My name is too hard to pronounce for a 2-year-old, so when my niece calls me she says, “Noo Noo.” This was an improvement from my previous family nickname, which was “Nana.” I suppose even at a young age I displayed the temperament of an Italian grandmother.
Naturally the coolness of having such a nickname spread and caused jealousy within the family (after all, we are faux-Italian), so now my mother is referred to as “Maw Maw” and my father as “Babayi.”
Bailey, my niece, is incredibly high maintenance, so the three of us team up when my brother needs a babysitter. We don’t keep many toys on hand, so we have to create games and stories out of ordinary objects.
A bowl of water becomes a pool for gummy bears to lounge atop a bottle cap, before drying themselves off with a bubble gum wrapper. They tan on a post-it note.
During a dinner with me, my mom and my brother, my mom had to keep Bailey entertained so my brother and I could finish our plates. My sister in law, Amy, wasn’t there at the time, which allows a certain kind of freedom in our babysitting tactics. Amy can be overprotective and easily concerned or grossed out. She would not have approved of the gummy bear game.
It was my brother’s birthday dinner, so we had his favorite foods including lobster and homemade stew. The “stew” is actually a special family recipe that is essentially broth with meat and vegetable balls, but for the sake of feigning normalcy I call it “stew” to people whose opinions I respect.
My mom plucked the two antennae off the head of the lobster and engaged my niece in a playful sword fight — or rather a disembodied fish part fight.
My brother said, “Amy would freak out if she was here and saw this.” I’m not sure if he said this to get them to stop, or to imply that if ever there was a time to do this, it would be now.
Food seems to be a great way to entertain my niece most of the time. Not eating it, of course, but playing with it.
She takes two pieces of ham, smashes them together on the cutting board, breaks them up into little pieces and holds them in her palm with the fiercest concentration, exclaiming proudly, “I cooked!” It comes almost as a revelation: only after mulling over the pieces in her hand for several minutes, as if to determine if it needs anything else.
One of the most interesting things about babysitting is observing the different ways parents have taught their kids to respond to farts. Are they embarrassing? Gross? Hilarious? Are they something to ignore or laugh about? Should one make a joke to ease the awkwardness? Maybe blame it on someone else?
Bailey finds it amusing and seems to have taken an interest in pointing out everyone’s farts and persisting until provoking an admission, but she is throughly offended should anyone call her out on her own offenses.
When she has gas, she thinks she has to poop, so she promptly orders everyone out of the room. “Go ‘way! Bye bye!” Everyone stops their conversations and shuffles into the next room. Apparently being shooed by a 2-year-old is a rattling event because no one restarts conversation. We all just silently wait for her to call us back in.
If even a hint of someone’s limb shows itself through the doorway, she screams. “No! No Maw Maw, no! Bye bye!” As we all stand huddled awkwardly waiting for her to finish, she stands in a corner by herself and pretends to read a book, attempting to be discreet.
I babysat one night after I had a minor surgery to correct a leg injury. The operation put me on a walker for a week, so my mother stayed with me to help watch Bailey. I’d just finished all my steroid doses and began leveling down the pain medication, resulting in an emotional sensitivity usually reserved for childbirth.
Bailey heard me call my mother once from a different room to ask for help getting the walker. Jealous by what she determined was a call for attention, Bailey came into my room and shut the door saying, “Bye bye, noo noo! My maw maw.”
I felt a little emotional about this, but then I laughed at myself for feeling hurt by a 2-year-old wanting her grandma to herself. I can’t say the experience was life changing, but you definitely get a thicker skin after hearing your 2-year-old niece basically tell you to eff off.
Guilt must have plagued her because later that day she came running over to me with a cheerio from her bowl of cereal and said, “For your boo boo. All better!”�She gave me a hug and said sweetly, “Love you, Noo Noo.”
Despite the lengths we all must go to satisfy her, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It hits me at random times how much I love this kid. I can just stare at her face and watch her big bright eyes get tinier as her baby fat cheeks embrace them when she smiles.
And that smile is the most charming thing I’ve ever seen, even when prompted by a fart.
CONTACT ARIANA KATERI: firstname.lastname@example.org