Over the years, your face has changed—not just from the sweet rounded cheeks of a newborn to the angular face of a seven-year-old, but from face to face, of all the babies I have been privileged to know and hold. Your eyes have been blue, brown, green, grey. Your skin tone has ranged from dark to light. And the hair that I’ve buried my nose in while I rock you back and forth after bad dreams has changed from curly and soft to wiry to finest spun cornsilk.
I’ve been lucky, because I haven’t gotten to just have one baby in my life. I’ve gotten to have many.
It’s a series of very sweet memories, especially as many of them are now just past pages in an album, somewhere, or only recalled when I hold your now gangly body on my lap where before you fit in my arms perfectly. I remember sitting in front of a fan on the hottest day of the year, giggling as you reached out for my glasses, which kept slipping down my nose. I remember dancing in time to some classical-baby music on your swing, while I tried to keep you from crying constantly. I remember balancing you on my hip, and pointing to the cat. “Gaaaaato,” you said, your first languages blurring together, helping me learn, too.
And sometimes, baby, I wonder if the only babies I’ll ever get to hold are the ones that I borrow for a short time from their parents. I wonder, sometimes, if this world that I stick my toes into is one I want to actually live in. I watch all the parents with babies, babies who smile, who cry, who learn about the small and beautiful things, and I feel an ache, a longing, to be part of it. And then sometimes, after another rough shift holding you til my arms fall off, I don’t know if I want to give up my solitary life, anyway.
Regardless, I want you to know just how you’ve shaped me. Every personality glimmer, every little smile, even the days when all you do is cry—they help me to be a better person. You teach me patience when things that seem easy are hard for you, because you’re learning how to do them for the first time. You teach me joy, when you reach out for me with a smile, or your little head nods off against my shoulder. You teach me deep love, even when I leave, and we don’t meet again. I remember every face, every smile, the weight of every little body in my arms.
Dear baby, you and I might still know each other. You might be a running, jumping school-aged kid with a gappy smile. That soft curly hair might be stick-straight and brown now. You might be a bright and inquisitive almost-three-year-old, with a sweet disposition so different from your colicky, prickly baby self. You might tell people that I’m your “friend.” You might now ask me why I still look after children, because to you, people my age have children of their own.
And baby, you might ask me hard questions. Like why do people have to die? Or is there really a God? Or why do I look the way I do, fat when your parents are thin, with tattoos where they might not have them? Where do I live now? Where are my husband and kids? And I have to pause to answer you, to think of ways to tell you that it’s okay that we all live different lives and look differently. That every person is valid, every person deserves respect and love. And they’re hard questions and hard lessons to learn, baby, especially when you see your best friend bullied, or you hear of awful things on TV. This world is a hard one to fit into.
What I find hardest, baby, is that I have to leave just when I can see your learning and bond with me peak. It always happens that way. And I don’t have an answer; I can’t explain why we don’t always keep in touch, or why after a few months, you no longer remember my name. I can’t explain why later, when we meet again, you look at me with distrust, like you would with any stranger. I don’t know why a baby’s memory has to be so short. I don’t know why the good things in our lives can’t be things we remember always. But while you may not remember me, I remember you. Every memory, the good and the bad. I remember you.
So when I leave, walking down the shining rain-washed street, or across the dusty construction-scarred sidewalks on a hot summer day, I take heart from the fact that though your face may change, and your memories fade; that we might know each other forever, or never see each other again, that we have made imprints on each other’s lives. Baby, you may not know why you like to be cuddled in front of a whirring fan, or crave the feeling of being wrapped in a blanket in a half-lit room—but I’ll know. I’ll remember.
Whether the baby I write to will ever be my own remains to be seen. Whether the children I look after now, will be the ones I look after years from now, is something I don’t have the foresight to know. When you’re a nanny, you live in the moment. The moment is all you have.
And dear baby, frozen in time in my memories, I want to thank you for the many, many sweet moments you have given me, in the past, in the present, and far into the future.
I am profoundly honored to have gotten the chance to be with you.
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