New infants were always a little tough. They weren’t used to the other kids or the caregivers, and a new infant always meant some disruption to their routines. Karen was starting to feel like dirty diapers and fussy sleepers always seemed to fall to her to deal with. Why was that?
She held little Mei against her shoulder and walked and swayed rhythmically while humming a sort of tuneless white noise, but this kid was having none of it, and wailed a little louder just to prove it. Tomorrow, Karen decided she would be the one to get the toddlers ready to play outside before Linda had the chance. Then Linda could be on getting-the-new-baby-to-nap duty.
The sun coming through the blinds was awfully bright. That wasn’t going to help the napping. She adjusted the blinds more tightly closed, but realized the light was not coming from outside. The squalling infant in her arms was glowing from within. Karen held the baby out in front of her, gently turning it this way and that, but no matter which way she looked at it, the light was defiantly coming from within the child, not around or behind it. She even opened the baby’s mouth to look inside it, but other than the unnatural glow, everything looked normal.
The light did seem to soothe the baby though. It gradually calmed and at long last, accepted the binky and eased into sleepiness. As the child started to dose, the light dimmed, and Karen knew the moment she fell fully asleep because the light went out, leaving a normal looking baby snuggled in her arms.
The silence was blissful, but Karen’s head still throbbed from the light and the incessant wails from earlier. She knew she should try to put her sleeping little bundle in to a crib and start tidying up, but she so desperately needed this precious moment of quiet. Her pounding head needed the rest, and if possible, she needed to attempt to process what had just happened.
Naturally, this nearly peaceful moment was when Linda chose to bring the other children back inside, all worked up and rowdy. And loud. Mei stirred and resumed her wails as though she had never been interrupted by sleep.
Karen shifted the little bundle to one arm while she rose to continue the rhythmic pacing that sometimes relaxed the child. She noticed a new heaviness in her diaper. With a sigh she laid Mei on the changing table as the rest of the toddlers followed Linda out into the hall toward the snack room. She could have taken them straight into the hall from the side door, but no, that would have deprived her of the opportunity to wake sleeping babies.
Karen couldn’t quite get herself riled up to a decent indignant rage. As much as she would like to think Linda was maliciously making things hard on Karen (and Mei) she didn’t really believe it. Linda wasn’t that deep a thinker. No, she was only stupid and thoughtless.
The diaper off and the little bottom wiped, Karen saw at least part of the reason for baby Mei’s crabbiness today. A rash of red angry bumps covered her underside. Ouch. Karen reached for the cream tube but Mei squirmed away from her efforts to dab it on. Karen held one kicking foot in her left hand and tried again to apply the cream with her right.
With a last, angry squawk Mei rose off the changing pad and into the air. Karen was so startled she let go of her hold. Mei made a happy gurgle before zooming through the air in wild arcs around the room. Of course, no one else was around to see it. This job was not worth the pitiful paycheck.
As agonizing as those few seconds were while little Mei zoomed around the infant room, when Karen at last was able to reach up and catch her, replace a dry diaper on her and pop a binky into her mouth, the baby snuggled into her arms and fell right to sleep. Must be exhausting to fly like that when you haven’t even learned to crawl yet. Karen had just laid the now deeply snoozing bundle into her crib when the other two infants started stirring from their naps.
Later, when she was writing up the daily logs to send home with the parents about what their child had done that day, Karen was at a complete loss on what to write on Mei’s form. It was more than just not knowing how or even if to try to describe the strange things the baby had done. She had no proof for starters, and you didn’t go around telling people things like that with no proof. Also, the center kept a copy of all the daily report logs that went home with parents. She could just imagine her supervisor pulling that one out at her next review and questioning her sanity. In the end she wrote something vague about how well she slept even though she resisted napping at first.
She knew she wasn’t crazy, but she also knew she couldn’t share what had happened with anyone. Mei was new here. If this is the sort of thing she was going to do, eventually someone else would be around to see it too.
Karen was picking up toys and returning them to their cubbies when Mei’s dad walked in. The second to last child had been picked up only a few minutes before, and little Mei was the only one left, having a little tummy time, practicing pushing her front half up to look around.
“Hi,” he said to Karen, then squatting down next to Mei, “Hey there beautiful, I missed you.” He stroked her thin, dark hair, then got up to retrieve their diaper bag and other belongings from Mei’s labeled bin.
“Hello,” Karen replied, and continued to tidy the room, hoping he wouldn’t want to chat any more. She wasn’t sure she could pretend everything was normal if pressured at all.
“How did she do today?” He asked in casual voice as he returned to scoop Mei up, the bag now slung over one arm, and the daily log sheet sticking up out of the pocket.
Karen knew this moment was coming, she’d thought about it, why didn’t she have an answer prepared? She stood there stupidly, not saying anything, holding a set of stacking rings forgotten in her hand.
When Karen continued to not reply he asked, “Did she eat well?” It was a reasonable question. A normal question, but she felt like he was watching her with too much intensity. Her guilty conscience probably.
“Very well. We should have plenty of her milk for tomorrow, but will probably need new for Thursday.” There. That wasn’t so hard.
“And does she seem to be adjusting okay?”
“Well, it takes time. It’s all still new.” This was good. Nice normal new parent conversation. Karen relaxed and even smiled in a reassuring way.
Mei’s father glanced over his shoulder, then asked in a more halting tone, “We know it can be rough for both her and you in the beginning, but my wife and I are concerned she may be more . . . challenging, than other children. I appreciate your reassurance, but I would really like to hear about any problems she has. Did she give you any . . . special difficulty today?”
Oh God, he knows. Of course he knows – he’s the child’s father. Why wouldn’t he warn them? Karen didn’t know how long she stood there staring at him, her mouth open, but a moment later, he had put Mei and the bag down and was standing next to her. He glanced around again, making sure they were alone Karen now realized.
“There is something, yes?” He said, now in a more hushed voice. “It’s okay. I will believe you. I won’t be angry.” He stared directly into her eyes.
“She glowed,” Karen found herself saying as though listening to someone else, unable to stop herself from talking. “She didn’t want to nap, and she filled up with light, then it went away. Later, when I tried to change her, she flew.”
“She flew?” It wasn’t disbelief in his question. It was. . .pride Karen thought. He had turned to look at his baby who was laying on her back holding onto her feet and cooing. His face radiated with a smile as he looked at her, but in a second, it was replaced with a frown and he turned back to Karen. “How many saw her?”
“And did you tell anyone?”
Karen broke into laughter, the tensions of the day spilling out of her until she caught sight of Mei’s father’s face and pulled herself together. “No,” she managed.
“I appreciate that.” He was looking at Karen now in a way that made her distinctly uncomfortable. Plus, she realized, he’d expected something like this to happen. He wasn’t remotely surprised, and he hadn’t warned them. Karen was practically ready for the loony bin after the day she’d had, and he carried on as though they were discussing the weather. Jerk.
“Have a nice evening.” Karen said abruptly, setting her ring toy down without finding its home.
“May I ask how you like working here?” Mei’s Dad said, back to his more casual voice, as he picked Mei back up.
“Very well, thanks.” Karen tried to keep her tone professional and friendly, but short. She wanted this day over. She wanted this whole job over if she were honest, but she couldn’t say so to a client.
“It’s only. . . well for reasons I’m sure you can appreciate, this may not be a good fit for our Mei.” He was looking thoughtfully and his daughter. “I believe we will need to hire a private caretaker for her in our home. Is that the sort of position you might be interested in?”
They didn’t want anyone to know what Mei could do. But she already knew, and she hadn’t told anyone. Taking care of only one baby. That sounded like heaven, frankly. But this wasn’t just a baby. This was a glowing, flying, and who knows what else baby.
“I’m sure we could come to an agreement regarding compensation that would be satisfactory to you,” he offered, almost hopefully.
“I would be interested in a position like that, I only. . .” she looked at Mei now too, who was tugging at a pen in her father’s front pocket, unable to figure out how to pull it out. “worry that I may not be qualified to handle her. . . special needs.”
“Special needs,” He smiled and gave a hint of a chuckle. “I’m sure we could help prepare you. My wife is making spaghetti as we speak. Would you be free for dinner to discuss this further?”
Karen was drained to the bone. The idea of having a job interview right now was horrible, but so was the idea of cooking. Or doing much of anything. Plus, it didn’t sound like she would be convincing them to hire her; they were going to try to convince her to take the job.
“Sure. I can do that.” She got her things from her own cubbie and followed Mei and her father out into the parking lot feeling like she hadn’t just decided to take a job, but to become Alfred or somebody like that. She was unexpectedly excited by the idea. Maybe it wasn’t calmness or predictability or routine she longed for after all. She saw now, it was the chance to make a difference that had led her here, and her frustration came from her inability to do so within the contradictory chaos and rigidly of her current position. Helping to raise a superbaby though – now that was overwhelming with possibility.
Kara writes primarily Science Fiction, but reads everything. In her non-writing time, she has been a wild animal trainer, veterinary technician, homeschool mom, zoo volunteer, and crafter. Her days are full and her desk is messy. She blogs at karabucreations.blogspot.com