Rainey, Rainey Go Away

Back in my baby-sitting days, when I essentially had parenthood reduced to making sure the pot handles were turned in and the nightlight in the kids’ bedrooms were turned on, I took care of a little boy named David.

David was the youngest of three siblings, and, from what I can remember, was a happy, well-adjusted baby.

Except when his parents paid me two bucks an hour to watch him for the evening.

I don’t know if it was my braces or my acne or the boy-repelling combination of both that screamed “incompetent caretaker!” but it certainly wasn’t my lack of credentials. No sir, I was a certified baby-sitter with an American Red Cross Baby-sitting card in my Michael Jackson wallet to prove it.

But whatever the case, David wailed his bald head off whenever I came through the front door and his parents, particularly his mother, went out.

Of course, now that I’m a parent, I’ve had a little more on-the-job-training than the four-hour course in the overheated, wood paneled room of the armory barn in my old hometown could ever hope to provide. And so experience has taught me that David simply suffered from what all parents of histrionic yet, strangely enough, still considered “normal” toddlers call separation anxiety.

Several years and straight teeth later, my daughter happens to be going through this same developmental phase, only with a bit more severity and a few more (emphasis on few) strands of hair. I cannot leave the house, shut a door, or go to the bathroom alone without setting off some red flag in the computer system at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, causing Rainey to melodramatically meltdown on my carpet.

A few months ago, when she first started exhibiting signs of distress every time I attempted to make an exit, I played the part of an understanding mother. Rainey’s entire world changed when we moved to Oregon, and I knew it would take some time for her to adjust to her new surroundings. And besides, she’s naturally a shy and temperamental child, so I take her anxiety very seriously.

But lately, because I’m only human and desperate for a shower sans a draft, I’m starting to get just the merest bit irritated.

So, to prevent myself from completely losing my mind, I’ve started taking notes. This strategy really isn’t anything new. Ever since my fourth month of pregnancy with Rainey, she’s had a white-knuckled grip on my brain’s ability to remember important things, like where I put my keys, what groceries to buy, and the pin number to our checking account. As a result, I have index cards everywhere – in my wallet, on the refrigerator, in the glove compartment of my car, by the phone, on the nightstand, next to my computer, and if you must know, I even have a handful by the toilet, where I actually conduct quite a bit of my business. The business of making lists, that is.

Anyway, because I blame for my mind’s malfunction squarely on Rainey’s shoulders, I think it’s only fair that I devote a few of my index cards to recording this traumatic time in her life. That way, I can refer to these nuggets of nostalgia in the not-so-distant future when she finally decides to unhook herself from my hip, and I’m actually tempted to be bummed out about it.

Here’s just a sampling of what some of those index cards might say:

Remember this when Rainey is a preschooler who, when called for the billionth time to dinner, runs in the opposite direction. Once upon a time, Rainey wanted to help you in the kitchen. Well, it wasn’t so much helping as it was squatting on your feet like a demonstrator in protest as you tried to empty the dishwasher, make Scott some coffee, or heaven forbid, toast yourself a bagel. Rainey took your presence in this part of the house as a clear sign of abandonment, leaving her with the horrible assumption that the dogs would be in charge of her raising.

So Scott bought his coffee at a Jumpin’ Java on the way to work, and dirty dishes piled up in the sink as you struggled to make several meals a day with a twenty-three pound weight around your ankles. But even after all your culinary efforts, most of the food ended up on the dining room floor anyway. She didn’t particularly care for your cooking then, and that’s probably what her skid marks on the carpet are trying to tell you now.

Remember this when Rainey is a self-reliant ten-year-old who claims she no longer needs or wants, rather, to hold your hand in public. Back in the day, Rainey would not stroll through the grocery store, or the park, or past your driveway without clutching your hand so tight that her fingernails (the ones you rarely remembered to trim) actually broke tiny blood vessels in your palm.

As if that weren’t enough, there were also times when she would stop, grab onto the crotch of your jeans and say, “UH! UH! UHHH!” which, when translated from Rainey to English, meant, “Forget the two gallons of milk you’re carrying. Pick me up and hold me, you incompetent caretaker!”

She felt most secure in your arms, and sometimes, if you were really lucky, she’d squeeze your neck extra hard with her Edward Scissor hands and gently rest her head on your shoulder.

Remember this when Rainey is a teenager and she sneaks out of your house with one of her brothers and her best friend from down the street to scale buildings in the neighborhood, only to be caught and brought home in a police patrol car at one in the morning. When she was a young toddler, she loved to explore, and you encouraged this adventuresome spirit. You applauded her efforts to climb every sturdy surface in the house, at the playground, and outside her father’s office, as long as she did it “the safe way.”

But her explorations came to a shrieking halt whenever you let a distance of more than a foot come between you; the only stipulation to her traversing tendencies was that you had to be there to catch her if she fell. That way you could sweep her into your arms, kiss the tears away from her scrumptious little cheeks, and give her the confidence to try again.

And the thing about the cops? Relax. When you were her age, you got caught doing the same exact thing.

Remember this when Rainey is a senior in high school and she would rather DIE than have you chaperone the prom. When Rainey was too young to understand a religious sermon and too hyper to sit still through one, you and Scott tried to leave her dozens of times in the loving care of the nice old ladies at the church nursery. The only way she would enjoy herself was if you got down on your hands and knees in the only trendy outfit left in your closet and crawled around on the sticky floor with the rest of the sweaty kids while the congregation upstairs feasted on the spiritual food your tired soul so desperately needed. She loved having your watchful eyes then, but that doesn’t mean she wants them now, especially during the slow dances.

Remember this when Rainey goes away to college and she promises you she’ll call but she doesn’t for at least a week. For nineteen months of Rainey’s life you were on the receiving end of her every beck and call, sometimes three or four times a night. You rocked her, you sang to her, you brought her milk then water then milk again, and once you even indulged her in a late night showing of Rolie Polie Olie. Your brain may be too damaged by the sleep deprivation of those days to recall it now, but most of the time she didn’t need a drink or a song or even a cartoon. All she wanted was to be sure that you were there if she needed you. And chances are, she knows that now.

Remember this when Rainey gets married and she refuses to let you come along on her honeymoon. A long, long time ago, when Rainey was still in diapers, you and Scott planned a fun-filled getaway to visit college friends in Los Angeles. That first night, after leaving her alone to fall asleep in a strange room, she became so terrified that all the climbing skills she perfected at that age helped catapult her out of her playpen and into the kitchen where you and your friends sat speechless, staring at the snotty hysterical mess of a child standing in front of you. She spent the rest of the night and the rest of the trip sleeping on your chest at naptime and bedtime, leaving you with a sore back, cold feet, and a cranky countenance.

I doubt the newlyweds reserved a suite with a bed that sleeps three comfortably, and even if they did, you wouldn’t catch many winks there either.

Besides, you’re better off relaxing at home in the stillness of a quiet house with the man you’re still in love with after all these years, remembering how you had it great and perfect for a while back when Rainey was a toddler whose universe had you at the center of it.

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