My paranoia about A’idah kidnapping Spencer got worse and worse. Every day, I’d be in a good mood when she arrived in the morning and a black mood when she left to go home.
I was surprised to acknowledge, however, that I didn’t dislike A’idah. In fact, she and I got along wonderfully all day, until she commenced her nightly “I’m kidnapping him” routine.
She was friendly but hard working. She was a stickler about doing housework the right way. I love sticklers, because I’m not one of them. I’m more of a “good enough” type. If I’d rather be spending my time reading or writing, I will half-ass housework like nobody’s business. So I was shocked that without my asking, A’idah washed and pressed our laundry into sharply creased, symmetrical little packets that could have come from a hotel laundry service. She smoothed our covers and arranged our pillows in a way I could only describe as fresh, because I had that “ahhh” feeling whenever I walked into my bedroom after she’d been there. She used whatever was in the fridge to cook a healthy meal for dinner, again without my asking. All of this she managed to do in the one and a half hours that Spenny napped. I had a feeling she held back on the spice because she didn’t think we white people could take it, but otherwise the food was delicious. I still felt guilty about everything she was doing for me, but my laziness overcame my guilt and I started to look forward to her busy ministrations every morning.
Every night, though, she would gather her cell phone, tie her scarf under her chin, and turn to Spenny saying, “Are you ready to go with me, boy? Come!” My jaw went rigid in what I’m sure was a bitchy snarl, and we exchanged other trailing goodbyes somewhat awkwardly.
Then I spent the night tossing in bed, trying to guess how she would do it. During the days when I went on errands, I stopped telling her exactly when I would be home so that she wouldn’t be able to count on how much time she might have to smuggle him away. I started keeping Spenny’s passport in my purse wherever I went, so that she couldn’t take it with her. I made plans for what I would do if I came home one day to discover them gone. I would send David to drive to her house immediately, while I called the police and checked the local bus stops. It was a stupid plan.
I was becoming increasingly neurotic, and the only reason I didn’t let her go right then was….well, there were several reasons, among them my distrust of my paranoia and guilt for taking away her livelihood, but really, I was being lazy again. I didn’t want to give up the freedom A’idah had given me. They always tell you to trust your gut instinct as a parent, and I was putting my own comfort ahead of my son’s safety.
Finally, I decided that I could at least talk to A’idah about why she was making these jokes. I’d give my guts one final chance to gauge her responses, and then I’d make a decision.
One day as A’idah was getting ready to leave, she said, “Mommy said it’s okay, boy, you’re coming home with me.”
“A’idah,” I said. “You make those jokes every day. Why do you make them?”
God’s honest truth, I can’t remember exactly what she said next. I think it’s because she didn’t really say anything. What I remember is the look on her face. The afternoon sun was shining on her from the window, and she smiled down at Spencer.
It wasn’t exactly the enlightening conversation I had envisioned, but the tone of that smile is frozen in my memory. As I call it up in my mind’s eye, I like to think that I saw several emotions pass over her face, but not one of them was sociopathic, covetous, or even possessive. Very simply, her smile said I love your son.
So, I put my fears on hiatus except for late at night when I couldn’t stop them.
As the weeks passed, A’idah ended up moving with us as we moved between three different places in the same number of days. When we found out that we were being kicked out of our apartment two weeks early on New Year’s Eve due to a massive screw up on the part of our relocation company, she said, “I must come tomorrow to help you move,” and she was there at 8 a.m. even though she had been up all night celebrating with her family the night before.
David sitting on the porch at Place #3
If you own any baby equipment, you can appreciate what a help it was to have an extra pair of hands packing and carrying our assortment of oddly shaped contraptions made of nylon and cotton, with springy rods that come popping around to hit you in the face when you try to tuck them in, and unwieldy metal frames that can only pass through a doorway if the thing is hooked onto your shoulder as you do a sideways shimmy like Pat Benatar does when she sings “Love is a Battlefield.”
The big pile of crap we moved
We sat in the cramped apartment, Place #2, on New Year’s Day and shared some food. We fanned ourselves in the heat. In Place #3, a huge old Victorian house that we scored for a free four week stay when David guilt-tripped the company, I found myself looking forward to hearing A’idah ring the bell in the mornings. The house, while beautiful, made me lonely. A’idah and I ate lunch together and flipped through manuals about starting a baby on solid foods.
I noticed that A’idah had stopped making the jokes ever since I mentioned them. I started to feel pleased when Spencer smiled at her, or seemed to wonder why she was leaving at the end of the day. And yet, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do when we moved to our semi-permanent apartment 30 minutes outside the city at the end of the month. It would be a long commute for A’idah, and if I still wanted to try someone new, that would be the opportunity to let her go.
One day I got an email from the owner of the house we were staying in. I had mentioned our nanny to her in passing, and the owner said that she usually wasn’t comfortable with other people’s house keepers working in her house. She had bad experiences over the years, she said, and was uncomfortable letting someone she didn’t trust onto her property.
The night before, David and I had hosted a married couple for dinner. When I mentioned that we had been vacillating about whether or not to keep our nanny, they launched into a barrage of anecdotes about terrible experiences they’d had in the past, like the woman who wore only a bra and hot pants to clean the house, or the woman who had simply not shown up for work one day, or the woman who broke something every week.
As I replied to the owner’s email, I found my response growing longer and longer as I went to the mat for A’idah. When I had listed out every insight I had into A’idah’s character and performance, including the times I had met her two polite teenaged daughters and the time that she returned some money I had absentmindedly overpaid her, the evidence of A’idah’s exceptional character was staring me in the face. The owner wrote back almost immediately, saying that A’idah sounded fantastic, and that she was welcome anytime.
The largest factor in my trust was simply the way that she cared for Spencer. I hear A’idah playing with him all day, carrying him around, reading to him, singing to him, helping him to roll over, and encouraging him to crawl. I hear Spenny yelling and laughing at her. She’s more than ten years older than me, and even my energy ebbs after playing with Spencer all day, but she never neglects him even for a minute. She never chides, always knows when it’s time for the bottle or the nap, and is an ace problem solver in the I-don’t-know-why-this-baby-is-crying department.
I was left wondering how my impression could have been so misguided. A nasally, wheedling voice in my brain tells me that it’s still possible that A’idah’s winning me over in order to lure me into a false sense of security, but that same voice tells me there’s a chance this old house is haunted, and I mostly ignore it.
Was I bigoted toward her? It’s possible. I don’t think so, because when A’idah and I talk during the day I feel that we have more in common than apart, as women and mothers. It’s possible, though, that I misunderstood the context behind A’idah’s jokes. Even though we both speak English, we sometimes have to repeat something to one another in several different ways before we’re on the same page. Nationally, ethnically, religiously, and especially socio-economically, we come from different worlds. Hers is one of extended families, of a tightly knit web that spreads the weight of child-rearing responsibility across an entire community, of the idea that caring for one another’s children is a given. Maybe David was right that behind every joke was simply the offer to help. I still think she went too far with the passport jokes.
I’m disturbed that my guts seem to have this ethnocentric streak. Aren’t I supposed to be able to trust them? Aren’t my guts sometimes the only things that tell me what to do when I have absolutely no experience caring for a small, delicate, humanoid who can only communicate through screams and grunts? The only excuse that I can make for my guts is that they seem to be able to learn. I can hope to hone these guts over the years as I continue to try doing things that make me uncomfortable, and sticking it out.
God forbid Spencer is ever truly in peril. Perhaps I’ll know then how to tell the difference between real danger, and love misunderstood.