“Here,” said my cousin, plonking Olivia onto my lap. “Can you feed her while I hang out the washing?”
As she perched on my knee, my six-month-old niece gazed longingly at the jar of baby food in my other hand.
Right, I thought. How hard can it be to feed a baby?
While I managed to shovel half the baby food into my niece’s mouth, we made a spectacular mess with the other half, smearing it all over us.
Not a bad effort, really, for a first attempt.
I was in my early 20s and had limited exposure to babies back then.
Two months earlier I’d kissed goodbye my six-month-old goddaughter and nephew in Sydney, as I flew out for my year-long vacation to Greece in 1988.
I didn’t expect to encounter any other babies so soon, as most of my cousins were much younger than me.
However, I landed in Greece amongst a brood of young nephews and nieces, who were inquisitively curious about their aunt from Australia.
I somehow managed to endear myself to them, despite my general disinterest in children in those early days.
Olivia and I also had several other feeding attempts during that year, successfully minimizing further spillages.
A captive audience
Have you noticed when a baby arrives in the office, all the women (and some men) suddenly stop work and coo around the pram?
“Ooh, how cute!”
“He’s so adorable.”
“Can I hold him?”
“I’m fine, too... Thanks for asking,” says the neglected mother who’s been shoved out of the way. “I’ll just come back and get Alex after lunch, shall I?”
No one pays any attention to the mum, as everyone's busy fussing over Alex. It’s one of the sacrifices of being a parent.
Now, I’m not a clucky person, but there’s something about little babies that radiates cuteness.
Perhaps its how their eyes light up when they see a familiar face? Or how they squeal with delight? Or when they embrace you in a cuddle with their little hands around your neck?
Okay, so I’m a sucker for cute, adorable, smiling babies - especially when they’re between six and eight months old. It’s the best age!
They’re a captive audience and more likely to bond quickly with you. And more importantly, they can’t yet run way from you.
Once they start walking, they’re more interested in exploring pots and pans in cupboards or climbing stairs. They become high maintenance.
Adorable babies I’ve known
There are just too many babies for me to mention, and without offending any friends or cousins, the following selection is neither definitive nor exclusive:
Nick: December 1998
Nick will always be “my” boy.
I dreamt of him the day he was born; two hours later, his mum called to announce his arrival. It was destiny.
Nick was the first newborn I spent a lot of time with, including his then two-year-old sister Jen.
I used to visit them 2-3 times a week and quickly stepped into the role of The Babysitter.
It was during this decade-long involvement with both kids (and almost 10 years after the abovementioned feeding fiasco with Olivia) that I became adept at shoveling food into Nick’s mouth and instinctively ducking out of the way whenever he sneezed with a mouthful of custard.
Andrew: February 2009
When I left Sydney in early 2009, I stopped in to see friends on the mid-north coast of NSW.
I'd planned to stay for a couple of days, and then continue driving up to Queensland, but was waylaid by Andrew who was, coincidentally, six months old.
I’d almost forgotten how adorably cute babies were at that age.
However, I was reminded again when Rafferty came to visit recently. He was also six months old. Perfect.
We bonded instantly; you’d think we’d been friends for ages, even though I hadn’t seen his mum for 20 years.
Raff’s blue eyes lit up and he almost leapt into my arms.
Rafferty: Sept 2011
His mum and Auntie Kerry were convinced I was wearing baby perfume and were keenly watching his response on my second visit.
Raff didn’t hesitate; he happily allowed me to extricate him from his mother’s embrace. He barely glanced at Auntie Kerry. (Don't worry, she was already having baby time with him in my absence).
And for the record, no, I wasn’t wearing baby perfume!
My theory is that Raff spotted me as a seasoned babysitter. Some babies just know things like that. They might dribble, throw up and poop a lot, but they’re wise little souls when it comes to character analysis.
Auntie vs Hari
“Is that your auntie?”
“No,” replied Jen. “That’s my Hari.”
I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to have children of my own. Being a responsible adult involves knowing when not to have children.
Besides, that whole birth thing just doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve got a low pain threshold.
Instead, it’s freed me up to spend time with everyone else’s kids and give them love, attention and enthusiasm when frazzled parents need time out.
As Rafferty’s mum noted, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
I feel I’m much more useful being part of that village community and contributing to a child’s welfare through playing, reading and acting out bedtime stories. It’s definitely more fun!
I’ve always said that babysitting Jen and Nick were 10 of the best years of my life.
We dispensed with the formalities of calling me auntie from the start, probably because I still call my Greek friends’ parents ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’. And I’m not that old yet.
What can babies teach us?
1. Babies have a constant fascination with the world around them.
They’re mesmerized by new sounds, colours, objects, tastes and textures. They engage all their senses when exploring their surroundings.
2. They totally trust that all their needs are met.
They’re not anxious about where their next meal is coming from, or if they’ll have enough toys to play with. Someone is always there to provide for them.
3. They’re focused in the present moment.
Babies don’t forward plan or make strategic plans for the next five years. They don’t worry about what happened yesterday. They’re only aware of what’s happening right now.
4. They express their feelings.
When they’re happy, they’re happy and when they’re grumpy, in pain or hungry, they let you know about it. Babies don’t hold grudges, either, and tears are quickly forgotten.
As a non-parent, I highly recommend spending time with babies. They’re the best example of how to connect with our own child-like aspects and focus on life’s simple pleasures.
What are some of your babysitting experiences?
Is there a 'best age' for babies?
New Zealand 2008
New Zealand 2006
United Kingdom 2004
Athens Olympics 2004
Beijing to Athens 1994
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS