and I basically read Lillian a book and put her to bed in Jungleland. That’s it. The second she hit the mattress, though, she began screaming. We turned out the light and went downstairs to watch TV. Ben and Ursina had the video baby monitor strategically placed next to the TV so we could watch Lillian wail and flail. After 30 excruciating minutes, I turned off the volume on the monitor. Every now and then I would glance away from the TV to check on Lillian’s progress, only to find her still thrashing about in silence.
An hour later, Sarah was asleep and when I casually glanced over at the screen, what I saw was a million times worse than the writhing.
The baby was motionless.
I sprinted upstairs, thinking thoughts like OH GOD PLEASE NO and WHY DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME and I MUST LEAVE TOWN IMMEDIATELY.
When I got to her crib, Lillian was frozen in place. I leaned in close for a sign of life. Nothing. I put my hand near her mouth to see if I could feel her breath: nope. My heart was beating so hard I thought the sound might break a window. She was dead.
There I was, surrounded by elephants and monkeys, trying to remember how CPR worked—do you compress the chest 30 times then blow, or blow 30 times then push the chest?—when Lillian, for no apparent reason, moved her arm. Then she snorted and sighed a long sigh.
She was alive.
And I was off the hook.
By the time my heartbeat returned to normal, I was pissed. You scared the shit out of me! But Lillian had taught me my first lesson about baby monitors: the only thing worse than witnessing a crying baby is witnessing a silent baby. I turned off the monitor for good, and vowed not to babysit again for a while.