15 years later, the words to Pat the Bunny are still the same
The summer before my freshman year in college, I got a sneak peak into my current life. Four days a week, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., I cared for a brand new baby.
I missed some of the notable experiences of new motherhood, of course. If I sacked out on the couch for a quick snoozer while Benjamin napped, it was because I'd been out partying with my friends the night before, not up pacing the halls with a screaming infant. The smell of curdled breastmilk that clung to me all day came not from my breasts but from tiny baggies of expressed milk that I retrieved from the freezer and defrosted under hot running water while I jiggled Ben's bouncy seat with my foot (no battery operated chairs in those days). And when I handed the child over to his work-weary father at the end of a long day, I was able to walk away for a few hours and think about something other than Pat The Bunny and baby poop. Nonetheless, my days weren't all that different then from what they were like when Julia was a baby. I read the same childhood favorites over and over to a drooling and unfocused infant, put him on his belly and watched him try to lift his head until he screamed with frustration, took him on long walks in the stroller to escape the monotony of my days, sang every song I could remember the words to as I rocked him, fed him again and again, changed him again and again and put him down for naps whenever possible. I was a little bored and a little overwhelmed and a whole lot mesmorized by this tiny person, all at the same time.
In hindsight, I'm not sure what his parents were thinking, entrusting a not-quite-18-year-old with their precious baby, though I surely took the job seriously. Benjamin was only 6 weeks when I started caring for him, and I have much more appreciation now for just how hard it must have been for his mother to place him in my arms and walk away that first morning (and really, every morning thereafter). She used to disappear into her room to pump each morning as soon as I arrived, and while I had a basic idea at the time of what that must have entailed, now I really appreciate the value of that stash of little Medela baggies in their freezer. I earned $5 an hour for my time, which seemed like a fortune then, though it's half of what I pay a sitter to watch my own kids now. But I also earned confidence in myself that summer. I enjoyed my time with Benjamin. I loved watching his first efforts to understand and explore his world and I loved the boost that keeping him happy and safe gave me. I knew by the time the summer was over that someday I definitely wanted to raise children of my own. And I also knew, now that I'd seen first hand what that would entail, that I was going to be damned careful about making sure that "some day" was not going to happen any time too soon.
I haven't seen Ben or his family in years, though I hear about them occasionally from my mom. They were in this area last weekend for a Passover seder, though, and so they stopped by for an hour on Sunday to say hello and meet my kids. At 15, Ben bears no resemblance to that little infant I danced with and sang to all summer long. He's a self assured, interesting young man and I enjoyed getting to know him immensely. Watching the nearly-grown child I'd once cared for next to the little ones who now fill my days was a strange juxtaposition -- it reminded me how far I have to go with my kids and at the same time, how fast it's all going to change. I can't picture Julia or Evan on the cusp of adulthood any more than I was able to picture Ben as a baby any more, yet I know that some day, I'll have the same kinds of blurry memories of these days that I have of the summer I spent with Ben.
My visit with Ben's family should probably have left me nostalgic and stereotypically weepy about how finite these years are and how quickly they go. But instead, it left me strangely excited about my children's futures and the ways my relationships with them will evolve in the coming years. Nearly every time my kids have reached a new stage, I've waxed eloquent about how wonderful it is (Julia's recent 3 year old behavior being the obvious exception). Every time, I say "this is truly my favorite stage" and every time, people laugh at me because, well, I say that every time. It was nice to get a sneak peak into the future and know that I'll still be saying that 15 years from now. I'm in no particular rush for my kids to grow up, but I look forward to it all the same. In the same way I spent the nine months each of them grew inside of me anticipating what they would look like and act like, I look forward to someday seeing for myself who and what they've become.