I guess you could say it was my first time really working with babies, but I would also add that this was my first time understanding the worth in working with babies. This may come as a surprise to anyone who has seen me stop traffic to watch a baby toddle along the sidewalk, but as much as I admire small children, they have always seemed frighteningly enigmatic to me- miniature people who don't know or understand societal conventions, and who are still unable to fully explain the logic behind their fear, joy, sadness and annoyance.
My first day working in the Rainbow room with the one-year-olds, Travis got scared that he was going to be left in the stroller in the hallway. The minute he reached up for me with that fear in his eyes, my biases all went out the window. I realized:
Sometimes, especially with children, you just don't get a rational explanation of fear; there may not even be a logical explanation behind it to get at. But does it matter? Fear is still fear. Joy is joy, sadness is sadness, and annoyances are annoyances- many times, you just have to deal with things at face value.
I have learned to find the joy in a baby's smile and extended eye contact, to allow a single successful teaching moment to sustain me over the day, to envelop myself in the warmth of a sleeping baby who has ceased its anxious squirming to find solace in my embrace.
I have sacrificed, at this point, probably every limb and appendage of my own to keep harm from coming to these children who walk in front of moving swings, crawl in the path of tricycles, tip out of cribs, and relentlessly attempt to eat the inedible.
I have overcome my anxiety caused by multi-tasking and noise clutter. I have overridden my gag reflex, which is no longer triggered by the various noxious odors that plague a nursery. I have calloused my sensitivities- to saliva, to abrasive noises, to congealed food. I have averted my propensity for napping (when you already spend 1/6 of your waking hours in a napping environment, you feel like a loser allotting any more of your time to sleep than you have to) by pursuing life-giving activities instead. I have broken down my fear of mess. I have built up my immune system.
But every minute is worth it. These kids really are just miniature people, with personalities and feelings, and they understand much more than we give them credit for. The children I work with have already picked up on social cues about propriety, relationships, you name it. The things they are learning now will shape them into the people they are going to be. Trust me, I've seen it- I started with the older kids, as you might recall. So this work, then, is the foundation for helping form a contributing member of society.
That being said, these children are not my own and will not, in all likelihood, remember my name in a week. Much like childhood fear, I cannot explain the force or logic that gives me pleasure in this seemingly thankless work. The day to day rejuvenation comes through small victories- a smile, a breakthrough concept, a rare hour where everyone is napping at the same time. But why do those things matter?
After spending so much time in a nursery, I cannot help but believe in altruism.