Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Nature of Nurturing

When I agreed to take on the care of a six month old baby for sixteen hours a week, I was a little concerned that it would have a negative impact on my 20 month old.  I was worried that he would have a hard time sharing me with her. 

In fact, he has become so attached to Baby, he has a hard time letting her go at the end of the day.   Since last Friday, he throws his arms around the little one when he sees her mother turning into the driveway, or hears the squeak of the screen door as she comes into the house at pick-up time.  He cries, “Baby! Baby!”  He asks about her after she leaves, bringing up her name.  When she is with us Cayce loves to brag about her and show her off, pointing her out to everyone.  Indeed, he thinks she’s ours.  Last week I took them both to Stop and Shop to get a few snacks, and Cayce, who talks to every Tom, Dick, and Harry he passes, pointed baby out to everyone in our path. 

It broke my heart a bit when, that evening, I returned to the store with just him, and he kept chiming Baby! Baby! again, as if she were a limb that had been severed from him, and yet he could still feel, a dull ache where that part of himself had been.

We have come a long way since the first week when Cayce seemed to want to throw the baby’s teething toys at her because she wouldn’t stop crying.  On day five I finally wore the baby in the gorgeous blue embroidered Ergo carrier that has been on loan from a friend since Cayce was small.  I walked with her little legs wrapped around my waist and her head resting on my chest, the way I had worn Cayce for so many walks when he was small, and for the first time she slept.  The next day, when her father brought her to us at noon, she smiled for me.  She made it through most of the day without crying.   I began to wear her in the Ergo more frequently to help her feel secure while her mommy and daddy were working.   And the ease of our time together increased exponentially. 

I will admit, that first week, the baby’s level of distress made it hard for me to bond with her.  It wasn’t until that first day that she smiled at me that I realized how darn cute she is.  Before that, well, she would never let me put her down even momentarily to nurse my own child, and I undoubtedly had some misgivings about that.  Here I was now with not one happy baby, but two unhappy ones.   They would set each other off all day like little ticking time bombs.  I would coo and cajole, as if none of it was fazing me one bit.   Then, when the baby went home and I felt like decompressing, my own child needed me intensely.  Aha… so this is what it’s like for working moms.

Now that we have been doing this for a little while things have begun to hum along quite nicely.  The babies make each other laugh.  Today, Cayce turned her on to his favorite singer, Ziggy Marley, and I so hope I can get the camera rolling sometime when they are rocking out together.  They also played a duet together on Cayce’s Little Tykes piano.  When the baby’s not around, Cayce is pushing around a pink doll stroller I picked up at the dump.  He puts into the stroller the yarn-haired cloth doll that also came from the dump, whom he calls, simply, Doll, or else his Elmo doll, or else his yard-sale Bert doll whom he insists is Ernie.  (In the Book of Cayce, Cookie Monster will always be Oscar, and Bert will always be Ernie.) 

On Sunday, as I was getting us all ready to go out for a family walk, Cayce insisted that Doll get a hat just like the rest of us.  I rummaged around my various and sundry piles of infant clothes that Cayce has outgrown until I found a cotton cap small enough to fit over Doll’s frenetic yarn head.   I know, that wouldn’t suffice to protect Doll’s face from the sun, but it served to make Cayce’s make-believe baby a bit more real.  Once outside, we left Doll under the shade of her stroller awning while we headed off in the car to find a nature trail.  We won’t talk about how mommy totaled said stroller a few days later when Cayce left it in the driveway with Elmo sitting in it.  Luckily there was a pair of them at the dump, and I took them both.  (I said to K,  as I held up the flattened pink metal frame, Do you think this is God telling me that I shouldn’t let our son push around a pink stroller?  No, he answered, it’s God telling you to drive more carefully.  So of course, what I have taken from that conversation is that he thinks it’s perfectly fine to let our little boy play with dolls and doll strollers.)

As Baby comes and goes (and will soon be going for six or seven long weeks of summer), Cayce’s Dolls and stuffies have become important characters in Cayce’s world.  When Cayce brushes his teeth, he also brushes Elmo’s teeth.  When he nurses, he holds his stuffed bear or Elmo up to my breast for some “Na-Ni.”  (Doll, our recent dump find, has not yet reached this level of status in the hierarchy of Cayce’s affections.)   This is the same little boy who can’t get enough of Daddy’s truck and tractor mower.  The same little boy who can dribble a soccer ball around like nobody’s business.  The same little boy who seems so contented and rosy cheeked as he nurses during our sweet, one-on-one time after Baby goes home, saying “Mmmm…. mmmm!” so that I think he must be getting the flavors of strawberries and maple syrup from our pancakes that morning.

Whether or not we have a second child (and at this stage of the game, it’s unlikely—although it also seemed unlikely the first time around, so who knows?), I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to see so early in my son’s life how attachment-parenting has impacted his ability to attach to—in fact, to love—others. Yes, saying goodbye is hard.  But won’t it always be?  Saying good-bye is just part of it.  As long as we get to say Hello again, and get a few squeezes in with Elmo, Beah, or even Doll.  And even if we never have a second child, I sense that Cayce’s childhood is going to be rich in real little friends.      


Frayda Kafka said...

Rachel, This wonderful. I don't have the time now but I will post a link on my fb page

Rachel Dowling said...

That would be fabulous, Frayda! So glad you enjoyed it! xoxo