As soon as we walked away from our wildly brief time with you, I began to realize what I’d missed, what I’d failed to do.
I didn’t say thank you as I wanted to. I saw you, spoke to you, took photos with you, but I know I didn’t truly look into your eyes and see you. I was so fully surrendered to my moment that I failed to notice yours. I didn’t pause to look for glimpses of your heart, for small signs that my moment was your moment too.
You were a means to my end, the deliverer of my long awaited dream come true. I missed it though, because I missed the gift of more time, of even just a few more words, with you.
Maybe I diminished you to a person doing a job, and assigned all the love, feelings and memory-making to myself. Maybe my mind clumped you together with all nannies, the nannies of books and social media stories, and made you less of an individual. Maybe I assumed that since there were lots of nannies, that you would be detached. I failed to admit that there might have been a love story between you and our precious Lan Cheng.
I must confess that I don’t even know your name now. How can that be? Is the pronunciation of a Mandarin name impossible to recall? I missed you in such a big way.
Did I hug you at least? I think I did. Surely I did?
Beforehand, I planned to make you feel our appreciation. I planned to engage with you, the one who had been there and stood witness to the precious days I had missed. You who had held and fed, comforted and tended to, our baby boy.
Back at home, when the torrent of life changes and feelings settled, I thought of you. I recalled that, during our moment with you, my husband and I had been suspended in our own swirl of emotions. We had a list of questions to ask you, but we missed the mark. We asked about feeding, sleeping and medical needs, and you gave answers, but most of that care-taking changed immediately anyway. I wish we’d just learned more about you.
I wish we’d have asked for stories from your time together, some memories to give record to the love story between ayi and boy.
In so many ways, it was a love story that I missed. At best, one that I have to make assumptions about. Using orphanage photos as a backdrop; my imagination creates its own story of your time together. So much life and love happened in those months and years between mothers. Was it perfect? I am assuming not, because my time with him isn’t either. Sometimes you just had to get the job done. Sometimes I do too.
You made memories, spent time, and did life together though.
Feeding. Comforting. Medical care-taking. Diaper changing. Bathing. Dressing. Playing.
The days were filled with smiles, words and eye contact exchanged again and again, with the ordinary and extraordinary. The type of crib you placed him in might have been different, the food and the care-taking methods too. But the days filled up with life and some love, didn’t they?
“Gotcha Day” photos give us a glimpse. I see your smile. I see the way you look at the boy that was new to us, but so familiar to you. I see that after you walked him down the long, familiar hallway, and around the corner to us, that you crouched low beside him. You held his hand and looked kindly into his eyes during his traumatic moment. Did you squeeze his hand one last time? We’ll never know. But you were not detached. I see it now. I see you. I see you and him and a glimpse of the love story.
We got him and you gave him.
For his new life, you sent him with a little blue character backpack filled with photos, a jacket, and snacks. Memories and hopes must have flooded you as you packed. When we first held him, the scent of his spiky, dark hair was clean and sweet. You’d just given him one last bath.
How must it feel to care for a child so intimately, and then to hand them to adoptive American parents? To immediately step back and out of the story? Is it gut-wrenching? Is it relief? Some combination of both?
Is being a nanny a job or a calling? I don’t know, and I won’t presume to. I can’t presume to know the emotions, much less the sheer weight of the work. I am a mom of four and sometimes it feels like my back will break. I can’t fathom what your eyes have seen, what your hands have had to do, or what your mind must process. Children arriving abandoned, coming, waiting and going, living and dying. Some never leaving and some going quickly.
You are an individual with your own story, similar to, but unique from, all other nannies. I refuse to let social media define you. I’ve read stories of nannies, but I haven’t read your story.
I entered this exchange with the cultural lens of a white, adoptive mom from the Atlanta suburbs. Our worlds don’t look the same, and I could never presume to understand your work. I think that got in the way. I didn’t know how to cross that bridge in the emotional state that I was in.
Will you forgive me for all the ways that I dismissed you? Please know that we’re grateful. Please know that your care for our son mattered. Know that he has your photo, and we talk about you.
We’ll never know most of the details, but yours is a love story, and our family is forever grateful.
Thank you for the important work you do and the love you bring to it.
Two Grateful Parents
This was lovely. It captures so much of how I feel after meeting the people who had cared for my children. I tried to convey my gratitude and appreciation, but those early intense moments left me feeling unfocused on anything beyond immediate needs and rushes of emotion.
Thank you for sharing this.
Yes!! This is exactly how I feel about my very brief interaction with my son’s foster mom. It was so quick…a short in and out of the apartment that I wasn’t expecting and I didn’t get to convey my gratefulness or learn more from her. I wish I could go back.
I got to see the ayi who handed my son to me four years later on an advocacy trip. We spent 6 days in the orphanage. I looked for her all the time. I met other nannies who remembered my son and showed them pictures and thanked them. As we were leaving on the last day, I saw her. I ran towards her and when sh ed looked at me, she held up 4 fingers, for the four years and said my son’s name. She knew me after all that time. I only had 5 minutes because we were rushing straight to the airport, but I showed her pictures
(from our whole travel group) and hugged her and thanked her again.
Thanks for sharing this. The nannies have such a difficult, often thankless job that is so important.
This is so beautiful and echos almost exactly how I feel. I didn’t even think to get a picture of me and his ayi with him (just got one of the two of them and then his three main Ayis with him. Sadly, I didn’t even think to ask her name:(
This is so beautiful!! These nannies play such an important role in early childhood development. Your son is so cute!! I hope to adopt one day!