Something that most people know about me is that I’m a compulsive cute-seeker. I don’t just like having things that are small and cute and adoring around me, I need it. I need something that loves me unconditionally, that cuddles with me, that I can take care of and fuss over and adore. If I don’t have something like that, I become tense and depressed very quickly. All my affection that needs to be expressed suddenly turns inwards and bounces nervously around going fuzzy fuzzy give me something fuzzy fuzzy fuzzy fuzzy.
The ideal candidate for this is a dog, obviously, and I adore dogs. My family shares a dog with our close friends who live a block away and like to go out nights and on long vacations – it’s like having joint custody, only we were never married and then divorced. I accost random passers-by in any location of they have a dog and instantly make friends. And if a dog isn’t handy, I always have my extremely pampered and beloved gerbil, or I’ll make do with people’s cats, bunnies, hamsters… whatever’s fuzzy and cuddly. I kind of draw the line at reptiles.
I’m also quite fond of children, though I don’t get contact with them very often, as it’s rude and slightly creepy to go up to someone and go “Hello, may I pet your child?” Plus, kids never seem to love me as much as I love them. They forget me, they forget my name, they’re more interested in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… it’s not exactly fulfilling unless they’re yours, and I am so beyond not ready to pop out any the point is moot. Or was moot, until Elsa and Clio were born.
Elsa and Clio Moock, more commonly collectively known as “the Moocklets” (a name I created when I heard Jane was pregnant with twins but before they had names, as in “how are those Moocklets gestating?” and should have copyrighted on the spot as that is the collective noun that everyone uses to refer to them) are the twin daughters of family friends we know because both of our families go to the same family camp every year. I’d always had a sort of crush on their parents, even before they started having kids, because they were so cool and smart and hip and good-looking and with it. I wanted to grow up to be them, I just had no idea how to broach the subject and worm my way into their awesome adult world until they started spawning, and I was golden. Four years ago this March, my mother, myself, and another friend who comes to this camp with us drove over to be Elsa and Clio’s first non-family visitors. They were eight weeks old and tiny and red and alien-looking little raisins, and as I first held Elsa, and then Clio, for an hour and watched them suck their little fists in their sleep, I thought Man, I’m going to fucking love the bajesus out of these children. Which I did. And I do.
There are lots of things I utterly adore about Elsa and Clio, both individually and as a little unit. But I think what I love most about them is that they’re, in a weird sort of way, mine. I mean, not biologically, or anything, but I follow them on their mom’s totally awesome blog and chat with her occasionally. I babysit them during the year. I watched and was there while they were learning to walk, and talk, and potty train. I visit them at least during Christmas every year to bring them new books and see how they’ve grown. I’ve followed all their trials and tribulations and no, I wasn’t there for most (any) of them, but I’ve felt like I was. I suppose in some way I can attribute it to the magic of the internet, but it’s also helped by the fact that Elsa and Clio have decided to take some ownership of me. They’ve always remembered my name, first of all (which, if you’ve ever met little kids, is nothing short of a miracle). If I have to leave them I can hear their little voices through the door going “Where’s Julia? Is she coming back? When can we play with Julia again?” They remember my sister (though don’t seem to understand that we do not come as a set unit. I suppose that since they are never without each other, why should we be? Ah, toddler logic).
And clearly, they remember not just my name, but that they like me (they really like me!). In fact, as if this whole growing up ting they’re doing wasn’t hard enough, they seem to like me more every year. f I don’t seek them out they’ll seek me out and wiggle their way into my lap (or onto my back to “be a piggy backpack”, usually while eating a very gloppy PB & J which gets stuck in my hair, or pressed up next to me, in Clio’s case. Clio has too much dignity to be a lap-wiggler) and discuss in great length something appropriately inane, toddler-ish, and adorable, usually revolving around food, Puff the Magic Dragon, going to school, their bellies, or swimming. Sometimes socks, if I’m hanging out with them in the winter. They request that I be the one to play with them on the beach, to hold their hands while they walk to the playground, to push them on the swings. It’s especially heart-melting in Clio’s case, because Clio usually refuses to speak around anyone she hasn’t thoroughly vetted, yet this year didn’t even have her usual, brief “do I know you?” period – she just went straight into telling me stories absurdist stories in her increasingly high-pitched, halting voice while rocking back and forth and flashing me her belly button.
Sandy Island, the family camp we go to, is, as the name would suggest, an island. And it’s a no-dog island except for the odd staff pup. The only animals there are wild. It should be my worst nightmare, except that how coud it be, with a whole week of unadulterated Elsa and Clio time? I get a whole week to hear their little stories and hold their little hands and brush their hair and kiss their boo-boos. I get to do the Chicken Dance with them and read them to sleep and sometimes I even get the toddler version of “I love you”, which involves squealing upon noting my presence and rushing to hold onto my legs, beaming adoringly up at me. So yeah, I look forward to it.
There’s a wrench in my plans, though. See, Elsa and Clio, much to my despair, are not caught in a time-space vortex. They’re not going to remain this way forever, thinking I’m just the coolest thing that’s ever happened to them since their backpacks. (They really like their backpacks, those two.) From year to year so far it hasn’t been so horrible. So far each step of a year hasn’t made them terribly more independent, just easier to deal with.
But this year, new families came to the island. And normally, I welcome this, but these new families brought something I can’t compete with – kids Elsa and Clio’s age. And for the first times in their teeny tiny lives, the thought of having other kids to play with is awesome. (Or will be, eventually, in Clio’s case.) “I’m going to make friends with all the kids,” Elsa told me proudly when she saw them playing with rocks, and then proceeded to run away, introduce herself gleefully, and ignore me for ten minutes, while Clio sat next to me, pouting as she does when she’s considering something very deeply in her philosophical little toddler brain, trying to decide if she wanted to join them. Did Elsa and Clio “make friends with all the kids”? Well, after a fashion, anyway. They would play on the little playground after dinner, but they were still pretty adult-dependent and not running off without so much as a “bye, Mom!” and only re-appearing at meals, the way older kids do at Sandy. Still, it was a bittersweet year, because for the first time I realized that Elsa and Clio, my little Elsa and Clio, would be those kids one day, only instead of being Jane or Alastair waving them off while sipping my coffee and thinking thank you sweet baby Jesus, finally some peace and quiet, I will be probably sitting on the porch, look up from my book to see them run past me, and, should I become a cartoon in the ensuing years, my heart will drop out of my chest and shatter on the wooden slats.
There’s a whole range of products, books, support groups, and sympathetic listeners for parents who Just Can’t Let Go – I know this because my mother has a book about it that she keeps by her bed (though never quite fully gets the message of, but that’s another subject for another blog). Yet we babysitters get the shaft. Oh, sure, we’re remembered, but being The Light Around Which My World Revolves (For A Couple Of Hours Until Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa/Whoever Gets Home) is an offer that’s only good for a very, very limited time, and dammit, we get used to it. Our egos get used to it.
Are there other babysitters out there like me? Should we form a club and meet in Starbucks, where we can sip our overpriced drink of choice and discuss in halting tones how our hearts and egos were crushed by the eventual loss of Those Little Ones Who Got Away? Because part of me wants it, and part of me thinks that honestly, that’s just kind of pathetic. I suppose this is why people have dogs and prefer them, in some ways. Dogs never grow out of thinking you’re the shit. Dogs are specially designed to think you’re the shit until the day they die. And I appreciate that, I do. If you’ve ever seen me in front of a dog, you know exactly how thoroughly I appreciate it.
Look, I know no matter what, Elsa and Clio will be back to Sandy every year, and I’ll always see them at least then. And I know they’ll always like me and think of me fondly, and I know that growing up and detaching is an inevitable thing that happens and has biological purpose and blah blah blah, I sat through both Bio and AP Psych. Who knows, maybe by time they’re my age, I’ll have toddlers of my own that Elsa and Clio will become inappropriately fond of, and thus the circle will continue. I know I can always move on to younger pastures, where there will be new babies who think I hang the moon and stars just because I sneak them an extra helping of applesauce. There was one, in fact. His name is Ellis and he is six months old and adorable and has big brown eyes, produces prodigious drool, coos and smiles when he sees me (or anyone, really, he’s not choosy – but he’s especially fond of girls), and likes to stick his head between my breasts and motorboat those bad boys, even though he’s been on formula for four months. (I guess it’s an instinctual part of his boy-ness.) And oh, I love him. I love playing with him. I love him very, very much and want to kiss his tiny feet and chubby thighs and big old baby ears and coo nonsense to him. And I do. Or did, anyway, a lot, because he was in the cabin next to me. We bonded. Ellis is a chill dude.
But I still look at Elsa and Clio, and they’re my babies (or, well, toddlers, but they’ll always be babies to me) from their chubby, sticky faces down to their Croc-clad toes, mine in a way no other baby is ever going to be until I actually have babies of my own. (Sorry, Ellis.) They’re different than dogs, and even other babies, and in some ways, they’re better for the same reasons they’re worse. I love that they talk to me, that they love me, that my presence is enough to create so much joy in them it can only produce a noise that usually comes out of a dog whistle. I love that they’ve become these amazing little people, that they can tell me stories and say funny things. I love them fiercely and unconditionally, no matter how piercingly they scream in my ear or interrupt my reading just to run up to me, climb in my lap, and cover my head with their dresses just so I’ll blow them a raspberry, how many times they slap or kick me around before the admonitions of “gentle, GENTLE” kick in, or how many times I’ve gone away from babysitting them with my back yowling in protest in desperate need of my own mommy and a nap.
But when Clio tells me she’ll miss me if I don’t come dance with her (a shameless manipulation as she knew I was otherwise busy that night, but an agonizingly effective one as I was wracked with guilt the entire time. Well played, Clio. Well played) or Elsa clambers onto my lap so she can levelly gaze at me with her big, blue eyes and make me promise I will watch her sing Another Saturday Night in the talent show, I think, goddamit, Moocklets. Why do you have to be so lovely and perfect and adorable?
And why does this have to be so hard?