I rang the doorbell, my four-month-old baby in my arms and his diaper bag over my shoulder. The nanny opened the door with a warm, welcoming smile. Smells of dal, chapatti and curry wafted out of her kitchen and hung around the house.
The nanny sat next to the baby, making gurgling sounds, talking baby talk in heavily accented English. His eyes, which were on my face as I lay him down on a blanket wandered off to check out the unfamiliar sights, his neck craning so he could see where the new voices were coming from. A slow smile spread across my son’s face, his hands trying to find each other for a clap, his legs kicking.
I was getting ready to go back to work after my maternity leave and it was the first day of a week of dry runs. The plan was to drop him off at the nanny’s just as I would if I were going to work, but then I would go back home. She would call me if he didn’t do well.
I didn’t know where to look or what I was supposed to do. I looked around the room – at the sofa that was not my sofa, at the books that were not my books, at the toys that were not my son’s, at the cradle that was not my baby’s, at the kitchen that was not my kitchen, and through a film of sudden tears, at the nanny who was not me.
A wave of sadness washed over me. Something that started at the pit of my stomach made its way up through my chest and my throat and out my mouth. She looked at me, startled. Then reached out her hand and squeezed mine. “It’s OK. He’ll be fine here. I’m there, na? See, how he’s smiling?” she said, in the same voice she’d been talking to my son in.
I sat there and bawled. I was the baby and I was the one that needed consoling. I went back home and waited for the phone to ring. It never did.
I needed that trial week more than my son did.
When you are getting ready to have a child, you learn all you can about childbirth so you are prepared for the hours of intense, mind-bending labor your body will go through. You pay attention to the nutrition content of every single thing that enters your mouth.
You discover that marvelous invention – the breast pump. Nothing in this world can make you feel more like a cow than a breast pump, but you realize that feeling like a cow is not a bad thing.
You find that there is a whole genre of writing specializing in pregnancy, childbirth, child rearing during the infant years, the toddler years, all the way up to the teenage years.
But none of this prepares you to be a mother.
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