“Rest your head close to my heart/ Never to part, baby of mine” —Dumbo
I have spent time (and made a little money) babysitting since I was nine years old. When I started out, I was just a helper while the mother was home, but gradually I worked my way up to watching children on my own. Usually I watched the children of family friends, but I’ve branched my way out to the families of strangers. It’s a strange thing, babysitting. When I was younger, I always secretly couldn’t believe I was old enough to be trusted to watch someone’s child. I always felt like too much of a child to be responsible for another life, despite the fact that I really am a good sitter. Suddenly, in the past couple of months, the opposite feeling has taken hold. I’m watching the children of my friends, not my parents. I could be a parent. “Babysit” sounds so juvenile. It’s a weird feeling. I love watching kids and can think of no more enjoyable way to earn some money, but the term just never seems to fit.
This past week I had the pleasure of watching the little boy that I’ve watched for almost three years, his beautiful baby sister, and (surprise!) the little girl who was visiting them. I watched the three year-olds run, chatter, jump and squeal throughout the house at nothing in particular. I watched as they proudly showed me how they brush their teeth, something I do without thinking. We played Candyland, but it took too long to hold their interest through the end. We played hide-and-seek. Both kids hid under the coffee table every time, and both pretended to look all over for each other before shrieking with laughter when “discovering” the other. This never got old for them. They are breathing energy, bouncing until the moment I put them into their beds, singing and talking to themselves long after I turned out the lights.
All of the commotion woke the baby up. At one point, while the two older kids played, I got the baby out of bed and held her to calm her down. I’ve watched her for almost a year now, but haven’t seen her since the new year. She had no idea who I was, but melted into my arms when I picked her up. We sat on the couch and she instantly calmed down. Laying on my chest, she layed her head on my shoulder and was silent. I shifted her a couple of times to see if she was asleep. She never closed her eyes, but lay still and quiet against me. She folded and molded to my torso, as relaxed as I’ve ever seen her.
It’s a special thing, holding a baby. I remember when her brother was a baby, holding him outside on a cold night. His tiny body against mine, with his blanket over him, was better than a heater. He slept still and silent amidst the activity around him, warm and content. Then I thought about how I sleep. I never sleep on planes or in airports. I never sleep on car trips. I don’t even really like sharing a room. I don’t trust people when I sleep. I don’t think that my friends would harm me, but it’s not beyond them to pull a prank. I don’t trust them not to judge me if I drool, or snore, or make a weird face. Even in my sleep I’m self-conscious. Babies aren’t like that. They haven’t learned to fear, or worry, or care what others think. They relax in the human contact, rest in the closeness of being held. This night came shortly after I read a post on the blog 1000 Awesome Things. A baby falling asleep on you comes in at number 520 on the list. The smell of a baby, its soft breaths and skin, its tiny body curling up on you is like nothing else. I reveled in the absolute trust and security of the baby.
There is nothing like a baby falling asleep on you. Somewhere, as we get older, we learn to create personal space. We don’t let strangers embrace us, perhaps for good reasons. We worry about others’ perceptions of us and their intentions toward us. A baby does none of this. I wonder what it would be like to find that peace and comfort again. To fall asleep against the rising and falling chest of someone holding me, let them snuggle me in and simply drift off with no second thoughts. What would it be like to be rocked before bed each night, be held until calm set in and sleep takes hold? How would it be to not think about work or money or deadlines and simply let ourselves be loved to sleep? There are a lot of perks that come with growing up, but somethings about childhood simply cannot compare.
“Children make you want to start life over.” -Muhammad Ali