I have been a stress-basket this last week because I am wrapping up my thesis. Corrections, revisions, snide comments… This is a harrowing time. If there is one thing stress gives me, it’s insomnia. And if there is one thing insomnia gives me, it’s vivid dreams. The upside to all of this stress is that last night I had an incredibly vivid dream about two little boys. Real boys! That exist in my waking world as well as my dream one. Not the kind of dream boys that haunt me from the depths of my empty womb and remind me of my ticking clock! These boys are spectacularly alive, and they fill my heart with some of the warmth I am missing from not yet having children of my own.
I used to nanny these boys. And I love them to bits! I was asked once to be an au pair and be part of a host family who had just said goodbye to their previous au pair, and whilst that seems like a dream of a job to be a part of the children’s lives every day, I wasn’t able to give that full commitment, but I have made friends with quite a few au pairs and they seem to be in their element! I was just so lucky to be a nanny to those 2 boys.
During our stint in Texas I was unable to find work as a teacher. I had done endless online courses for teachers to update my CV, but to no avail. Instead I found myself, through a serendipitous turn of events, the nanny to a then two-and-a-half year old boy and his soon-to-be-arrived baby brother. The older boy we can call C-note, as that is the nickname his parents have given him. We can call the younger one G-money, for the same reason.
C-note and I hit it off right away! He is an unbelievably sweet and shy little spud and I basically fell ass-over-teakettle in love with him! G-money, whose arrival occurred two months into the nanny gig, is vivacious, hysterically funny and absolutely impossible not to adore. These two boys were an integral part of my weeks for just over three years! That’s right… three years… which doesn’t sound incredibly long until you realize that when I stopped being “the nanny” C-note was 6 and G-money was 4!! When I started C-note was barely speaking and G-money couldn’t hold up his head. Nowadays, they run around playing actual sports and solving algorithms and shit! Anyways… where was I going with this? Ah yes, my dream.
For context, I haven’t seen these fantastic mini-humans in a while because a year and a half ago we moved home to Canada. Fantastic! Stupendous! I LOVE CANADA!!! But do I ever miss the pants off those children! So I guess that’s why I dreamt of them last night. I was missing them. In my dream, I was visiting their house and babysitting them overnight. As my visiting was a special occasion the boys were allowed to stay up late and hang out. So, we were having supper at an un-godly hour…9 o’clock at night! This is part of what tips it off as a dream. I would never feed real children this late! Feed ‘em nice and early then enjoy staying up late with movies and games and whatnot! So, being as it was unreasonably late, the poor dudes were having a hard time staying awake waiting for supper. I was cooking mac and cheese, of course, and trying to keep them awake long enough to serve it to them…
Eventually, they became quieter and quieter. I then realized that G-money had passed out on the couch. I tried to wake him up but he was not easily roused. So I turned my attention to C-note instead (smart dreaming-me remembers that G-money gets “hangry” and decides it is best not to wake him unless food is provided expediently). C-note is lounging sleepily on the stairs. I was talking with him about the food, asking if “he’d rather go to bed now and eat the mac and cheese for breakfast”? He didn’t answer. I looked over my shoulder and realized he was drowsy and his eyes were drooping. So I walked over to the stairs, gently brushed the hair off of his forehead and softly called his name. He blinked and then turned his enormous brown eyes to me. He smiled sleepily, nodded once. Then he leaned his head into my hand. My heart basically exploded from all the love and cuteness!
It was around this time that I woke up. Damn! I remember lying there wanting to go back to sleep. Wishing I could see them some more. Because they are incredible kids. Who I’ve missed very much! But also because I wanted to enjoy more of the normal, everydayness, that the dream provided. The kind that happens when you spend time with very young children. The small pauses in the day that make having kids so damned awesome! They are just so filled with love!! So …and now I am getting to my point … I want to talk today about loving other people’s kids.
It is so important to talk about this!! Because when you are having a challenging time becoming a parent, or a family, being around children can become painful. Sometimes their little gooey hands and adorable cherub cheeks are just too much. We often feel like we should insulate ourselves from our friends and family who have children, because UGH. But I think it is also important to understand the upside of interacting with children. I want you to know why I value my role as the sometimes-parent to other peoples kids! It has changed me deeply and has come to mean even more to me now that we are struggling to conceive our own kiddos.
You can measure the importance of my time spent as a nanny by the things I now know about parenting. Things that go way beyond potty training and how to wrangle a crazed two year old into a car seat. Which are some great things to know! But don’t compare to things like the damp weight of an infant at bed time, or the joy of a bubble dance-party, or the tug of your heart when a little human turns to you for guidance and love. It was an absolute privilege to share in the growth and development of these boys. It was an experience I will never forget! While I have been blessed with many fun times with the boys, it has inevitably changed some of the parenting moments I will have with my own children. Like how:
I will never have the same “first-time-ever witnessing a child walk” rush, as many new moms do. I have already shared that experience with G-money. The wonder and amazement of a baby, who couldn’t even sit up, being able to stand and walk has been shattered for me. Well ahead of when my own offspring will do it. But, it was still the coolest thing ever! My baby doing it will be amazing!! Sure! But the absolute awe of the “first-time-ever seeing it” is gone. And I am ok with that because…
I will also never take for granted how frustrating it is to try to communicate when you don’t yet know the words. I have seen the struggle first hand. C-note had to work so hard to acquire and use language. Watching his frustration, and sadness, at not being able to tell me what he needs has given me a sympathy and patience that my own children will benefit from. Knowing, that when these children reach age 5, they will be able to have a full conversation with you is incredible! And I know because I have seen it happen. My own children won’t understand, any better than C-note did, the rush of joy these simple conversations can bring on. But they will both get to enjoy the resulting hugs!
You see? It is a give and take. I have given up some moments with my own children, yes. But I have also gained a wealth of understanding that will provide much to them as well.
These are only some of the lessons I have learned through helping to parent other people’s children.
Only some of the firsts that I have shared with their family.
But I wouldn’t trade all of the firsts, that I will miss with my own, because of the incredible lessons I have gotten in return. Warm babies to quirky kids… I have loved it all!
At times, has it been difficult? Because I so long for a child of my own? Of course! But the difficulties do nothing to diminish the added joy these children bring to my heart. The way that their existence in the world makes my aching soul a little less sore. The way that I am comforted by knowing that, even if I never get to share in these moments with my own children, I have been allowed to share in it with them. That, even if I never have my own brood to cluck over, I will have these kiddos to love. I hope that you all are just as lucky! I know it can be challenging but don’t limit your experiences with children all the time. Take the days that are hard for what they are, and on those days limit the birthday parties and baby showers if it helps. But don’t allow those days to rob your life of the sweetness that comes from loving other people’s children. Find the good days and use them to your advantage. Soak in all the love and hugs you can! Go out and find the joy in nieces and nephews, the neighborhood children, the kids at your local school or YMCA… Spread the love! I know for a fact that, what you give out, you get back in spades.