A close friend had a beautiful baby girl in late August, and my own gorgeous and perfect granddaughter (not that I am biased!) will be 1 year old on Sept. 15.
I am past the age when I get excited about my own birthdays, so this is one birthday party I really can get enthusiastic about.
Many of you are probably also celebrating such happy occasions. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, August and September are the two months of the year when most babies are born in the United States. (It’s about nine months after the Christmas holidays, so maybe it really is the “season to be jolly!”)
Of the 4 million babies born in the United States every year, 16 percent more babies are born in August and September than in January and February.
Since 1940, there have been more boys than girls born in the United States, although the gap is narrowing.
The average age of American women giving birth for the first time also is rising — it is now 25 years old – but more than 100,000 new mothers these days are 40 or older.
Women in the United States are statistically likely to have an average of two children. Compare that to 7.5 children the average Nigerian woman has in Africa or the 1.3 children women in Spain and Italy can expect.
In the past year or so, I have learned a lot about babies. I care for our granddaughter one or two days per week in the nursery we have created in our home.
While I have babysat for nieces, nephews and friends’ children on numerous occasions, my stepchildren were teenagers when I met and married my husband. (That story is more of a book than the subject of a column!)
When I was handed my 6-week-old granddaughter to care for on “my first day” when my lovely daughter-in-law went back to work, I must confess I had a small moment of panic.
For a start, in the UK, mothers have six months of paid maternity leave and another six months of unpaid leave, while their employers are legally obligated to leave their jobs open for them to return to. Fathers in the UK are entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave. I am not going to comment on whether this is better or worse than the American system. I am just going to say it is different, and it does make life difficult for British businesses.
In light of this, I had not had much experience with tiny babies in my sole care for entire days at a time.
I prepared as much as possible by reading books, talking to friends and spending a lot of time at the local baby stores.
This is where the second challenge came in. Did you know that the language of baby clothing and equipment is completely different between our two countries?
For example, the British call a diaper a “nappy,” a crib is a “cot,” a pacifier is a “dummy,” a burp cloth is a “muslin” and onesies are “baby grows.”
And the equipment! I never had heard of a “Bumbo” or a “Pack and Play,” but apparently I needed them for our nursery here along with many, many other items.
In the United States, one advantage is the wonderful tradition of baby showers — and I now have thrown two of these at our home — and there are many generous gifts of baby equipment to help with the furnishing of nurseries.
In England, we usually just send a card or small gift when the baby arrives and/or give a christening gift.
Anyway, I am pleased to report that I now have gained a lot of experience in looking after babies and had a great deal of pleasure doing so.
However, I think there was a lot of room for improvement. At the end of that first day of childcare, I returned my granddaughter to her parents, and she was clean, fed, happy, changed and certainly loved. Sadly, my impression of cool, calm control was shattered when my daughter-in-law whispered to me, “Did you know you have spit-up on your shirt and what looks like poop on your face?”
God bless America!
Lesley grew up in London, Enland, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.