I Am Not The Right Person For This JobApril 20, 2021 |
I held my first baby when I was 22. Seriously! I went 22 years of my life purposefully avoiding the opportunity to hold an infant.
-What if "it" slipped out of my hands?
-What if I was somehow cutting off circulation and had no idea?
-You have to hold their heads a certain way, right? I've heard that the top (or back???) is still a little squishy?
-What if this sweet, innocent cherub instantly turned on me and blew out the diaper?
Then my brother and his wife welcomed their daughter Charlie into our lives in March 2017. I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time and they were in Cairo, Georgia – an 11 hour drive away with no traffic. When I finally got the chance to meet her, I suddenly found myself cradling this 12 pound newborn like a teenager clutching a football as he raced for the game winning touchdown. I was overcome with the fear of accidentally hurting her. Simultaneously, as I blinked at her through stifled sobs, I found myself thinking that I'd do anything – literally anything – for this stranger in my arms. My love for her was so intense it felt suffocating and she isn't even my own child! How is that possible?
Then, like always, I packed up the car and went back to Cincinnati where my biggest worries were walking my dog in the snow, the wine prices at the bodega down the street, whether my work schedule would allow for a weekend trip to Chicago, and chili cheese fries showing up on my thighs. I watched my niece grow from my phone screen. I missed a lot – birthday parties, her first scraped knee, fleeting interests (she's obsessed with dinosaurs now), her first time trying a lemon – and I frequently felt... guilty? Was that guilt?
When the pandemic hit, I resigned from my job in Cincinnati (I know, I'm an idiot... but there's a deeper story there) and went home to Georgia to be with my family. They own four small businesses and needed all the help they could get to stay afloat. My brother and sister-in-law decided to withdraw my 3 year old niece from her small, home-based child care center (run entirely by one elderly, at-risk woman) and in the blink of an eye...
I became a caregiver.
Yep, they asked me to watch her during the day while they worked. I was free child care built right into the home. Their lives couldn't slow down because of a pandemic! They had four businesses to run! I was an unemployed, 25 year old disaster who was planning on spending most of the summer in the pool drinking White Claw. Prior to the pandemic, no one had ever trusted me to watch their kid while they flipped the burgers on the grill, much less for an entire day, over and over again. Honestly? I don't blame them!
I'd missed the first three years of her life and this was my chance to really get to know her...
-What books did she like to read before bedtime? Kids still read before bed, right?
-What was her favorite food? Color? Movie?
-Did she like playing in the mud?
-Would she teach me all of the lyrics to that song from Frozen 2? I've never seen any of the Frozen movies. How many are there?
-Hear me out... could I still lay in the pool and drink White Claw if I tethered her to my float in her swimmies?
-Would her parents care if I gave her "tattoos" with Sharpies? It washes off! Eventually!
-She'd watch every episode of Magic School Bus with me, right? RIGHT?!
Then the heavy questions flooded my mind. She's so impressionable right now. She's growing so fast and absorbing everything around her. And for an indefinite amount of time, I was gearing up to help them raise this child. Cue the panic attack. I mean, let's be honest, I can barely take care of myself.
-How could I help her learn her colors, numbers, and letters? Wait, what are 3 year old kids learning these days? Algebra?
-What do I feed her at snack time? Oh... of course she's lactose intolerant.
-How does this car seat work? Okay, so it looks like she knows how to get in it herself??? Nope, I don't trust this.
-What happens if she hurts herself? She could slip and bust a lip open or fall off her tricycle and scrape her knee! I don't know CPR! I don't even know where we keep the Band-Aids!
-Can she pick up on my anxiety? I'm pretty sure kids can smell fear. Or is that dogs? Horses?
-Are those sniffles from COVID-19 or allergies?
-Just, like... in general... what do I do with her?
We ended up spending several months learning how to garden, picking wildflowers, eating chicken nuggets, playing dollhouse, taking bubble baths, spinning in circles, building sandcastles on the beach, having sleepovers, drawing on the driveway in chalk, playing tag, doing messy science experiments, memorizing the names of all the dinosaurs, watching almost everything on Disney+, and polishing our nails.
I also spent the summer applying for jobs. 454 jobs to be exact. Then I got the call: It was mine if I wanted it. It was a Communications & Branding gig in Arizona for a nonprofit that works to ensure kids have what they need for their futures. Pretty fitting, huh?
But my Charlie! My sweet, sweet Charlie! Just like that, I was leaving her again. I'd grown attached to her. I did a good job, right? I didn't fail her this summer, right? She'd learned enough, right? All I needed to hear was that this kid came out okay (or maybe even a little better, if I'm being optimistic) at the end of my shift.
Guess what? She's fine! She can sing the alphabet without skipping a letter, spell her name, count to 20, and put puzzles together faster than I can. She couldn't do any of that at the start of the summer.
Arguably just as important, I'm okay. I learned so much about keeping toddlers alive and happy in such a short amount of time. I learned that they're just as resilient as they are impressionable. I even learned that she can, in fact, taste the difference between 100% apple juice and a 50% juice/50% water combo.
Now I have an unbreakable bond with the best girl on Earth. Something so magical and pure blossomed from a pandemic that left us all in sheer panic. She calls me her best friend. Seriously! HER BEST FRIEND! My brother tells me about how she runs into their bedroom first thing in the mornings and asks for me. Me! She now calls me on FaceTime to read her a book at bedtime. Me! How lucky can one person be?!
To those of you reading this who suddenly (maybe even accidentally) found themselves taking care of little ones:
You will be okay.
They will be okay.
And you are the right person for the job.