I held my two-month-old niece for the first time yesterday, as her parents sat down for their first meal together sans baby since the birth. I heard a soft cooing as I bounced the ten-pound, chunky-soft human in my arms and walked her around the room to satiate her curious brown eyes. Within her line of sight, but not yet within her capacity to see, were a stack of board books, a singing stuffed bunny, a pile of baby clothes, and a few blankets–all gifts from her awestruck auntie in anticipation of some precious little mystery.
My last interaction with a baby was seventeen years earlier when my youngest cousin began wailing the moment he was placed in my arms. It was the moment when I was instantly convinced that babies don’t like me. They seemed fragile, sensitive and fussy, and I felt unprepared for even a few minutes of that level of responsibility. For my entire adult life, I have somewhat appalled by the idea of having children. While it sounds rewarding, it sounds equally exhausting.
We loaded baby into the tiny newborn insert of the stroller, fed her miniature limbs through the straps, buckled her in, and headed off to the park. The people we passed smiled, nodded, and waved approvingly, as if to say, “Babies are hard, and you’re doing great.” For the first time in months, we had the chance to catch up. She opened up about how she felt when she learned she was pregnant and the fierce commitment she felt to keep the baby, even if her now-husband chose not to be a part of the journey. I learned about my friend’s birthing experience and baby’s wriggling eagerness to rush into this world. She expressed the challenges of baby’s grandparents all living abroad during a borders-closed pandemic. She shared the fear of two job at risk due to the pandemic, and a quiet confidence that things will work out.
As we walked, I kept looking up for the tiny chirping hummingbird that seemed to be following us. I soon realized that the source of the noise was the two-month-old wheeled contraption that probably wasn’t designed for off-roading excursions through the gravel. But it served it’s purpose. Babies don’t need fancy things. None of us do, really.
We arrived at the park and found some reprieve from the sun in the shade of a large tree. We watched dozens of ducks gather at edge of the concrete fish bowl as toddlers excited tossed in pieces of bread and squealed with glee. As we sat under the tree, yellowed leaves spiraled downward and blanketed the ground around us. We watched a nearby family race to a distant light pole with the promise of a whole dollar to the first one there. My friend kept repeating, “I want that for her… a loving community… family… friends.”
After fifteen minutes at the park, the baby became fussy and we packed up those tiny arms and legs and began walking back. With her mommy’s eyes and her daddy’s ears, the little stranger felt so familiar to me. As we walked, my friend told me about the generosity of friends and acquaintances. Thanks to the kindness of others, there was very little they had needed to purchase in preparation for their child. Nearly everything had been gifted or borrowed. Babies don’t need to cost a fortune. They don’t need the Pottery Barn crib, the personalized wall mural, the designer clothes they will outgrow in a month, or the fancy stroller advertised in magazines.
As the baby was pushed along, I peeked in to see the hungry little human pleading for food. I smiled and said, “You are going to be such a spoiled little girl, aren’t you?” Her mom quickly replied, “Yes, my dear, she is already so loved.”
The statement caught me off guard. It was an acknowledgement of my perception that the baby will be taken care of, while also a gentle correction. The hand-me-downs and hand-made items filling their home were not intended as overindulgence, but gift signifying love, generosity, and caring. I didn’t spend weeks over the summer sewing up baby blankets, burp rags, and and diaper baskets as an alternative to being present, but instead as an assertion that I will forever be present. I will always the fun aunt that takes her favorite little girl to the carousel at park, shopping for a new birthday dress, or to the candy store without telling mom and dad.
As a child, I always felt loved. All of my basic needs were met. I had a roof over my head, food on the table, a safe home, a loving family, clothing I liked, and enough books and puzzles to keep me entertained indefinitely. I was never spoiled, but always loved. After my friend’s response, I though a lot about the words that we use. The connotation that comes with the word spoiled is that of a rotten, ungrateful brat. That hadn’t been my intentional all, and I do not believe that the feisty, wide-eyed wonder of a girl I had the pleasure of meeting yesterday will ever develop into a little terror.
After that conversation, I intend to be more intentional with my words. My little niece is surrounded by loved, not spoiled. I will never again utter those words when speaking about her. However, that does not mean that her aunt isn’t going to shower her with love, gifts, and adventures…just an inch or two shy of what most would describe as spoiling her rotten.