BY LINDSEY STAPLES, TEACHER, HERITAGE HOUSE CHILDCARE, AND LEARNING CENTER
Last month, I began sharing my growing appreciation for women, especially mothers and my learning experiences of motherhood by introducing my sister Renee and her amazing three-year-old daughter, my beautiful niece, Natalya. Equally amazing and beautiful are my sister, Rachel, and her daughter Alexa, and for all I am learning about the challenges and blessings of motherhood through Renee and Tallie, I am learning at least as much, if not more, from the mother-daughter bond of Rachel and Alexa.
As I am three years older than her, I had always referred to Rachel as my little sister . . . that is until I stopped growing in my teen years, and Rachel grew taller than me before she reached high school. Despite the height difference or growing older, Rachel has always been my baby sister, and by the rule of age, I was next in line to start a family of my own. Happenstance, fate, or the wave of God’s hand brought Alexa Grace-Ann to Rachel and into our family. I continued my role as an aunt, my parents reaffirmed their title as grandparents, and Rachel, for the first time, became a mother just a couple of months before her twenty-first birthday. Although the idea of my baby sister having a baby took our entire family by surprise, now, almost eight months after Alexa’s birth, we could not imagine our family without this chubby, fluffy-haired, blue-eyed baby girl.
Stressed out and physically and emotionally drained after a couple of months into motherhood, Rachel asked me if I would mind watching Alexa overnight. As the big sister, I wanted to share in the responsibility of raising this amazing addition to our family and put the motherly skills I had been learning to the crucial test. I had watched Natalya overnight several times when she was a baby, however, that was when I was living with my mom, and we worked together in shifts alternating the times we slept and took care of her. During my first overnighter watching Alexa, I was now living in my own home with my fiancé, but I knew my mom was just a phone call away. Rachel had given me a list of Alexa’s feeding times and how much she’d eat throughout the night. As I thought about how often Alexa would wake up to eat, I realized I should have taken a nap earlier that day. But Aunt Ninny was up for the challenge.
Wrapped within a soft pink blanket, Alexa lay asleep. As I stood over her, a peaceful stillness seemed to settle in the room. The only sound was her soft quiet breathing. Climbing into my own bed, I pulled the covers to my chin and closed my eyes. Knowing I had not fallen into a deep sleep, I was sure some time had past, but I avoided eye contact with the red glow of the digital clock on the night stand. My body felt alert, and it seemed I was waiting for her to cry. And just then, a soft groan in Alexa’s throat quickly transformed into a pterodactyl screech. I jumped out of bed and scooped the crying baby into my arms. Using the strength of my right arm to rock her into a soothing rhythm, I quickly learned the art of multitasking as I clumsily taught my non-dominate hand to hold a bottle and fill it with warm water and formula without the assistance of the other hand. Around the fourth time of repeating this crazy dance with a bottle in one hand and a baby balanced in the other arm, my mind and body were feeling more than sleep deprived. I was running off of a back-up generator I didn’t even know existed within me. Just after her four A.M. feeding when I was more than ready to crash, Alexa’s blue eyes popped with excitement and soft giggles cooed like bubbles rolling over her tongue. She was wide awake and happy. So at four in the morning, my baby niece and I watched The Little Mermaid.
As Alexa blew spit bubbles and cooed at the images on the TV screen, I thought about what a wonderful mother Rachel was becoming each day, and I marvel at the kind of mother she is evolving into each day still. She amazes all of us, especially herself, with the way she learns with Alexa every day. In moments when Rachel is encountering something new with Alexa, and she feels she has no idea where to begin, somehow she finds this incredible strength inside her. Alexa’s first teeth are painfully poking through her pink, soft gums, and in a desperate ache for relief, Alexa’s cries can wail on for hours. When Rachel seems to be at her breaking point with stress pulling her lips into a saddened frown, and I look at her with the same helpless stare that both her and Alexa are exchanging with each other, I watch her take in a deep breath, pull her baby close to her body, and shift her weight back and forth in a soothing rhythm. Although Rachel is not singing or humming, there seems to be a lullaby falling into the quieting room. Rachel rubs a cool teething ring against the baby’s mouth until Alexa begins to absently gnaw on the cold, squishy plastic. With a momentary release from pain, she falls asleep in Rachel’s arms. Sitting beside me on the couch with this beautiful, sleeping baby in her arms, Rachel begins to close her eyes, and I quietly smile at her with pride and awe.
It is because of our own mother, Lisa, that Renee and Rachel are growing each day into amazing mothers themselves. My mom has always put her children before herself. She has raised us with tender and tough love, has always encouraged us to discover our own individuality, and continues to provide us with guidance in our adult lives. I am blessed to have these three amazing women—sisters, mothers, mentors—in my life. To my mother and two sisters, thank-you for being the most strong-willed, beautifully amazing, and loving women I know. All of you continue to teach me and guide me to someday soon be a wonderful mother myself. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.
Lindsey Staples, a teacher’s assistant for the UPK program at Heritage House Childcare and Learning Center, earned a B.A. degree in English/Creative Writing from Keuka College in May of 2009.