Spare Toddlers And Ladies, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:04am

Nephew Evidence

With little children I used to wish, fervently, to live in co-housing. The more time around other families, and other people, the better. I practically co-reared with my best friend down the street. When she moved, I mourned, even though it was just to the next town over.

Later, in the days of teenagers, I felt less of a pull towards the communal. Our kids of course had their own cohort, the ballet studio, the soccer team, the friends. I had work.

Now, at 57 and retired, I find myself occasionally useful to mothers of young ones. My young nephew’s nanny was sick recently; I took care of him for the day. Aside from almost forgetting that he needed a second nap, and zooming him bumpily home in a stroller to sleep, it was a good deal all around. I had fun and warmed my old heart, his parents trusted that I would not run off with him or leave him in the bathtub unattended or feed him whiskey before bedtime, he tolerated it all with good humor.

Today I’m visiting a young friend faced with a traveling husband, a toddler, and the tiredness that comes from a heavy but productive work week.

I still haven’t found quite the right volunteer opportunity, but perhaps we could start a retired lady sharing service, like those aqua bikes on the streets of San Francisco? Pick us up in our gardens, set us to toddler-wrangling for half a day, drop us off at the tearoom. Or the bar. We understand why some cultures deem all adult friends of little ones Uncles and Aunties.

I can’t quite say It Takes A Village, because these mothers and their children are doing very well. But I remember in business school, where in fact I learned only 10 things of any particular use, I took a class on Operations Research. Spare Resources are critical to a smooth-running system, you need something in reserve for the days when the setup is over-taxed.

It’s easy to see how Retired Ladies are a good spare resource. We’ve played that role forever, showing up with metaphorical cakes and pies, airing old motherhood instincts. But I think toddlers can be spare resources to the human system, reminding us that people are minor miracles. We talk! We discover the physical properties of objects, and sometimes must cry about them! We miss our mothers. We love spoons.

Spending time with toddlers you almost remember what it was like when you didn’t want to go to bed. But most of all, you’re struck how much like the pulse of a small animal is human trust.

When my family gathered for Father’s Day, and my nephew came into my house happy in my sister-in-law’s arms, he looked up at me for a minute. And then he smiled the smallest smile. Nothing big, no reaching out in joy, “Oh Aunt Lisa! Let me come to you!” Just teeny.

That night he played with my daughters’ old Polly Pockets, which, yes, I keep because I’m a sentimental old fool and because they come in handy for just such an occasion. He reached into the sea of pink plastic, picked out a Polly Pocket school bus, put it to the floor and said, “Vrrooom.” I’m sure I will stow it away at some point, but for now, it sits in the corner of my back hall.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone, graced with Spare Toddlers, if you so desire.

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  • Well, that just made me smile. Thanks for the lovely read.

  • Happy Saturday. I like the idea of picking up retired ladies in their garden and afterwards depositing the at the tearoom–or the bar.

  • I don’t have children but I live in a street with a few families and it is so nice to be able to help out. Nothing huge but if they need to quickly go to the post office or pick up a child, I look after the child ( if I can as well) and it is a win win. I get to know the child and we bond and the mother can just get something done in quicker time. In Asia, I remember extended family being very much involved in my upbringing and it is so ncie also for the child to know that many people care.

  • A retired friend of mine is a volunteer dog walker in NYC. I think she did it to force herself to get out and exercise. She loves it.

  • I want my very own retired lady! I’ll borrow a toddler if that’s the only way I can coax one out of her garden :)

    7:12 am
    Lisa said...

    @Emmaleigh504, That works;).

  • That was just the bestest. Having my mother pass away when I was a teenager, oh how I could have used Spare Ladies when raising my children. Turned those lemons into lemonade as best I can by being available to others. Except let’s make a rule we can go to the tearoom/bar *before* (depending on the disposition of the minor miracle).

    7:14 am
    Lisa said...

    @Jane, I am sorry for your loss. That’s wonderful you make yourself available. And we can go to the tearoom/bar whenever we like, we’re retired!:)

  • When our daughters were infants and toddlers, we lived first in student housing, and then is situations that were much the same. It was the 70’s and we were all quite communal about the child sharing, resource sharing, child care, etc. Not only was it quite communal, but also quite international as well, and I benefited from the wisdom of other cultures and child rearing styles. This was a memorable, and precious time of my life, and I can see, even today, the long term benefits in the way my daughters have become adults. A retired lady would have been nice to have as well, but I think what was most important was that we did, in fact, have a village to help to raise our children, and more importantly, to learn to be adults among many styles and cultures.

    Is there a Crisis Nursery in your area (that provides short term emergency care for the children of parents in crisis)? Might be a nice fit for you.

  • You can come babysit at our house anytime! :) xoxox

  • Childcare for working parents is the BEST gift! Whenever my daughter is ill and can’t go to school (or camp), she’s not yet old enough to stay home alone. My wife and I compare our workdays and see who can more easily cancel meetings and work sessions, or who can more easily get it all done from home, and it’s SO NOT a great solution. Where I work, nobody outside the company is allowed on the floor, so I can’t even bring my kid to work for a couple hours. I love that we live in a community of neighbors (in the inner city) who help pitch in when they can (I repay in freshly mixed cocktails). There aren’t any other children nearby but there are dogs (my daughter LOVES dogs) and lots of friendly helpful people. What you’re giving is so generous and kind.

  • this is an incredibly sweet post lisa. thank you for your kind wisdom.

    7:14 am
    Lisa said...

    @Linda G., It is my pleasure.

  • Beautiful post this morning! Retired Ladies are amazing. You stirred up fond memories of the many in my child rearing days. I’m forever grateful to one especially, who ran down the street to help me when my son had a nasty bout of croup, and we needed to call the medics. I will never forget her calm from a life of experience and knowing exactly how to help. I’m looking forward to being one!

  • I loved this post as well, Lisa. The idea of “spare resources” is brilliant…and somehow fundamental. BTW loved reading all the comments as well. You have interesting readers.

    7:15 am
    Lisa said...

    @Sue B, The readers here, I can’t even call them mine at this point, are remarkable.

  • Please, please, please sign me up! I haven’t retired yet but am fortunate enough to make my own hours and would love to spend time with a toddler. Great post. Great idea.

    As it is I volunteer to care for my quite-possible-daughter-in-law-to-be’s cat when QPDILTB travels with the idea that she’ll be used to relying on me and trust me enough when/if it comes time to babysit a grandchild.

    7:15 am
    Lisa said...

    @Leslie, Ha! Build in those habits early.

  • The retired lady service sounds perfect.

    Thank you for your take on the village concept. It is much appreciated.

    SSG xxx

  • I totally agree with you, Lisa, that this is the healthiest way to raise a child: I see it as living “in community” with others.
    We live in gated communities or move to Florida to live with other old people when we age. We ship our kids out for Sunday School when the sermon begins because we don’t want to be bothered by the noise, but we decry the lack of families in worship. (Sorry, I’m venting!)
    Other countries don’t handle the separation of generations the way we do in the USA. And I think we could learn a lot from them.
    Because my health issues and depression had me out of work this past year, my neighbor asked if I’d be willing to watch her 2 daughters, one in pre-K and the other in 2nd grade. I’m only on-duty Wednesday through Friday afternoons, so I still have a lot of free time. This has actually been a huge blessing to me because those girls make me laugh every single day (The stories I could tell…). And the hugs they freely share! I’ve seen stories on the news about nursing homes bringing in kids to play cards or games with the residents and how it brightens their day and forms strong relationships with the kids. Multi-generational bonding is so good for us!

    7:16 am
    Lisa said...

    @Mamavalveeta03, I didn’t know you’d suffered from health/depression. So sorry – I bet your neighbor thanks her lucky stars however.

  • Oh you don’t want to get me started about spending time with our toddler grandchildren…I have pics on my IPhone and think they are the most beautiful and the most clever, everything they do is brilliant….OK i am stopping now -:))
    It is such a great time to be of service to our families….
    I bet you had fun!

  • Lisa, please do tell more about this: “But I remember in business school, where in fact I learned only 10 things of any particular use”

    7:17 am
    Lisa said...

    @kippie, OK. I will write that post – in the next month – I promise. Feel free to remind me if I lapse.

  • Awww bless! I’m sure there most parents would be thrilled to have a friendly local Retired Lady to help out on occasion!

    In London someone’s social enterprise is a ‘Granny Cafe’ where volunteers provide a space for parents and children to come and be supported, given advice, time out etc. But I’m sure a similar thing can happen informally…

    7:23 am
    Lisa said...

    @Eleanorjane, Granny Cafe:).

  • Now that mine are a bit older, I could use a Spare Toddler now and then, I suppose, — during the day, when mine are at school.

  • Mrs Ward was “my” retired lady when I was growing up. She had a screened in porch with a glider covered in a black background flowered chintz, the guest bed room had an old bed so high off the ground I needed a stool to crawl between those ironed lace trimmed sheets and she make mile high cakes that always rested on a glass stand complete with dome in her kitchen.

    Let’s hear it for retired ladies everywhere.

    7:24 am
    Lisa said...

    @flwjane, So lovely that you remember her that way.

  • With Kippie, I must inquire — what were the other 9 useful things you learned in business school?

  • The the cohousing model is so appealing to me; when I am older) I certainly do not want to be segregated. I too enjoy the wonder and sweetness of toddlers.

    One thing, though, keeps me from doing a lot of that – because I’m nearly 10 yrs older than you: a full day with a tiny dynamo can wipe me out. I realize how much sheer energy it takes to take care of a whirling little kid!

  • Since his birth I’ve been spending a lot of time (one regular day a week plus assorted evenings, holidays, etc.) with a lovely little boy who is now four years old. He’s brought a lot of fun and joy into my life. How lucky for me.

    Duchesse’s comment made me smile – so true – it can be exhausting! Like you I retired at 57 and am now 60 so still have the energy…for now.

    7:26 am
    Lisa said...

    @LauraH, I find that I’m good for about 8-9 hours now. The full parent days, I do not know how many of those I could still string together.

  • A beautiful article.It confirms what most of us have already suspected – that the nuclear family of 2 parents and a sibling doesn’t provide enough emotional nourishment or enough help to raise a happy child.
    The children in my granddaughter’s kindergarden put on a show every year especially for the grandparents who pick the little ones up and take them home while their mums are at work. Most of us grandparents are in our 70’s, and we get tired at the end of the day, but we are definitely appreciated!
    My best wishes to you, all, Helen

    7:39 am
    Lisa said...

    @helen porath, Thank you!

  • I’m sure you make the most wonderful Aunty. :) And the need for Spare Resources of all kinds is a good point to ponder. I hope I can find many as wonderful as you down my road to call on, and help in turn, when my time comes.

  • Wonderful post! So glad to know I’m not the only one storing my nearly grown kids’ favorite toys because a) I can’t bear to part with them and b) you just never know when they might come in handy!

  • in thr UK, there’s a service called Universal Aunties who are general factotums for hire. Maybe you could launch a business that matches up retired ladies with those who could use their services. Or volunteer as a Child Advocate for kids in the court system.

    7:36 am
    Lisa said...

    @Belinda G., I thought about developing an app called “Company.” You request company, for half a day.

  • So sweet Lisa – thank you for sharing this!
    Well brought up toddlers are a joy to be with. Your little nephew will definitely be running into your arms when he sees more of you :-)
    I’m 47 and waiting impatiently to become an Aunt but it doesn’t look promising so far :-(

  • Often when under stress, we fear being a burden and asking for assistance, not even considering that it may be a joy for the other person to be able to help (and hopefully, the helping is mostly joyous too).

    I have never even considered the need for Spare Resources, but it seems so obvious now that you’ve mentioned it. On those days when everything seems to be running away with itself, I will try to remind myself to find just a little to spare of whatever is needed at the time.

    Thank you

    7:39 am
    Lisa said...

    @WA_side, <3

  • What a sweet post. As I’ve mentioned, I take care of my granddaughter 3 days a week, while my daughter is at work. In September, it’ll go down to 2 days as my daughter is cutting her work hours down some. I think it’s been wonderful for my granddaughter and my daughter, but it’s been especially fantastic for me and enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined as it’s not the same as taking care of your own children.

  • I love this post too.

    I am the exact same age, based in London, UK and also recently got married.

    I don’t have toddler nephews and nieces but I await grandchildren.

    Polly Pockets – I remember these fondly.

    Keep writing Lisa, I love your style. I think I am a high wasp of London and it’s amazing how similar the style features are!

    7:37 am
    Lisa said...

    @Daphnejonquil, Thank you. I’d be happy to hear your impressions of the London version. Feel free to email me:).

  • We had Gramma Keller growing up – she lived down the hall and we could go knock on her door and ask (politely) for Nilla Wafers. A Godsend for my mother, when she needed to run a quick errand without 2 little bitties “helping”.

    We have a group of 4 grown siblings in our neighborhood – they grew up here and they all moved back with their families. The rule seems to be, if you can’t be near the parents you love, love the parents you’re near. That includes us and a few others. Babysitting, meals, sleep overs, rides, errands – it’s a joy to watch them grow.

    7:38 am
    Lisa said...

    @Patsy, Nilla Wafers!

  • Oh, this really warms my heart to read. I am fortunate to have my family nearby, and my parents next door, plus lots of extra “Aunties” (and a few “Uncles”) for my own children. Lots of libraries are loaning out interesting items, like tools and fishing poles, and also some have people signed up to “loan” their expertise for a certain amount of time. Maybe your local library has such a program? Or maybe you could set up a regular story time at your local library? Sounds like it would be a good fit for you.

    7:38 am
    Lisa said...

    @Kristina, Ah, story time. That is something I haven’t looked into. Thanks.

  • I love this post. I am still waiting for grandkids, but this is a great idea.

  • I do so love your writing. Lovely, lovely thoughts.

    7:38 am
    Lisa said...

    @M, Thank you.

  • What a lovely post. I love the idea of spare ladies, and taking care of toddlers, who a so close to what is essential in life. Your post made me smile.

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