I had spent the day with my nieces and two little kids that my sister also babysat, Christina and Jeremiah. The three children and I were seated on the living room floor. I recall we had just finished coloring.
“Emily, you always color so nicely in the lines,” I complimented.
I smiled. I love how kids acknowledge their talents with that supreme confidence.
“Who taught you how to do that?” I asked.
Emily lay on her belly, with her legs crossed in the air. She was very focused. “My daddy.”
“Hey, everyone! how about a book? If we pick up this stuff, you can choose a book for me to read.”
“Yay! Hurry up!” the girls cried.
“You pick all the broken crayons, and you pick the books ” That was Emily, the little organizer, trying to tidy it as quickly as possible. After a flurry of activity, the kids were ready.
“Aunt Amy, sit here!” Rachel called out.
Emily plopped down on the other side of me. She peered into the book…
Christina stood up, her hands on her hips. “I want Aunt Amy to sit by me, too!”
Emily narrowed her eyes and placed a possessive hand on the book I was holding, “She’s our Aunt Amy, not yours.”
“Hey, hey, hey! None of that,” I chided. “Let’s sit in a circle so we can all be together and see the pictures. Besides, I am everybody’s Aunt Amy.”
We got on with the business of reading. I had a captive audience and really let my storytelling skills go wild. It was a fun, exciting time. I even recall that Jeremiah, an adorable, chubby toddler, wore a big wide grin. He looked from person to person and began to clap his hands as he picked up on the excitement in the room. Maybe my sister had brought him in to share in part of the fun. She always wanted to capitalize on positive experiences. I don’t remember what book I read but I remember thinking it was a perfect end to an excellent afternoon.
Soon after, Christina and Jeremiah went home for the day. I stayed on with Rachel and Emily as it was almost dinnertime. We ate dinner and the girls had their baths. Soon it was time for them to go bed.
“Can I tuck them into bed, and say goodnight–and I guess, goodbye?” I asked her.
“Sure,” she responded.
I sat down with Rachel and tucked her in. Rachel burst into big, noisy sobs. She just didn’t understand why I had to leave. She lay in her bed sobbing and I sat holding her. I didn’t have any words this time, no pat hotel plan. I teared up myself. It was all I could do not to cry in front of her. When I left her, she was sleepy and finally calm.
Next, I checked in on Emily, who had been waiting. She lay very, very quietly in her bed and didn’t say much. But when I kissed her goodnight, I felt the hot tears that covered her face. She had been crying silently for some time and the hurt seemed to go even deeper.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
She struggled to get the words out, “How come you like them better than us?”
“How come I like who?”
“Those IN-DO-NEE-SIANS!” The words burst out with a torrent of feeling.
“Oh honey, I don’t. I don’t. I promise you.”
“But you keep on going there.”
How does a little girl grapple with such emotions? Emily’s reasoning abilities surprised me.
“I just work there.”
“You’re not even going to be here for my BIRTHday!” She, too, sobbed.
“Oh, Emily! When is your birthday?”
“I don’t know. Ask my mommy!”
I wanted to laugh, but this little girl was so intense that I had to hide it.
We talked for a bit more until she felt better. I promised to write her a lot.
When I finally closed the door, I was an emotional wreck. This goodbye stuff had really taken its toll on me.
I told my sister about what happened, and she sighed, “They’re overemotional. Remember it was the first day of school for them. You’ve been with them ever since. Emily rarely shows her emotions. And both of them really miss you when you’re gone.”
I was still pretty shaken by the unexpected way they’d pulled on my heartstrings. In fact, so much so that I canceled a date with an old friend I had planned to meet up with. I just wanted to go to bed and wake up early to catch my flight out. I felt drained.
I found that I couldn’t enjoy my flight back as I normally did. All I could think of was the little girls I had left behind. Of course, they woke up and went to school. Life was back to normal for them already. And it would be for me when I settled back into my job. I loved it all over again.
But I will never forget my encounter with their tears. Children have such an innocent way of showering us with honest emotion, in a way that adults rarely do. We keep it inside. Like my mom did for so many years each time I left. I think it got harder for my mother to hide it, though.
A few years back I watched my mother walk away from me from inside the window at Erie International Airport. She slowly hobbled back to her car, leaning heavily on her cane. The sight of her stooped over made her appear so lonely that I was at once reminded of that long ago farewell scene with my nieces. I decided then that I would have to come home soon to live. Farewells had begun to hurt too much.