Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why I Babysit (a letter to my charges)

Dear sweet ones,

Tonight, the world shrinks. It's the size of the apartment, the size of the hallway where I pace back and forth, your squirming arms and legs colliding with my collarbone and my ribcage as I coax you. "I know, Ema! I know - it's hard when Mom's not here." The world is now the square foot of carpet with thousands of my sock footprints as I rock you.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror: my hair is falling out of its tight french braid and whisps are stuck to my face at strange angles. My corduroys are baggy and one sleeve of my sweater is pushed up and the other is not. There is drool on all of my clothes. You've been fascinated by my cell phone and it's also covered with drool.

You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, too - and I watch your eyes grow wide in surprised delight. "Who is that other baby in there?" I laugh as I shimmy and shake. And as your eyes crinkle and you put your pudgy fingers to the surface, you laugh. There is nothing like babies laughing.

I wrestle you into your yellow fuzzy pajamas and hand you the bottle. You hold it in both hands, and settle into my arms. I sink into the chair in your nursery, trying to put the penguin night light back on its stand with my feet, so I don't disturb our sweet and temporary silence. You look up at me, your eyes taking in the light and the green and pink patterns and this strange new face. My world, which spins at 150 miles per second, which holds seven to fifteen meetings per week and that most days doesn't want to think about anything but grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner - you flip it upside down. My world, that is always about the next horizon, the next job, the next task, the next... the next... the next... is for a few hours the size of my arms and your yellow pajamed-self.

I babysit because I need you to teach me how to love. I need you to laugh at me, tell me the same jokes and dare me to stick my tongue out the car window. I need you to color Christmas cards with crayons and challenge me to duels on your swingsets. I need you to remind me that there is treasure hidden under the oak tree, and that some days crying is the best way to express your hunger.

I babysit because I am a hurricane of a twenty-something world that goes by faster than light and sound. Because it feels like I am always straining to look older, seem older, seem cooler and wiser and more mature. Because I need the world to shrink down to a square foot of carpet where The Civil Wars and Sara Bareilles play the same songs, where the only words you need are, "It's okay, love." Because for a moment I need to step out of the hurricane and into the dragon hunting, storytelling, hot chocolate on my lap, fight over the broken crayon, aching arms of love. 

Your parents give me this privilege: to learn from you, in your yellow pajamas and pirate costumes and red hats. Your parents share the miracles that you are with me for a few hours, and those few hours where I can be the baby-whisperer are some of the most precious to me. I know that there are thousands of moments that I miss, and your parents are there in the long nights and the 3am stomach bugs and the letters from teachers and spilled finger paint and smacking your siblings. But I hope I never stop being your babysitter, because for the small miraculous moments I do get to watch you grow I grow, too.

Thank you, sweet ones, for everything you've taught me about love.

All of mine to you,


  1. Thank you for loving my sweet girl so well :)

  2. Oh Amen and yes. How they grow us. How they grow us up indeed. This is the wonder of parenthood you've captured here, Hilary. Because babies slow us all down. And remind us that God is outside of time - they give us glimpses into the divine.

    I love this and I love you.

  3. I have teens, and no longer need a babysitter. But where were you then? What a gift you are to some yellow-pajama baby ball!

    You can babysit me when I grow old....This was just lovely.

  4. i love this hilary (especially knowing one of the dear little ones you're holding). this is my favorite: "some days crying is the best way to express your hunger"
    so true.


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