The littleness of Loss
In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I accidentally took two jobs.
I’d already committed to return to the day center where I’d worked the summer previous — a job my mom had gotten me through small talk at the water’s edge with a long time neighbor.
“My daughter’s looking for a job.” A pivoted reply to “how’s the family,” meant my mother learned the nearby child care center almost always had openings.
I loved it. I’ve always been easy with kids. The simple math of earning their devotion through a simple push on the swing had always been a relief to me. Always starved to feel important, I gave the children in my life so much of myself, desperate for them to never stop needing me. It never worked. It never will.
About a month before school ended, with my summer seemingly settled, I got a call from a long time family friend whose kids I adored and babysat for years. It’s seems they knew a couple who were in the midst of a divorce, the kids were little. They needed help.
There it was. The irresistable cry for help. Never mind at twenty, I didn’t know the thudding feeling in the pit of my stomach would develop into the most accurate, warning signal I have. Never mind I thought a nanny and a babysitter were the same thing.
I said yes. The family would lend me a car (the most amazing little Saab, that ruined me for cars for the rest of my life), and work around my hours at the daycare center. A Forty-five hour work week filled with people under the age of ten.
A strong work ethic was valued in my family. Helping, too. Although I feel certain I made the decision of how to run my summer independently, there was no wondering aloud from my parents if perhaps, I should leave anytime for travel or friends. The money was great, it kept me busy. And as every parent has said to their child before them, “things were different back then.”
The family I was nannying for had hoped I’d sleep over, but my parents being only one town over meant it seemed simpler to stay at their house. Oddly, my mother seemed to care about that detail. “You sleep in your own bed,” she’d said.
I got up super early. My mother would have a three cups of coffee percolating in the pot. One for me, two for her. Her morning linger a stark contrast to my rush. There’s something about being awake in the cool stillness of what will become a bustling, hot summer day. Living in secreted time and space. I still love the wee hours.
I’d slide the car into drive in the gravel driveway of my parents’ stunning house by the water, and the stick shift park as the car crunched to a stop on the white shells of their family house by the sea.
I’d slip in through a side screen door, waving to a gardner or a two. I grabbed back packs for camp off the hook where I’d left them the night before, sand shaken out, scrunched juice boxes and empty tubes of sunscreen duly disposed of. I gather bathing suits, tiny terry cloth short sand tee shirts with camp logos from the drier I’d run on my way out the night before.
I’d accidentally negotiated no cooking. In the conversation about compensation, I’d agreed by saying “wow” to the first number offered. They was from New York, and I’d come to learn many years later, blindly wealthy. I said “oh I can’t do meals,” in the honest way of a twenty year old who truly couldn’t cook, so I did everything else.
I’d wake two sleepy heads I kissed to bed only hours before. A six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy. Babies. They were at their grandparents for the summer camp, while their parents worked and divorced back in city.
The large house was silent and beautiful in the morning. In that extraordinary New England way, everything was beautiful, and expensive, but dated. A formal house whose decoration hadn’t been updated in twenty years, it felt both showy and humble. Certain corners and rooms were reserved for children and we three fit easily in those.
Cereal isn’t cooking. Or we’d grab granola bars and fruit which they’d eat while I pulled on their clothes, and slathered them with sunscreen in the tiny laundry room with the side door out to the driveway. They were sweethearts who never complained.
We’d play Karma Chamelon by Culture Club, and Proud Mary by Credence Clearwater Revival. One mom song, one dad from the collection of tapes left in the glove compartment. Every day we pulled up into the camp drop off lane just as the music died away. Every day the same. Their love of 80’s music felt sweet, and meloncholoy, a nod parents’ happier days.