It was a lovely Cape Town evening in the summer of 2007, and my girlfriend and I were driving to a friend's small gig in the part of town where they used to do that kind of thing. I was looking forward to the evening's plans: some beer, okay-ish music and good friends. What was not planned were the words that came from my girlfriend's mouth en route to the venue.
"I want to be a temporary safety-care mom," she told me.
I froze – and to understand why, you need some context.
My girlfriend always had a soft spot for children, especially those who needed help of any kind. So when a social worker friend of ours told us that her organization was desperately looking for places of safety for children in emergency situations, I could almost hear the gears spinning in my girlfriend's brain as she tried to figure out how she could help. This was during her last month of summer vacation before she entered her final year at college, a month when we had planned to really enjoy our last bit of truly free time for the year.
Now, a week after that conversation with the social worker, she was telling me that she wanted to spend the next few weeks caring for a baby who desperately needed the love and attention a good home can give.
She was also asking me to support her while she did it. I would be lying if I said my first instinct wasn't to jump and roll out of the car, but how could I say no to my love who wanted to do something so . . . good?
So I said yes. And soon, I was helping her care for a little 4-week-old. (He is now my brother-in-law, but that's another story.)
I thought she had gotten the concept out of her system, but a few years later, after we had been married and settled, she brought it up again.
This time, however, I was ready for her. I purposefully and instantly stood my ground . . . and agreed with her wholeheartedly. So we became safety-care parents (something like foster-care parents, but on a temporary, emergency basis) for 13 more babies over a period of three years. Some stayed for a couple of days; others, months. All left behind memories, tears and, most important, lessons.
To save you the emotional trauma (there was loads of that) of having to care for 14 babies to learn everything I did, I've condensed it all for you. Here are the 14 things you learn after caring for 14 babies:
1. Babies are all different. Some sleep well, some eat well, and some cry ALL THE TIME FOR NO REASON WHY ISN'T THERE A MUTE BUTTON ON THIS THING?
2. Poo is not that bad. But a lot of it is.
3. If your baby doesn't look like you, people will ask you stupid questions.
4. Sleep is an unnecessary luxury.
5. Peekaboo is universally loved.
6. When someone offers to make supper for you, take them up on that offer. (I can't believe I actually had to learn that the hard way.)
7. Make only food that you can eat with one hand.
8. People love to offer new parents advice, but you should be cautious as to whose you take.
9. You can get your home baby-ready in less than a day – with some help from EVERYONE.
10. If a newborn falls asleep on your chest, it is illegal to move.
11. Big gas = big vomit. Keep a towel handy at all times.
12. Baby-wearing is the key to your survival, so learn to use every kind of wrap, carrier and harness blindfolded.
13. No baby has ever come with an instruction manual.
14. Don't worry too much – all they really need is to feel secure and loved.
Oh, by the way, that last baby? He's still teaching me lessons every day. He's showing me how to be his forever daddy, and he is a very good teacher.
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Mentor is a dad, content producer and host at Cape Talk. You can find more from him on his Facebook page and on his AfroDaddy YouTube channel. He tweets, too.
-the Washingtom Post