Having Jon’s granddaughter Robin in the house for a couple of days was a new experience for me. I’ve never spent that much time around a baby. And I’ve never had the kind of one on one interaction with a baby as I did with Robin.
I’ve never been really interested in babies. In part, I stayed away from them because I was always afraid I might somehow hurt them. I was afraid to pick them up in the wrong way or not know how to comfort them.
I didn’t believe I was capable of taking care of a baby and never had a reason to try.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when Jon’s daughter Emma came for a visit this past weekend, for the first time with her baby Robin. I’ve never thought of myself as Emma’s stepmother (we don’t have that kind of relationship) and I don’t think of myself as Robins step-grandmother (or whatever the term might be).
When Emma asked me what I wanted Robin to call me I didn’t have an answer for her. Even after thinking about it, I still have no idea. I imagine when Robin starts talking, we’ll sort it out.
This weekend, I experienced a baby as I never have before. And I found that I was actually pretty good at taking care of Robin. It’s helpful that she’s an easy going kid and used to people. I also think, at 53 years old, I’m less self-conscious than ever before. And it’s partly my experience working with animals that gave me the confidence I felt with Robin.
I allowed myself to be intuitive with her. I trusted myself. I also had Jon’s encouragement and belief in my ability to take care of Robin, and Emma’s desire that both me and Jon be a part of Robin’s life.
I found myself stepping in and offering my help when normally I would have stepped back, out of the way and allowed someone else to do it.
And I found I enjoyed it.
It’s not something I would want to do all the time, but it was fun when Jon and I took Robin for a ride into town. I found it interesting to watch Robin play with her toys and see her try to figure out how to crawl. And somehow I knew when she was getting hungry and when to get her into her high chair and feed her yogurt.
I still have never changed a baby’s diaper, but I now have no doubt that I could.
So something changed in me this weekend. Something in the way I see and know myself. I think, early on in my life, I had locked this nurturing part of myself away. I could express it with animals, but not as easily with humans. I not sure why, but I think I found something embarrassing or shameful about it. It made me feel vulnerable, unsafe.
Somehow nurturing animals, feeding and taking care of them felt good, even comforting, but with humans it was dangerous. Being on the receiving end of nurturing was not something I wanted to impose on someone who was powerless to reject it.
Because that’s what happened to me, much of my early life was about being powerless to reject things that were imposed upon me. I never could bear the thought of doing it to anyone else.
Whenever I had a panic attack of felt as if I were falling apart, I got the feeling that there was “something wrong with me.” I didn’t know what, but I felt certain I was damaged, crazy, not to be trusted. I believe almost every member of my family felt that way about me, I was so different, so strange to them.
This is what I had come to believe about myself, this is why I kept far away from babies and small children. I didn’t want to harm them.
But, this weekend, Robin helped me to understand this about myself, and then she showed me that it was false. That I could let go of it.
I saw it in the positive response that I got from Robin from my interactions with her. How she allowed me to pick her up to comfort her. How she smiled at me when I sang to her, and let me feed her. How she danced with me when I danced.
For me it’s an understanding of the true and pure expression of nurturing. Of taking care of another being who needs my help. I wasn’t thinking of Robin as vulnerable or helpless, although in many ways any nine month old baby clearly is. With her it was more of a give and take. Because I was getting something from it too in the connection we made as two human beings.
That deep and ancient connection that happens between people when they are truly aware of each other’s existence.