I had a really hard time adjusting to being a nanny. The kid was an infant, and had the worst case of reflux I’ve ever experienced or heard about, so all he did was scream and poop and puke. At least once, he did all three of those things at the same time, and added a sneeze and a whizz. He was not wearing a diaper at the time. It was at that point that I burst out laughing, decided that if this were the worst of it, I could stop being bitter that I was no longer at college and was not caring for older children with whom I had more experience, and start to try to love this baby. By the time I was nearly done being a nanny, the child and I had bonded to such an extent that even though he was just two, we could talk about Jesus and give each other lots of hugs and kisses, and he could make up poems about cats while we sat together on the front steps.
When I started to explain to him that I was going to leave because I needed to go help people in London, he began getting up from his naps and turning his back to me when I came into his room. “Not like Jenn,” he would say emphatically and sulkily. (People think that small children and domestic animals don’t know what they’re talking about, but I contend that if the relationship is close enough, they can at least get the basic gist.) I knew that that simply meant this small child did like me–and he was angry at me for leaving. Even though I still knew it the day I left for the last time and he wouldn’t even say goodbye to me, his refusal kind of hurt. But it kind of meant a lot, too, that a little child cared whether I was there or not. It also made me feel like I should probably never work with children again because saying goodbye was too wrenching.
We can see how that turned out.
I guess saying goodbye to my little charge in the 90’s (who, by the way, is the same age as my stepdaughter who is now halfway through college) might have been when I figured out that people, and maybe especially younger people, have ways of saying goodbye and that they’re going to miss you, without actually saying it. Girls might be better at using the actual words. The Fashionable Nine-Year-Old, who updates me on the minutiae of her life every Sunday and occasionally draws me pictures, gave me a hug the day my resignation was announced and said glumly, “I’m going to miss you.” A couple of the teenage girls bought me a gift bag full of trinkets which somehow perfectly captured their senses of humour, their senses of spirituality, and our teen/leader relationship. But in the card one of them wrote how much she’d miss me, and the other made puns, and both were equally indicative of our youth-group-forged bond.
But the boys can indicate sadness at goodbyes, too. One of them said when I got just the faintest bit teary, “Don’t you cry, Miss Jenn! Just don’t do it! You’re gonna make me … !” And another said, “Are you ever going to come back?” And the last one said seriously, “I hope you’ve made the right decision.” Which I’m pretty sure means he’s going to miss me, too.
I have one Sunday left at Now Church, and on it, some of these kids will be getting confirmed. Confirmed already, confirmed that day, or not confirmed at all, I will give them a hug and I will bless them. What is confirmed is our regard for each other. And that I will miss them a whole lot.