Yesterday I reminisced about babysitting my nephew Grant with less than a little help from Fartbuster. Good times, good times. Well, life moved on as it would and a few years later I found myself back babysitting Grant when I was learning to be single again. Fartbuster and I had been separated for several months. I didn’t have many weekend plans back then (apart from singing “Landslide” into a hairbrush) so I volunteered to keep Grant one Saturday night.
As I drove up the interstate towards their house–going 75 in the slow lane–I saw a familiar car pull up beside me then sail past. The color and the make rang a bell. As it pulled in front of me, I noticed the Auburn bumper stickers and the National Guard tag. I hit the gas and pulled alongside the car–it was Fartbuster’s dad and stepmother! I honked the horn and waved. They seemed just as startled to see me as I was to see them, speeding up the highway. They waved then drove on ahead. That’s when my heart broke, right there in the slow lane because I realized that in the split second I had made eye contact with them, my heart had entertained the idea that they too were headed to my brother’s house, where the whole babysitting gig would prove to be a ruse. Maybe, I was heading towards a surprise party where Fartbuster had assembled our families to announce that he had been an idiot and everything would be going back to normal. That idea flitted through my head just long enough to break my heart because no, it was Saturday night and I was on my way to babysit because I didn’t have a child of my own to tend to. And I probably wouldn’t because I was 31 and no one loved me.
Even around that adorable kid, who called me “Aunt Ashwee,” my heart was heavy. Grant and I played games and read books and put on jammies and I put him in his bed. Joe and Beth had instructed me to stick with the routine and in the event that he cried at bedtime, I was supposed to let him cry it out. He fussed a little when I put him down, but nothing too bad. Then he was out. I sat in the den and cried for a while, until I had cried it out. Alone in someone else’s home, on a Saturday night, spurned and unloved while people who had been my family a year ago drove off to who knows where.
At eleven pm, the phone rang and woke Grant up. He began to fuss, then to cry then to wail. I didn’t know what to do–my instructions said to let him cry…they didn’t say for how long. It was awful, sitting there alone in the hall, listening to him cry when I could have used a hug myself. My brother called at 11:30 to give me an ETA and heard Grant crying in the background. He said, “What’s going on?” and when I explained that he had been crying for 30 minutes, he said, “Oh good grief, go pick him up!”
I went into the dark nursery clucking and cooing but Grant was beside himself by this point. I felt like a monstrous idiot. I got him calmed down quickly. His little curls were wet with sweat. He sobbed, “Weeeeeead a BWOOOOOOK!” I stuttered, “Ummm…I’m not allowed to turn the light on, Sweetie, so we can’t read a book.” He hiccuped again and asked, “Sing a song?” With relief, I sank down into the rocking chair….but couldn’t think of a single song. I started on “Rock a Bye Baby” and he shrieked, “NOT DAT ONE!!!!!” Okaaaaaay. So I sang “Jingle Bells.” Over and over and over until he fell asleep.
I collapsed on the couch in the living room and was out cold by the time Joe and Beth got home. At the crack of dawn, Grant toddled out of his room and wished me a good morning by poking me in the eye. Oh, he had the best giggle and the twinkling brown eyes! Regardless, I felt like shit on a cracker. I had a no-sleep headache and a gigantic zit throbbing on my chin. But children don’t put their needs on hold when you aren’t feeling up to it. They still have to be fed.
He led me into the kitchen, pointed to the fridge and asked for milk. In the middle of finding a sippy cup and a lid, he started hollering to be picked up. There I was, a novice, trying to balance a toddler on one hip and a gallon of milk in the opposite hand while pouring it into a thin plastic cup without knocking the whole mess over. I was feeling lower than a snake belly…so OF COURSE that’s the moment my darling nephew pokes the massive zit on my chin and chirps, “Waz dis?” I swallowed my tears and sighed, “It’s a zit, Grant.” He said, “Waz dat?” I thought for a second and answered, “It’s a grown up kind of boo boo.” I turned back to the counter and focused on pouring the milk.
That’s when I felt the brush of his curls on my cheek as he leaned in and placed the gentlest little kiss right on my big fat zit.
Because when someone you love has a boo boo, grown up kind or not, you give it a little kiss to make it better.