Many years after raising her own children, Wanda Boshoff finds herself babysitting infants and toddlers again. She shares some of the things she was reminded of that come with parenting little ones from a wheelchair
It’s been so long since I had small children of my own, I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to have little ones around my chair! Luckily we’ve been surrounded by several babies and toddlers in the past two years, which provided a little reminder of what it was like.
An easy start
My “refresher course” reminded me that the first few months seem relatively easy and entirely doable. Baby spends most of his or her time sleeping, with the occasional nappy change, feeding, and a bath maybe once a day. Because their little bodies are so small, it is quite easy for someone like me to pick them up comfortably (and safely) and to put them down on a bed or in their stroller.
I feel quite fortunate because I don’t need much in the form of assistive devices to get things done. Taking care of babies at that early age almost seems too easy. It definitely helped that the infants I’ve dealt with recently are model babies! My first babysitting session did make all those memories rush back.
I should add that my kids weren’t as small when I first came home in my chair. I quickly realised the most comfortable option would be to transfer onto my bed and spend most of my time with the babies there.
A little bit of planning and preparation always goes a long way. Having the bottles ready on the bedside table and having the nappy bag and all of the necessities on hand made it much more manageable. I could easily manage a nappy change, feed the baby and enjoy a little playtime and a cuddle.
Becoming more mobile
So, the first couple of months were easy … until the stationary phase passed and the child turned into a somewhat active and energetic little human. The challenge was on. No longer would it suffice to sit and play around on the bed.
In fact, being on the bed at all soon became too risky, since the little one was now intent on getting themselves off it somehow. As they seemed to be a bit faster than me at times, I felt this was the last place I wanted to watch them. It is unsafe as they could fall off.
Transferring onto the floor – again with preplanning and gathering all the paraphernalia around us – seemed to be the best option for spending time with them and getting everything done.
Watching the parents, grandparents and friends of the family handle the babies made me understand why I “may not be their first choice as a babysitter”. To fall asleep, infants usually require a fair amount of rocking, and doing so in a seated position is not really effective. Of course, if I were their full-time parent, they probably would have been used to the way in which I’d rock them.
A sudden change
Something I realised over the past year or two around the little ones is that they all seemed to reach a stage when they suddenly became quite wary of me and my chair. It’s around the time that they start crawling quite well.
The occupational therapist in me wonders whether it is because their perception of the world changes dramatically and they become more aware of their surroundings and other people. They didn’t seem afraid of me or my chair but would definitely suss out the situation.
It was as if they were trying to work out what the deal was with this “big person in a stroller”! They’d look at me from a distance and smile but wouldn’t freely come to me like before. It seemed to take them a while to pluck up the courage to crawl over to me and explore my chair.
Luckily, as soon as they’d worked it out for themselves, they settled into a comfortable relationship with me once again. They even used my chair as a jungle gym of sorts. The older toddlers even summon me to give them a ride or hurry me out of my chair to have their turn!
Taking it at face value
Spending time with the babies and toddlers again after such a long time reminded me of the importance of flexibility and not taking anything too seriously. At first, it was a little scary being alone with the newborns, but by working it out along the way (as safely and as calmly as possible) I felt comfortable in the end.
That first feeling of “rejection” (for want of a better description) certainly tested my confidence. However, realising the babies were exploring their world and choosing whatever made them feel safe and secure, put it back into perspective for me.
It isn’t about me or my chair. They are simply growing up and going through their developmental phases, both physically and psychologically, as it should be. I enjoy the toddler phase when they have no qualms about taking over my chair and claiming a ride, either on my lap or on their own.
I look forward to the next phases to keep reminding me what parenting little ones on wheels feel like first-hand again! Share with me your parenting stories. What have your challenges been as a parent on wheels? Which phase of your baby’s life have you enjoyed the most so far?
Wanda Boshoff is a wife, mother and qualified occupational therapist who also happens to be a paraplegic. Thanks to her experience in these fields she is able to assist others in similar situations. Before her accident in 1998, she ran a successful private practice specialising in children – particularly those with childhood-development and school-related issues. Over the past 20 years she has been running her own businesses, and become a blogger and the owner of a guest house.