Friday, July 26, 2013

Starved for Affection

I've had my fair share of adventures in the past six months, in the past six years actually, but an awful lot of them have taken place this year. My most recent adventure began on July 8th, when I started taking care of Owen and Mona (age 13 months and four years, respectively). It has been one of the most educational and entertaining jobs I have ever had.

I never would have looked into child care as a first option of employment, but I had just returned from Europe, I only had two months in the midwest, and to be honest I really didn't want to fill out another set of W2's. My nannying position is supremely flexible and the couple I work for are truly great. Still, I would be lying if I said I was comfortable on my first day of work.

I walked into the house prepared to handle a four-year-old girl (my three-year-old niece and I seemed to have bonded rather well earlier this summer), but I was a bit hesitant about caring for something that couldn't communicate with me. Both of the kids had colds, they were adjusting to a new house, and there was more than a little separation anxiety going on. I had never so much as changed a diaper, much less comforted a crying child and wiped snotty noses for hours on end. But I survived. And so did the kids (which is perhaps even more impressive).

By the second week we were all in a better mood and I began to realize that I needed the kids even more than they needed me. Owen has become quite the little walker in the past three weeks, but he still asks to be held and wants to be carried, especially when he's upset. Though I quickly learned that there are times he just needs to cry it out, I've also found that picking him up is the best way to pacify him. Sometimes I just don't have the patience to figure out what "ehmmm-daht" means.

My first weekend away from the kids I sensed an emptiness about my arms and felt something like phantom limb syndrome even though Owen and his groping fingers were 15 miles away. I just wasn't use to that much physical contact. When I arrived on Monday all I wanted was to scoop Owen into my arms and kiss his soft blond head - and this from someone who was afraid she'd be expected to fake "baby love" when we met at the Reading Reptile two weeks earlier.

That afternoon while Owen was napping, Mona and I were playing tea party in her bedroom. "We needs to gets ready at my vanity," she said, pointing to a small plastic dressing table. "First I brush my hair, and then put on lipstick." She proceeded to show me. "Ok. Now you." I got down on my knees and tried to balance myself on her tiny plastic stool. "I'll help you," she said as she picked up her brush. I pulled out my hair ties and Mona began managing my wavy brown mane with her small white hands. As she gently handled the locks of my hair I felt something in my heart break just a little.

It's been nearly seven months since my last relationship ended, and there has been precious little physical affection in my life since. I knew I would miss the intimacy and crave the companionship, but I don't think I realized that pieces of my heart would go dormant. And would remain that way until someone brought them to life again.

Cuddling a toddler isn't the same as being held by a lover, but it comes surprisingly close. Closer than I would have imagined anyhow. So when Owen is crying to be picked up for the twelfth time in two hours, I don't really mind giving in (even if I am in the process of making lunch). I know my time with him is limited, as perhaps time together always is, and so I make the most of the affection I can get, not knowing how long it will be before that opportunity comes again.

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