Over a year ago, I met baby M for the first time. He came with his mom and his Nana to visit our program just a few days before he was due to start with us full-time. He had been on our waiting list for awhile, but his enrollment had been delayed because a toddler that we were transitioning out of the program needed a little extra time with us. “No problem,” his family said, “Nana will change her plane ticket and stay with us for a few extra weeks to look after him.”
Baby M was not an “easy” baby and Nana was eager to give me some tips and tricks for caring for him. For example, when he started to cry “for no reason,” she had found that the noise of clapping or crumpling plastic grocery bags would distract him, stopping the crying, and allow her to re-engage with him happily.
If I was skeptical of Nana, she was downright hostile towards me. She saw the writing on the wall: I was going to get this baby into my arms and I was going to care for him my way and where was Nana going to be? On a plane bound for New Jersey, that’s where! Nana wasn’t about to let this go down without a fight. She had lists of questions for me, regarding my qualifications, my experience, my home life, etc. I’d been in my job for three years at that point, and I felt more uncertain than I had the day I interviewed.
When we first met, I didn’t realize that she lived so far away. “You’re welcome to come by any time during his day here and check on him,” I mentioned. That’s when Nana’s eyes filled, and I realized that while she was Jersey-tough on the outside, she was a marshmallow on the inside. She explained that she lived 3,000 miles away and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to get on that plane.” I laid my hand on her arm and said, “I understand. My whole family lives on the east coast. It’s so hard to be so far away from them. I promise you that I will take good care of your baby for you. I’ll show him your picture. I’ll talk about you. We’ll take photos for his mom to send you.”
I kept my promise. I talked to baby M about Nana every day. We would look through his family photos together, talking about his dog, his mom and dad, his two cousins, and his Nana. Many months later, when baby M had grown into toddler M, Nana came back to visit. And he was terrified of her. He was at the height of his stranger anxiety phase then and Nana was essentially a stranger — a photo, a voice on the phone, but not this real person wanting to hold him.
Nana worked for over a week, the duration of her stay with the family, to win him back over. She told me about her small victories (one night he stayed alone in a room with her without crying). On the last day that she would see us before flying home, she said to me, “He really loves you. That’s so good for him. Thank you.”
I just learned today that Nana passed away last week. It was pretty sudden. I’m so sad for M’s dad and for his mom (who called her mother-in-law “an angel”), but most of all I’m so very sad that little M will never truly know that woman who loved him so very much. She loved him like only a nana can love a little boy. And, had he gotten to know her when he’s a bit older, he would have soaked that in like a sponge.
Nana was there for the first five months of his life and I know that she will always be imprinted on his heart for what she did for him and his parents during that time. In some way, he’ll always know her. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to see her love in action.