by Cristina Lopez
The best form of birth control for a single, twenty-four-year-old female is to spend ten hours a day with a three-month-old infant. I returned to New York with a deal from the Eleanor Timpany Agency (E.T.A.) that had all of my friends jealous: more money, less time, working from home. I secretly decided to accept my brother's offer, and nanny for my nephew until they could figure out a long-term plan for that baby boy.
I woke up in the morning on their sofa bed, sat up and rubbed my eyes. Immediately, I was handed a smiling, laughing cherub with cheeks still ruddy from breast feeding, still warm from cuddling close to his mom as he nursed.
That ruddiness, laughter and smiling slowly dissipated over the course of each morning as I struggled to determine what made him whine and cry -- was it hunger, sleepiness, gas, a dirty diaper, or just lack of attention? I checked his diaper, held him and fed him. Still, the lower lip trembled and he looked at as though I was his jailer and torturer. Horror and betrayal clouded his eyes as they begged the question: "What have you done with my mother?" On more difficult days, he cried himself to sleep -- only a short-term relief from which he'd usually awaken with the unknown cause of distress still intact.
Despite thoughts and conjectures that this situation would improve over time, it only became more complicated as he grew. A month into nannying, he wailed in frustration as he tried to turn himself over but could not release his one arm. He kicked and twisted himself in his highchair until he sank down, belted in, contorted and uncomfortable. He drooled and moaned from the dreadful pain of new teeth emerging. I called him my "Wounded Soldier" because of the long, painful moans that emerged from his carriage as we moved down the aisles of the drug store. The guttural groans made him sound like a soldier shot on the battlefield and left to die.
I experienced the frustrations of not being able to go to the bathroom without a song and dance and then, either left him strapped in his high chair for safety or brought him in his low seat into the bathroom with me -- a humiliating experience for both of us. Then there was the embarrassment of going on a dinner date smelling of breast milk.
All my efforts to throw myself into nannying only resulted in his persistent unhappiness. I faced moments of sadness where, after four hours of his crying, I began to bawl, too. The baby stopped his wailing and stared at me like I was an alien rather than his aunt or nanny. Suddenly, I realized that I was the one acting like an infant, and began to laugh. This only startled the baby, who then began to howl all over again.
In the midst of this pathetic and seemingly endless cycle, through the smells of dirty diapers that force the inevitable question: "Has someone been feeding the baby raw spinach?" While wiping the drool from his chin and blocking the stream of urine aimed at my new blouse while I changed him, he would laugh. He would look up and smile at me, chuckling, as if to say, "This is funny, don't you think?" I realized that these so called “offensive” acts -- the smelly farts, the cheesy vomit -- were just evidence of pure innocence. What would normally be a declaration of war from another adult was merely a new and necessary experience for this baby -- this boy, this little man -- who was growing and changing every day, who learned to hug as he learned to hold, who learned to kiss as he learned to eat. For each tear there was a laugh twice as precious.
I got angry myself for losing patience because, for me, this was short term. At the end of the summer, when work called again, I would say my good-byes and retire my nanny overalls. Then, I would have to rise each day to face a shower and a commute, not a baby. But, I would remember that face, that trusting soul who just wanted to eat and sleep and play and poop in peace.
I hated myself for my frustrations and lack of insight into what he was: an angel born to remind me how precious life is. From a glass of milk to a walk in the park, the little things are a foundation for all the great ones. He was a great one at six months when I stopped being his nanny and that potential for greatness increased exponentially every day, to this day. It would grow into his childhood, into his manhood, and all I could hope for was that my time with him was as strong an influence on him as he'd been on me.
I wondered about influence and I realized that his beauty, innocence, and fresh face contained the sparks of what my own childhood was to me -- what those adult faces showed to me, what they told me about the world, how they softened my heart. Through Kevin, I realized that I had surrounded myself with people who didn't inspire those feelings in me and that was wrong. I knew I had to break off the relationships that didn't have meaning and seek out those that did.
After that summer, I said my official good-byes to E.T.A. as an employer and was ready for action. My next step was to obtain a job that would enable me to continue my search for my lost childhood friend, Francis Laboure. Having experienced being a nanny, I suddenly realized what it was to influence the world and people around me.
I wanted to answer the question, "What impact do I have on the world -- on those around me? To what extent do I change the world by what I do and say?" It was easy to look at my own family and see how it had changed with the baby's birth. But, what difference had I made as a nanny?
What if a stranger had cared for Kevin for those three months? How different would he be? How different would I be? The possibilities were endless. My possibilities were endless.
Suddenly, the reason I was looking for Francis had changed. My determination to find him seemed to change in its driving force. "Where is Francis Laboure?" remained the question but the surrounding issues changed as what was significant to me shifted into insignificance and new priorities emerged. I discovered that I didn't need to see my smiling nephew's face in front of me every day to know he was important to me, but I still wanted to. I no longer needed to find Francis Laboure to discover my place in the world, but I still wanted to.