City Council Member Jim Saefke was in his element: gently rocking Sorkin as the 3-month-old snoozed in the crook of his arm at the Fridley Community Center.
“We call him ‘the Baby Whisperer,’ ” said Toni Craft, Fridley Community Education director, alluding to the movie, “Horse Whisperer.” “He has that touch. … He has that big barrel chest and he lays them up there and they are out.”
Saefke, 64, infiltrated a group called the Rockin’ Nanas a few years ago when he heard that seniors were volunteering to help care for infants and young kids in a program originally designed to help teenage moms finish high school.
“He asked me, ‘Can you have a rockin’ grandpa?’ ” said Senior Center coordinator Connie Thompson. “He rocks the criers and walks with them and whispers to them.”
Saefke is the lone male rocker in the program, which has evolved into a more general day-care program because the number of teen moms has declined. It currently serves only two children of high school mothers; Sorkin is not one of them.
Saefke was elected to the City Council in 2006, a year after he retired as Fridley’s water department supervisor. He had worked 34 years for the city, and 12 as a volunteer firefighter. He grew up in Fridley with six siblings and watched his little sister and two brothers after school while his parents worked. He earned a degree in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul before getting married.
Saefke and his wife, Barb, have two grown kids but no grandchildren. So he gets his grandpa fix by motoring about six blocks from his home to the Community Center to baby-sit from 8 a.m. to noon on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“I like little kids,” said Saefke. “There is an innocence. They say what’s on their mind all the time. They are just funny.”
It’s a nice change from dealing with adults as a council member or elsewhere when people’s words don’t always match their intentions, he said. Kids are “so different than ordinary stuff. Every day is an adventure. You never know what is going to be here, who I get to play with or feed.”
When babies get antsy, “it’s usually because they are hungry, tired or need their diapers changed. You just have to figure out which,” he said. Baby-sitting is mostly relaxing, entertaining and satisfying, he said.
A benefit of being a volunteer in a licensed day-care program is that “only full-time people get to change the diapers. I got the best of all worlds,” he said. “Kids crying doesn’t bother me,” he added.
Hectic at times
That’s a good thing, because sometimes all 10 kids, ages 3 months to 16 months, unleash a united wail, perhaps if too many noses are wiped, or the alarm blares during fire drills.
“When there’s a full house it gets a little hectic,” Saefke said. “We have three cribs on coasters. We roll the kids out to the parking lot.” During the last drill, “I was feeding Sorkin and then he napped. I put blankets around him and carried him out on my shoulder. He woke up a little and went back to sleep.”
Sorkin’s mom, Maria Trueblood, appreciates Saefke’s efforts. Sorkin is a daddy’s boy, Trueblood said of the bond between her son and her husband, but he doesn’t see much of his grandpa, who lives out of state.
“It is great to have an extra pair of hands. Sorkin likes to move,” Trueblood said. When she drops off her son, “Jim comes and scoops him up and says, ‘Grandpa Jim is here.’ He is ready to go and full of energy.”
Saefke really enjoys the kids, Craft said. “He just glows when he is with the babies.”