Yesterday a new baby arrived in the nursery. Georgina is fourteen months old and more toddler than baby. She was dressed in raggedy clothes, her face darkened by spending most of her days in the sun. She needed a thorough wash, a good meal and a new wardrobe.
This morning, her bright eyes shifted from one unfamiliar face to the next as she cried with all the strength her weak little body could muster. I watched her from the other side of the room, not sure whether she was used to white faces or if my appearance would upset her even more.
As I observed, I felt a twinge in my heart. What was that unfamiliar sensation beating dully within me?
I was happy that she was here, another precious little one to care for. Yet, even as I delighted in the surprise of this new arrival, I felt uneasy. Something was gnawing at my soul – a jaded dullness that whispered almost imperceptibly, “Don’t fall in love again. You’ll have to let her go soon...”
Stunned by my own reaction, I looked at the other five playing on the floor. Kenssane, just home from the hospital after heart surgery; my heart skips a beat when I know I’m going to see her. Nercia, the brave explorer, who’ll chase me unsteadily around the room on her tiny toddler feet so long as she knows I’ll eventually snatch her up and swing her high above my head. Zecarias, dimpled giggler who falls asleep while sitting up and who loves loud, messy raspberries blown on his chubby neck. Aline, calm and gentle with a smile that lights up the world; she cannot crawl yet but can clap by threes. Shelton, confident and playful with those he knows but aloof observer when strangers are in the room.
Be still, my heart! These irresistible little ones have won me over.
On a day when challenges are rife and busyness is consuming, I’ll make a quick detour to the calm quiet of the nursery and catch my breath with pleasure as I walk in the gate. I’ll get down on the floor so they can climb all over me, dribbling and drooling, leaving tracks of runny noses on my clothes, pulling my hair, mussing me up completely and catching their fingers in my earrings. There is no better down-time.
Each and every baby who has passed through the nursery has captured my heart, all twenty-something of them in the two years I’ve worked there. All it takes is a glance to draw me in. I cannot walk past them without a touch or a word. I can’t think of them without smiling. I cannot be near them without running my hand over a head or squeezing a ticklish thigh or kissing a cheek.
I work in the nursery only six days a month and yet it’s a highlight, a pleasure I look forward to and a break from the other jobs I do here. How blessed I am.
As I watch Georgina, I ponder the weariness within me and I think of all who’ve left the nursery. Five have returned to their extended families or been adopted; what a happy ending for them but a little part of my heart goes with them every time. Fragile Raquelina died after only a few months, never quite gaining the strength she needed to survive a desperately rough start to her life; I eased my grief by pouring extra love into her twin, Francisco. Most of our former residents now live in the Baby House: even though it’s right next door, my heart breaks a little every time they leave.
Today I am thankful for the chance to stand back and watch. I realise that the repeating pattern of “catch and release” has left me a little weary yet I am at peace. I think of Silvia and Xadraque, of Sheila and Inercio, Kerone and Faustina and all the others who have won my heart so easily.
I know that, by the end of tomorrow, the weariness will have been overcome by a toddler’s need for love and I will have given my heart all over again, irrevocably and completely.