written by Rebecca Nelson Lubin
I had been holed up with the three year old for hours in the den, Disney movies on repeat, the day of her sister’s birth, when her mother’s contractions had quickened enough to summon the team of midwives. We had been lazily timing them all the day before, my boss announcing,
“Another squeeze,” as she bustled about her house, wearing one of her daughter’s flower garlands to keep her hair out of her eyes as she frantically tidied up. I had heard those tales of the expectant mother’s need to nest as labor drew close, but I had never witnessed it. It was practically comical. She looked, with the flowers in her hair, almost like a child, except for her protruding stomach, and she smiled beatifically as she passed by me again and again, arms full of toys and sweaters and shoes.
“Can I help?” I asked her.
“Just keep writing down the time,” she said, and paused, inhaling deeply.
“Squeeze.” She said.
She looked angelic with the garland of flowers on her head, and she seemed deeply at peace.
Twenty-four hours later, as I snuck down from the den to the kitchen for a snack for the three year old, I could hear her weeping in the back room with the midwives, and even though I knew it was from the pain, it sounded like the bitter grief of the deepest sort of mourning. I could hear the soft murmurs of encouragement from the midwives, a muted hum under the sound of her tears, and I stood frozen for a moment, lost in the sounds, feeling like a trespasser, but unable to walk away. The sounds were so deeply personal, so intimate, and for a second I caught that feeling that I was stumbling into the soundtrack of someone else’s life. It was not for my ears, yet here I was listening to it, transfixed, unable to tear myself away.
When you are a nanny you are a part of someone else’s life but not of it. You bear witness to their moments, and you feel for these moments, but they are not your moments. You witness birthdays, and Christmases, and graduations, and arguments, a million little snippets of life. But this is not your movie.
When her labor reached that transitional state, the three year old and I were sent away to the park. I gamely climbed after her the play structure and down the slides, all the while wondering what was happening at home, as was she.
“When will there be the baby?” She kept asking me.
I thought of how painful her mother’s weeping had sounded just before we were sent away and I assured her,
We were summoned back within the hour, her father calling my cell and saying,
“Better get back up here in a heartbeat,” with so much urgency, that I thought perhaps they had decided that their older daughter could be present for the birth.
But when we arrived and tiptoed cautiously through the front door, and her mother called out to her older daughter to come and see her sister, I could hear the coos of a baby, little sighs and gurgles, and I marveled at the miracle of a being that could make such audible noises, after only being out in the world for a few minutes.
Their oldest ran to meet their youngest, and the cooing sounds that had replaced the weeping sounds were now replaced by laughing sounds, as they spent their first few moments as a family of four. I slipped quietly off to the dining room table, and sat off to the side, trying to be respectfully quiet and unobtrusive in this extremely personal and private moment. Again, I was swept up in that sensation of being in someone else’s movie.
I could hear the midwives offering instructions for some afterbirth interaction, and asking for a little space, and then the father walked quietly through the living room, his minutes old daughter in his arms, swaying his elbows lightly, rocking her with in a calm and reserved manner. His eyes caught mine where I was sitting off to the side, and he nodded at me, and then glanced down at the baby in his arms and sighed, and then said, almost Shaman like,
“And so it all begins again.”
That sentence stayed with me for years. And so it all begins again. I wondered at the time if he meant all of the stuff of the work of infanthood and parenting, that if as he held his second daughter he was remembering the burping and the diapering of the first, the walking and the bouncing the baby through colic and gas, the sharpening focus of sleepy infant eyes, the first tentative smiles and coos, the relentless crying.
But as time went on, I wondered if he had been speaking in a more spiritual sense. Perhaps he was talking about the soul in the little body he was carrying, that her soul was beginning again. I had heard him sing from time to time about souls coming in and souls going out and the cycles in which they spin around each other. I suppose it would not take much more than holding your spring fresh newborn in your arms to consider the notions of life and death and the wonderful dance that these two opposite ends of the spectrum tend to do with each other, often in a most spectacular display. Over time, I decided, he had been talking about life. He had looked down at the little life he had helped create, curled into the crook of his arm, and had wondered at it all beginning again.
As a nanny, I have gotten to witness a lot of life. I get to walk along with you in your life for a spell, sometimes for years, sometimes just for a few moments, but I get to bear witness to your moments. I become familiar with the soundtrack of the songs of your life. I watch your movies and soon I know all the scenes by heart. I find my self celebrating your joys, and feeling empathy for your pain. And I wonder at how all of it is such a wonderful ride.
Rebecca Nelson Lubin is a nanny and writer who resides in Marin County, California. You can follow her writing at rebeccanelsonlubin.wordpress.com.
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