On cue, my son backs up his grandmother with a scream. I hand him back over to my mother, and try aiming for water that is "just warm to the touch," as I am told. I dip him in a second time. He joins his grandmother in an approving smile.
Within the next fifteen minutes I get pointers on: Which parts of the baby to bathe first. Why I should use two separate bath clothes; why he needs to be higher on my shoulder to burp; why I should turn off the ceiling fan; why I should change the nipple on his bottle; and in what state of wakefulness to put him in his crib.
I don't know whether to be grateful or shocked the kid is still alive and in my possession.
This is not the first time we've done this dance. My attempts in the kitchen ("Do you really need that much salt?") or around the house ("Have you thought about hiring a maid to come in every other week?") have long been the target of running commentary and helpful hints.
My siblings and I joke that on her gravestone we'll engrave one of her favorite mothering phrases: "You might want to..."
And now, my mom is here to watch the boy while I go away for a conference. In talking about her impending visit, my sister - who's already been through this with her kid over the last three years - advised me to keep the inevitable advice in perspective. "It's so not about you anymore. The number one priority now is her grandson, so she's going to tell you, regardless of whether or not you choose to listen." Which is a good take, but surprisingly unnecessary.
While the guidance at other times has annoyed me, in handling my son it amuses me and leaves me touched. Parenthood is humbling, and I am happy to admit that all I don't know about it could fill encyclopedias. But more importantly, as I look at his little head nuzzled under her chin, I get a glimpse at care that made my childhood remarkable. And somewhere between the wisdom in her eyes and the love in her voice, I know that I will be able to get on that plane without guilt or fear. And that by the time she leaves in ten days I'll be able to run the perfect bath, make the perfect bottle, wrap the perfect swaddle, and change the perfect diaper.