The twins that I babysit on Saturdays went away this past weekend, leaving me once again with two entire days off in a row. I still feel a ridiculous amount of excitement when this happens, like, A WEEKEND! LIKE A GROWN UP HAS! OH JOY! It occurred to me that if I wanted to, I could quit the twins and have every single Saturday free for the rest of my life. I banished this thought almost as soon as it came to me since there are a few reasons why this would be an unappealing arrangement at the moment.
For one, I am poor. The extra money I make on Saturdays helps me out enormously right now, especially since my day job cut my salary by 15%. Sometimes, when things are really tight (AKA ALL THE TIME RIGHT NOW), the money I make at the twins’ house enables me to pay my rent or my phone bill or my student loans. Other times, it pays for an acting seminar or a voice lesson or two. And when things are going really well, the money becomes my “free money”, enabling me to partake in life-enhancing social and cultural events like eating and heavy drinking.
Money aside, I think the glamour of having a Free Weekend would soon lose its allure should I quit my second job. I think after a few weeks, I would just sit around blinking like, WHAT DO I DO WITH ALL THIS FREE TIME!? I would probably work myself up into a frenzy on a Saturday night, alphabetizing my roommates’ CD collection or organizing the towels in the linen closet by fiber count. Eventually, I’m sure I would dissolve into frequent psychotic episodes, babysitting phantom twins in my apartment, telling my roommate to make sure and use the potty before we go out, arranging food on plates in the shape of smiley faces. LOOK! THE SWISS CHEESE CUBES ARE THE EYES! THE PEPPERONI IS THE NOSE! HA HA HA!
And then I would be put away in an asylum and that would suck because I like taking unsupervised showers.
The other issue I would have, which is obviously the bigger issue, is that I would miss the twins. I would miss them like the deserts miss the rain. And you guys? This is probably the biggest understatement of the year.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because a few weeks ago, the twins’ dad and I were talking about what will happen when I “move on”, should I decide I am Far Too Important to spend my Saturday nights playing Nature Bingo.
“Because let’s face it,” he said. “At your age, how much longer are you going to want to spend every Saturday night babysitting?”
The conversation began because I was musing about the fact that there is a very real possibility, if I up and leave the twins at this stage of their development, that they will have little to no memories of me as an involved person in their life. Whereas I, who have known them for the past three and a half years, will have many many firefly jars full of “Do you remember when?”.
I remember feeding them bottles as they watched Baby Einstein DVD’s, the only way they would ever eat after suffering extreme acid reflux thanks to being born premature at twenty-nine weeks. I remember scribbling in a notebook after every feeding, recording how many ounces of formula they kept down, a line splitting the page into two columns, one for each baby. I vividly recall the sour stench of baby vomit, spewing all over my jeans and hands as I attempted to comfort them when their poor little faces crumpled into tears, unable to control the reflux, to suppress the need to throw up all over the floor, the couch, me.
I accompanied them on doctor’s visits, sat with their mother and father as they agonized about how tiny the boys were, how they refused to eat, how they couldn’t put on weight. I tried to calm them down before immunization shots, rubbing their backs, promising them it would be quick and wouldn’t hurt too badly and I was there to rock them afterward when it DID hurt that bad, their tears wetting my shoulder. I followed them like a bodyguard around the apartment as they learned to crawl and pick up things off the carpet, raced after them in the park as they learned to walk, toddling around like drunken sailors with no concept of steps or sidewalks or bicyclists who raced past.
I went with them on vacations, to San Diego and West Palm Beach, became a pro at distracting them during long plane rides, making up games with animal figurines, drawing cartoons on notebook paper, apologizing profusely to other passengers as they ran up and down the aisles, unable to sit still. We pet the sting rays in Sea World, we dipped our feet into the Pacific Ocean, we built sand castles in the Hamptons, we jumped on a trampoline, swam in a pool, chased each other on the grass, ring around the rosy, we all fall down.
I sat in on multiple Early Intervention therapy sessions with them as they were treated for speech delays, sensory disorders, eating difficulties. I learned how to encourage them to play and to speak, how to give them the words they needed, since they couldn’t find them on their own. Sometimes I walked to the subway at the end of the day with tears in my eyes, wondering if they would ever talk, if they would ever play with other children, would ever listen to rules, would ever learn how to function properly.
And when they did, I never stopped marveling. Today, they are delightful, social, verbal preschoolers. Now they can’t stop talking EVER and they tell me excitedly about their classmates at school and how nicely they play and listen to rules. SIENNA IS MY FRIEND. MATTEO AND I DID ALL OUR WORK AND GOT A STAR. We sit outside the Financial Center on a bench and eat ice cream cones. We pet the doggies that walk by but not before we ask nicely if we can do so. We swing on the swings and I teach them how to pump their legs even though they like it best when I push them because I PUSH THEM SO HIGH AND FAST TO THE SKY.
I no longer have to cradle them in my arms and pace around a dark apartment to get them to sleep. Now, we read books and they climb into their individual Big Boy Beds and I tuck them in, snug as a bug in a rug. They are still small for their age but they no longer throw up formula; they eat french fries and chicken cutlets and pepperoni pizza and grilled cheese. They play Chutes and Ladders and sometimes when we’re feeling silly, I blast some Dave Matthews Band and we jump on daddy’s bed but DON’T FALL OFF OR YOU’LL GET HURT AND NEED A DIEGO BAND-AID.
I always hoped that I would have children, always recognized the innate maternal instinct that I have been blessed with. I have been babysitting since I was eleven, have always gravitated towards the sweet smell of a newborn’s head, have always delighted in the things that kids say, in their way of looking at the world. I have always wanted to be a mother, have always seen children as a necessity, not a possibility. I just never imagined how my life would be changed by children that aren’t even mine.
And their dad is right, I suppose. Eventually, there will come a time when something else will take precedence on a Saturday night. Maybe I will reach a point where I don’t really need that extra money anymore or I will get a job that takes me out of the city and I need to leave. Maybe I will fall in love and decide I would rather spend Saturday nights tonguekissing my super hot boyfriend than making chocolate milk in a sippy cup.
I’m not really sure but it saddens me to think of it. Deep down, I know that life is full of hello’s and goodbye’s, that people come in and out and that is the way it goes. It just really bothered me that in this instance, should I leave anytime soon, the joy and sadness will be mostly one-sided since they will have little to no memory of me. I think no matter what, I will think about them all the time and most importantly, will probably figure out how to mother my own children based on so many of the experiences I’ve had with them.
The difference is, when they are grown up, their parents will be all “Remember Laura, your babysitter?” And Owen and River will be all, “Uh. No. Not at all. And also, can I have the car keys so I can go take some chicks to the movies?”
I believe I am going to stay put for now, believe that truly spending time with them is often better than spending time with people my own age. I am sometimes startled by the fact that I think I would probably even hang out with them for free, out of my own accord and not out of financial necessity. Funny to me, that a well-spent Saturday night involves the three of us, laying on our stomachs on the living room floor, sketching balloons and farm animals and letters, coloring them in, trading crayons, listening to Coldplay.
They keep me grounded, those boys. They prevent me from becoming self-absorbed, from becoming the actress who dwells on how “hard” her life is, who compares herself to others, who struggles to get ahead. They remind me that life is about examining the daffodils that are sprouting in the park, about playing nice with others, about sharing your cookies and your basketball and your scooter. Caring for them is the most selfless thing I have ever done because it is all about them and not about me and oh my goodness, how interesting then that I walk away feeling rewarded and fulfilled when I never set out to gain anything except part-time employment.
If I disappear anytime soon, it’ll be because of something out of my control, not because any part of me wants to leave. And while it’s hard for me to accept the fact that in their minds, I will be fuzzy, some kind of bleary, ill-defined presence from their youngest years, I am forever grateful that for me, those boys will always be vivid, bright and completely forever in focus.