This afternoon I found myself on a lunch date with my son. It was just the two of us, and he was begging to dine at Sicily’s Buffet. Personally, I loathe buffets. But there we were, standing at the paint counter at Home Depot with hungry bellies, his eyes twinkling as described the drink station at this Sicily’s place. (Now that he’s tall enough to clank out ice cubes and pour his own lemonade he really likes that sort of thing.) I was hoping he’d pick a restaurant where I could partake from a different sort of drink station… but what kind of mother would that make me?
So off to the buffet we went. I had just finished paying our $15 plate fee and was pondering how much I’d have to eat before I felt it was worth it (hence my hatred of buffets) when a familiar voice called my name. I recognized her accent before I turned to see her face: it was Lissete.
She had called out my name, but we were both looking down at my seven-year-old son and remembering the time when he was a baby. When we shared him.
Lissete was our child care provider. She was wonderful… an absolute Godsend during a difficult time in my life. She is one of those people who has a natural instinct to nurture and love. Nothing seems to phase her: screaming infants, solid-food-soiled diapers, or tantruming toddlers. She has a sense of calm that makes her worthy of her own Baby Whisperer TLC show.
I used to calculate the waking hours of the day that Sam spent with Lissete vs. me. Lissete won, hands down. He’d usually wake to nurse around 5:00, but neither of us was really awake for that feeding. I’d later spend my breakfast simultaneously pumping milk and eating Honey Nut Cheerios, so Baby Sam could get some precious sleep time. That meant Lissete got to feed him a pumped breakfast a few hours later, when I dropped him off around 7:30. Not to mention lunch and snacks. I’d rush to pick him up by 4:00, often to find he had just awakened from a nap and eaten, which meant I had to go home and pump again rather than nursing him myself.
All that time she got with him, and Sam didn’t remember her. Not at all.
I don’t think Lissete really expected him to. That’s what she said, anyway. It’s been years since they’ve seen each other, but I could tell she felt nostalgic when she saw him. We glossed over it, and I walked to their table and said hello to her family, who I never had the joy of knowing quite so well.
When we first met Lissete, we only had three-month old Sam. She worked for a conservative Baptist church daycare, where she was a devout follower and we were (and remain to be) devout doubters. We were simply fixated on the baby room and its strong reputation: it was open, stimulating, safe, and nurturing. The babies were allowed to dictate their own schedules, the parents could drop in whenever we wanted, and the location was ideal. Some lady – her name starts with an “S” but that is all I can remember – was in charge and our tour guide when we went to check out the place. (In hindsight, I would never give my money to that organization again. But that’s a post for a different day…)
On Sam’s first day of day care, we were nervous as all get-out. We’d never left him with anyone, and now we were dropping him off with total strangers. Mrs. “S” was nowhere to be found…. just Lissete, a new face with few words. We precariously placed our son, obliviously sleeping in his car seat, on the waist high counter that divided us. Lissete didn’t speak English well, but I know that the anxiety in my eyes transcended our language barrier. She may or may not have understood my fumbled expectations about when he would sleep, how his milk should be heated, what comforted him most, or when I would return. She simply saw my tears and knew what it felt like to be a mother.
During my lunch break on that first day, I rushed back to check on our son. I would not have time to feed him, but I just needed to see him. To know that he was okay. When I arrived at the church, Lissete was giving Sam a custom stroller tour of the property. That’s how she decided to spend her lunch hour. She didn’t see me at first, but I could hear her talking to him tenderly in Spanish, and although I didn’t understand her words, I knew that she had already fallen in love with Sam.
I knew then that I had two choices: I could either be jealous of this woman, who may or may not be the first person to see my child’s first steps. To hear his first words. To feed him my milk. Or I could celebrate the fact that I had found someone with such culture… who had a gift with babies… and who above all loved my child. Almost as instantly as I did.
So here we were, all these years later. And despite all that Lissete gave to Sam, he didn’t remember her. And I realized… that’s not what I wanted.
So Sam and I spent our lunch date talking about Lissete. I told him how hard it was to drop him off in those first weeks, but how loved he was while his dad and I were at work. How Lissete quit the church daycare after she had a second child, but agreed to still care for he and later Maggie at home. How she refused to feed them jarred baby food, and made all their meals from scratch. How she only talked to them in Spanish. How she kept their pictures on her refrigerator.
Eventually we moved on to new childcare situations. When Sam started kindergarten, Maggie was 3 and definitely ready for preschool. (We chose a synagogue this time… our last venture with religious childcare and also worthy of a few blog posts!!) But these milestones also meant a goodbye to Lissete.
I’m glad I chose not to be jealous. Of course I would have preferred the opportunity to savor every moment with my children. Some people are blessed with that option. But there is no one right way to raise a child, and hopefully our children benefited from the path we chose. I saw it today, in Lissete’s excitement over a casual encounter with Sam, and I am reassured that my children were loved, celebrated, and safe. And even at that young age, I believe they were enriched.
Thank you, Lissete!