Saturday, March 27, 2010

the reinvention of the smile

So today was my first official day as nanny for my three month old niece, Lemma. I'm going to be her nanny for the next two months, because my sister just went back to work in her big, fancy law firm and they can't get Lemma into the undoubtedly fancy DC daycare until June. I've been up in DC almost once a week since Lemma's birth to help out, but my sister has always been around. Today was my first full on solo day with the wee one.

And let me never forget this. Taking care of an infant is the HARDEST JOB IN THE WORLD. I have been a barista, where I had to start work at 6 a.m. and stand on my feet for eight hours making cranky people cappucinos. I have been an ESL teacher in Thailand (and we all know how hard that was). I have been a restaurant hostess who had to restock the freaking salad bar but didn't even get a share of the tips for Lord's sake. But nothing comes close to the mind, body and soul difficulty of taking care of a newborn. I was in some ways prepared for this. I have been a nanny or babysitter on and off since I was twelve. I have been a full time nanny on several occasions, for babies who cried and pooped and did all of those baby things. But I had avoided newborns somewhat like the plague. To be honest they terrified me. They seemed like weird, squishy little aliens who could break at the slighest touch. I wanted nothing to do with them. But then I became an aunt and it was sort of unavoidable.

And to my surprise I found that my niece was neither weird nor squishy nor alien-like (okay fine at first she was a little squishy). She was in fact a perfect, beautiful little baby girl. And over the last three months it's been amazing to watch her grow and develop a little personality. And that personality is charming and lovely, but completely and totally high maintenance. I'm sorry Lemma if you read this when you're older, but it's the truth. You, my dear niece, need a lot of attention. You are not content to sit idly in a bouncy baby chair and watch the world go by (as Sex and the City Season 5 would have led me to believe all babies are willing to do, damn you Sex and the City for your false information about life! Does this meant that a freelance writer can't afford 700 dollar shoes? Was any of it real?!). I digress. Back to Lemma. You want to interact with the world at all times, with of course the help of an obliging adult to carry you around and bounce you and play you jaunty music (your preference is for all three of these things to happen simultaneously and constantly, and your favorite music is the Black Eyed Peas but I won't hold that against you).

And I knew all of this going into our first day together. But still I was not prepared. Typing this I have dried spit up on my shirt and in my hair. There is probably poop residue somewhere on me (I'm sorry if you find this gross, but these are the realities of baby land). While taking care of you for nine hours I consumed three cups of coffee, two diet cokes and a handful of goldfish (apologies for the goldfish crumbs that landed on your head). The majority of our time together was spent upright, you tucked nicely inside your preferred method of transport, the Almighty Sling (and caps are absolutely necessary, if babies could create religions, then there would be a Latter Day Church of the 7th Day Almighty Fabric Sling, complete with the Holy Sling Sacraments and All Slings Day). You like this sling because you can sit poised and regal and look out onto your DC condo kingdom. Plus you are able to stick both fists into your mouth, which delights you to no end. I meanwhile bounce and jiggle and wiggle and sway like a lunatic who has lost all control of her body. I either play you music from my Ipod (you like Journey, which, AWESOME), or sing (one day you will realize that your aunt is tone-deaf, but for now you seem to like it). This goes on for sometimes hours on end, until you nod off. And it is beyond cute. Your little head tilts forward, slightly at first, and you try, oh you try so hard to fight it. Your eyelids flutter then open, flutter then open. I can see your mind working, telling yourself to stay awake at all costs, but inevitably you lose this battle. And then you slump over in the sling like a drunk at a bar around last call. I wait a couple of minutes, because God forbid I wake you and then have to start the whole dancing, jiggling, bouncing, swaying process over again.

When I'm sure you're fast asleep, I lift you from your sling and put you in your little baby bed. And then, well it's like the pistol going off at a horse race. I am off. Today you took three fifteen minute naps in your bed. And those fifteen minutes, well I was darn well not going to waste them. I know being a nanny is not being a mother. I know there will be much more for me to learn. But I feel this experience is at least giving me an approximation of motherhood, especially this particular job because I happen to live with the baby I nanny for. And I have come to understand already the absolute thrill and terror that comes when the baby finally falls asleep, thrill because oh my God my hands are free. I can do ANYTHING! I could eat a sandwich or or BRUSH MY HAIR! Quickly followed by terror because suddenly the timer kicks in, and you hear the tick tock, tick tock counting down the minutes, nay seconds until this brief interlude ends. And you're wasting it just standing there brushing your hair you idiot! Today during your first nap I ran to the bathroom, took the fastest shower of my life (and for six months in Thailand I took cold water showers mind you), raced to get changed, put in contacts and then poured the first of many cups of coffee. During subsequent nap breaks I ate that aforementioned handful of goldfish, started the dishwasher and took a little bathroom break (not to be indecent but did I mention I had four cups of coffee on a virtually empty stomach?)

While you napped I ran around like a crazy person, never resting for a moment because I knew this was precious. You see dear niece you are not at the moment a "napper" in the traditional baby sense. You are more like a narcoleptic. You fall asleep without realizing it and before long you're going to wake up in your crib, and be like "What the hell? Why am I in this bed?! What is happening!?" And then you begin to make noises to alert the nearest adult to the obvious mistake that was made by putting you in the bed. Clearly there was some mix up. So today, with my hair still wet and my mouth full of goldfish, I heard you start to stir and make little baby chirps.

And so I opened the door, walked into the room, and the following moments are the reason that babies are not routinely thrown out of windows. When you saw me you smiled. And this was no ordinary smile. This, this was the reivention of the smile. Oh my God, I can't believe I've lived this long without seeing an infant smile. I've seen older babies smile, and it's pretty great. But these, these tiny baby smiles, well they just destroy you. This is smiling in its purest form. And seeing you smile, I realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that what adults do is only a faint echoe of what a smile really is. Okay here's sort of a weird metaphor but it's late and I'm tired so it will have to do. A baby smile and an adult smile is like the difference between the ginger ale you but at CVS and real, 100% ginger ale, or the difference between vanilla extract and raw vanilla bean. The smiles adults give each other are at best diluted versions of what we're capable of in our very early youth. The smile a three month old baby gives you, it's just smile concentrate, a smile that will knock you off your feet and make you start involuntarily cooing and pinching cheeks and basically acting like your great-aunt Mildred. This is a smile that has no thought behind it, no ulterior motives. As we get older, there's a process between what makes us happy and the resulting smile. There's synapses that have to connect, a little algebra to be done. But babies don't have that process. There's no in between, no lag time. There's simply that smile, the smile to end all smiles, a smile that you could live off for days after you ran out of water or food. And the only thing I had to do to get this miracle smile was to show my face over your bed. The sad part is that those smiles are finite. We are each born with a certain number and they will run out. When you get to be the genius you will undoubtedly be (I mean she reached for the plastic set of keys today all on her own, how could she not be a genuis!?), those smiles will become more deliberate, less concentrated. But if we went our whole lives smiling like that, then it wouldn't be special now would it?

So to summarize, yes, this was a long day. We played in your bumbo and we played on your little mobile mat. There were tears. There was music. There was poop.

And by God there was that smile, and that, my dear, makes all of the rest inconsequential.

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