I cradled the precious little thing in my arm, my neck aching from gazing down at my beautiful grandson. His little snores didn’t irritate me like his grandfather’s. His knees curled to his tummy like only a newborn can manage. I was babysitting that night so my daughter and son-in-law could have a well-deserved date night.

Gingerly, I placed the bundle down on the arm of the sofa as I lowered myself to the cushion. A little jostle sent the bundle over the edge; I heard a crack as it hit the hardwood floor. The precious package was the baby video monitor. My grandson slept peacefully upstairs in his bedroom in his big old house that was built to keep kids’ bedrooms as far as possible from the formal living room. My ears that need closed captions for Downton Abbey could never hear the baby without the monitor.

The retrieved monitor had no picture or sound. I sought to remedy it with my usual method for electronics, and pushed all available buttons. Still no picture. Finally, I used the magic wand of computing—the reboot—which retrieved the little image. Relieved, I settled into the couch again to read, accompanied by tea and dark chocolate. I would be the Relaxing Grandma!

After a few swipes to my e-book, I glanced at the monitor. To my dismay, the screen was black. My heart skipped a few beats. The baby could be screaming at the top of his lungs, I wouldn’t hear him, and I’d be the Criminally Negligent Grandma.

I jumped up, spilling tea on my e-reader and my baby pee-stained yoga pants. Suddenly, the monitor came back to life. With bum in the air and fists under his chin, the baby slept soundly. In spite of the grainy quality of the picture, which almost required arrows to identify body parts like on prenatal ultrasounds, I thought, “aw, how cute.” Just then, the picture went out again.

I’ll need to sit outside his room, I decided. I would use the methods I used with my own pre-electronic-age babies: listen carefully, and if there is no sound and the baby’s dad isn’t there to stop you, sneak into the room, place your index finger below the baby’s nose, and feel for breath. This method was wonderful at reassuring me as a young mom, because it roused the baby and set off howls. Baby’s alive! Hooray!

My electronic escapades haven’t stopped there. Hundreds of pictures and videos of grandchildren sit on my iPhone that I don’t get around to sharing. There’s the toddler grandson who attacks my pocket if he sees any rectangular-shaped item, searching for the pixel fix of my phone. There are varying TVs and remotes for educational screen times the older grandchildren are allowed. The grandkids’ parents patiently respond to my frantic emails and texts asking how to make this or that work, and refrain from reminding me that I’d asked the same questions the previous week.

And there’s the sound machine, built to self-destruct before parents decide the baby no longer needs it. Eventually, you have to fine-tune the adjustments to overcome a loose connection, while simultaneously trying to sooth a baby and convince her that a nap is a really good idea right now. My toddler grandson recently showed me his dad’s curative method by applying a fist whack that looked disturbingly like the precordial chest thump I learned in my advanced cardiac life support course.

There are benefits to Grandmatronics. My 18 month old grandson taught me how to access my iPhone music app by twice pressing a little round button, without having to enter my secret passcode. Video chats allow us a pretend visit with the distant grandson, although the picture can be blurred by things like ice cream smeared on his video cam.

On returning home on that video-monitor-crisis day, my daughter asked how it went.

“Everything was great!”

“Did the monitor give you any trouble?”

“Maybe just a little.”

Speed It Up

In my favorite I Love Lucy episode, Lucy and Ethel take jobs on a candy factory assembly line. Their task is to put the chocolates into paper wrappers. It’s their last job at the factory—they’ve failed at all others—and the supervisor tells them that if they don’t perform at this task, they’re fired. They have no problem with the first few candies, but then the production belt increases in speed, until the workload overwhelms their ability to maintain the pace. Mayhem ensues as Lucy and Ethel try to hide the fact that they can’t keep up, so they eat some of the chocolates, hide others in their hats and down the front of their uniforms, and throw some out. The supervisor comes in, sees no chocolate unwrapped, and shouts “Speed it up!”

Babysitting grandchildren resembles this I Love Lucy episode. When your children and their spouses or partners entrust you with helping care for their firstborn, you work really hard to keep up the pace. You take a first aid course, read up on childcare issues on the web, leaf through the parenting books that lie around the new families’ houses. You learn how to take orders from your own children, how to give an opinion very carefully and usually just when asked (although not always), how to heat up and bottle-feed breast milk and formula, and how to assemble and apply a varied assortment of diapers with names like Bum Genius.

Through all this your children thank you profusely for the babysitting. They know you love their baby (and them), and will always do your best to protect and care for their precious little one. They are grateful for the money they are saving with you providing free labor. And they don’t seem to mind when you straighten up their kitchen or sweep up crumbs from under the dining room table.

But one day, they watch you more carefully, with a critical eye. They decide that you are doing very well at your grand-parenting job. They might even tell you so. Then what you find out, with a shock, is that they’ve decided you’re doing so well that they are going to speed up your conveyor belt. They’re going to give you a second grandchild to take care of! And unlike the I Love Lucy episode, you can’t hide the baby under your candy factory hat. You have to become more efficient, able to feed the baby a bottle while chasing the toddler who is hell-bent on hurting himself. You have to juggle two nap schedules that don’t sync with each other. You have to play referee in the toy department. And you have to make time to enjoy loving both of these precious little gifts.

Speed it up!