Dear Jack and Charlie,

This morning, like every morning, your Papa forced himself up as soon as he heard Jack wailing.  Your Papa shuffled to your room, took Jack back to our room, let Jack loose on top of the blankets, and once again collapsed on our bed, desperately hoping for another half hour of sleep.  Like a happy little piglet, Jack nestled his face next to my chest, pointed to his own chest, and squealed, “Booby!”  I buried my head under my pillow and whined, “Dear God, could I please please have 5 more minutes next time ?”  Jack started tugging at the buttons on my shirt.  “By the way, I thought you might want to know,” your Papa mumbled under his pillow, “Jack wasn’t crying for you or me.  He was hollering, “Ria, Ria!”  As if on cue, Jack released his suction on my nipple to look around the room, his eyes wide with delight, and repeated, “Ria?  Ria?”

A few minutes later, Charlie bounded into the room and burrowed under the blanket.  “Can we go to the park today with Maria, Mama?  Can we stay there again for, like, seventeen hours?” he asked while trying to wiggle his cold feet between my legs.  “Chach, your feet are like ice cubes, put some socks on!”  I grumbled.  “And no,” I continued, “Maria doesn’t come during the weekend.”  I sighed.  “I wish she did, though,” I added.  “Me, too,” your Papa groaned, his head still buried under his pillow, trying hard to ignore the invasion of our bed while drumming up the enthusiasm and energy to make the Saturday special pancake breakfast with Charlie.  I scratched his head in consolation.  “Oh, Maria, Maria…” I sighed some more.

Who is this Ria whose name Jack first calls when he wakes up?  Who is this Maria that Charlie plans to go to the park with every day?  Who is this Maria that both your Papa and I long for?

Most likely you boys will not remember Maria.  Which is why I thought of writing you this.

Maria is your nanny.  She is the first person to extensively take over some of the Mama role I have been playing for over 4 years.  Maria comes to our house everyday at 12:00 and leaves at 6:00 in the evening.  She lets herself in to our house, puts on her house slippers, dons her apron, and takes over.  She does everything I (used to) do and more:  primarily she watches over you both, makes sure you both are fed and changed and entertained or engaged.  Beyond this superwoman feat, she also tidies up the kitchen, cleans up your bathroom, and launders and folds and puts away your clothes.  At 6:00, I arrive at home to find two boys glowing with joy from a couple of hours at the park, a spotless house, and a fresh pot of rice and steamed broccoli for dinner.

When Jack throws a fit over the food, Maria is the one who picks him up and takes him out to the yard to look at birds, instead.  When Jack gets grumpy because he is tired and needs a nap, Maria is the one who picks him up and wraps him around with a fuzzy blanket and dance him around to sleep.  When Charlie comes home from school and has a story to tell, Maria is the one who first hears it.  When Charlie learns a new skill or trick, like finally riding a bike without the training wheels, Maria is the one to first witness it.  Maria gives you boys lunch; harangues you to wash your hands before and after meals; insists you say please and thank you; teaches you to clean up after your toys; takes you both to the park to play with you or stay with you while you play.

Maria has become your second mom and I am glad she is one.  Being the primary caregiver and homemaker is a big role and frankly one that I was beginning to resent and feel weighed down by.  Ask anybody who’s played the role of the primary caregiver, especially of a baby or a toddler, and they will tell you that the role is very challenging.  Certainly for me, it’s been THE most challenging role I have ever undertaken in my whole life.  There have been many times when I would have gladly instead spent a full day working my law files, crunching numbers, researching some law, dealing with unpleasant characters (there are a lot of them in my line of work, for sure), instead of gritting my teeth and feeling my heart clench with frustration and anger while dealing with Charlie’s tantrum over catsup or Jack’s demand for something totally unknown.

Because I can now count on Maria to be home to give you boys her sole attention, I enjoy so much more the time I spend with you in the mornings.  I, too, can now give you my full attention during our mornings together.  I no longer need to abandon Jack in the sandbox while I sneak away for a few minutes to try to answer a work e-mail.  I no longer need to constantly check my phone for messages while I try to read Charlie his favorite superhero book.  I used to wonder how Maria manages to take good care of you boys and also keep the home space organized.  I wondered how I never was able to pull it off- despite my heroic effort, there was always a mountain of clothes that needed to be folded and put away.  Your Papa pointed out the obvious:  Maria has a focused task every day and that task is to care for you boys for six hours.  Achieving just that task alone is a feat in and of itself.  Unlike me, Maria is not simultaneously taking care of you both while running a law practice and tackling personal projects in those six hours.  I was spreading myself out too thin because it was the only way I could do it all:  care for you boys and your Papa, keep our home, maintain a semblance of a career, AND pursue my personal bliss of writing.

We should have hired a nanny a long time ago.  But back then we thought the cost of hiring a nanny seemed exorbitant.  Even now, when somebody asks and I tell how much we pay Maria, the response I get almost always is a gasp and a fierce declaration that we’re paying too much.  Nothing can be farther from the truth.  Caring for babies and kids and keeping a home in order is not easy work.  If we had more money, we would pay her more, a lot more.   Because really, what we are paying Maria for is not only for her to take care of and love you boys, but also to give me (and, to some extent, your Papa) a break and a chance to breathe and live a little more freely.

I don’t know how Maria does this, how she can undertake to care for you, form a potentially deep bond with you, love you like her own, while knowing that in the end, you will grow older and inevitably exit out of her life.  Before she came to our family to help take care of you, she helped another mother raise two siblings from the time they were born up until one was 8 and the other 6.  Maria took care of them during the week, from 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night, and sometimes even longer, depending on the mother’s work schedule.  Maria was practically the kids’ mother.  “I was their second mom,” Maria told me when I first met her.  She was very sad when she had to leave, partly because the couple divorced and partly because the kids started going to school and no longer needed so much in home care.  Maria was the kids’ second mom for almost 8 years and now she no longer sees the kids.  Just like that.  It brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it.

But such is the way it works.  I’m sure I was raised by nannies and caregivers other than your Lola.  I don’t know who they are now.  Every once in a while I see pictures of me when I was your age being held by somebody I don’t now recognize.  I’d like to think they were women who once cuddled and kissed me and gave me what I needed during those times when Lola couldn’t because she needed a break or had to attend to other things important to her self-fulfillment.  They were women who loved me even though I wasn’t their own.  I wish I had a way of knowing who they were.  I would like to be able to say thank you, at the very least.

Jack clearly loves Maria- he sits calmly next to her when they’re having their lunch in the backyard; he contentedly plays with his pots and pans in the kitchen while Maria loads the dishwasher or cleans the kitchen counter; he hollers for Maria first thing in the morning.  Charlie loves Maria just as much- he shows her every trick he knows, tells her every joke or story he’s heard; he wakes up every day already with plans on how to spend his afternoon at the park with Maria.   Although she is being paid to care for you, it warms my heart to know that there exists a bond between you two that is akin to what exists between you and me.

I hope one day you boys will read this and though you may not remember Maria, you will at least know about her and your time with her.

As for me, this Mother’s Day, when I think in awe of the mothers out there who are all doing superwomen jobs- multitasking, simultaneously playing several different roles at any given moment, their brains constantly keeping track of 5 wildly varying tasks, I think also of the second moms like Maria whose help allows mothers a much needed break and a chance for self-fulfillment and definition beyond the family and home life.  Thank you to all the mothers and the second mothers for all that you do.

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