“With Emma, I toed the line between best friend and disciplinarian. I had predicted this when I took the job: as a 22-year-old, I was closer to her age than her late-thirties parents were, which I had a more recent memory of what it was to be a five-year-old girl, of the trials and tribulations of being forced to eat something you thought was gross, of being made to go home and do homework just when the schoolyard game of tag was getting good, of having to get your knotty hair brushed and pulled into pigtails. But, as a young adult, I could also appreciate Emma’s parents’ point-of-view: she needed to eat vegetables, learn the alphabet, and not look like a ragamuffin.
What I didn’t expect was that I would come to feel a motherly love towards Emma so intense that I began to hear my biological clock ticking a decade early. Caring for her made me feel whole in a way that scared me—I was too young to feel that all I needed to be happy was a child. Looking back, I realize that I felt whole when I was with Emma because I straddled a bizarre line: I saw myself as a child in Emma, and my mother in me. My exhaustion after my afternoons with Emma wasn’t just the result of the physical and mental work of taking care of a little girl. It was also from the emotional work of simultaneously reliving my childhood and seeing into my parenting future, of feeling as if I was carrying my mother with me when I was with Emma.”
It’s hard to explain why this essay touched me so deeply. There’s honesty and emotion here, and even when her story gets more intense, it doesn’t feel melodramatic or overwrought. It just feels real.