Maddie was almost two years old. She had beautiful almond brown eyes and chubby cheeks that dimpled with every smile, giggle, and laugh. And every laugh sounded like bells ringing out in an angel’s chorus; a high-pitched tinkling that warmed your insides every time your ears were graced with the sound.
She was a joy to be around. The Terrible Two’s? Please. Maddie was much too wonderful of a child to ever enter a stage like that. She was our angel. Perfectly behaved, with maybe one or two instances where she may have had a bad day or a tummy ache and had been a little more fussy than usual.
She was big for her age—not to be confused with chubby—but tall with perfectly round and wrinkled knees that I wanted to nibble on. God, they were cute. Every feature of hers was rounded; her nose, her cheeks, her belly. Holding her was a bit of a chore, but after almost a year of living across the hall from my best friend and her family, I built up the necessary muscle to withstand a day’s worth of toting Maddie around.
This was a great age. She was learning fast and growing faster. Scooting around like a little choo-choo train, I never dared take my eyes off of her for even a moment. She was very smart; observant and well-behaved. While she may find trouble, all you need to say is “Madeline Renee, no…” and she’ll immediately stop before you need to scold any further.
“Maddie,” I sat on Eliza’s bright blue and orange sofa, babysitting while she was at class, “where’s your nose?” She grinned from ear to ear, her brown eyes sparkling like stars and eager to fulfill any wish I had. Lifting a tiny, pink finger, she touched the tip of her button nose.
“Yay!” I squealed with delight and clapped my hands together, impressed. She turned back around, plopping onto the beige carpet to watch more Baby Einstein. I joined her on the carpet and held her close to my body. Her miniature heart pounded against my chest and eventually our heartbeats matched one another’s, pounding in the same rhythm. I looked down at her and she was fighting to stay awake, her dark eyes getting heavier with every breath. I scooped her into my lap and sat up so that I could rock her back and forth. She shook her head from side to side and looked up at me, blinking fiercely.
“Cahyyeen,” That’s how she said my name, “no nap!”
“Ok,” I smiled at her, knowing she would be asleep in 15 minutes. “Then tell me, where are your ears?”
Her eyebrows arched like two tiny worms, perking up at the challenge. Sending me a tired smile, she lifted her hand and touched her left ear with her palm.
“Good girl!” I gave a hushed cheer. The air conditioning switched on and chills crawled down my spine like an army of ants. The goose bumps made the hairs on my arm stand at attention. I shivered and beneath my soft cotton tank top. “Now, where is your belly button?”
She giggled, lifting her shirt and tapping her tummy with the same hand she touched to her ears. “You?” She loved to look at my belly button; actually, she loved to look at my belly button ring. That sparkly curved piece of metal hypnotized her like no toy I had ever seen. I lifted my tank slightly, revealing a silver heart with a sparkling pink jewel in the center that rested within the crevice of my navel. Maddie giggled more, her nose crinkling and her eyes squinting. She threw her head back, the folds of her skin pinching my arm.
“That’s my belly button ring.” She looked back at it, eyeing closely. She’d seen it a dozen times before, but she loved asking questions for the mere sake of asking them. She held a finger out to touch it. “Be gentle.” I learned early that if I didn’t specify, she would tug on it, thankfully never hard enough to yank it out.
Gingerly, her fingertip grazed the center of the heart and stared in awe. I knew that look; she was picturing herself with her own belly button ring. Sometimes to satisfy this urge, I would put a sparkly sticker over her navel and tell her it was even prettier than the one I had.
She pulled away again, giggling. “More! Hawder dis time!”
“Harder?” I thought for a moment…she already knew eyes, ears, nose, mouth, belly button, tummy, head, knees, arms, feet, toes….what’s left?
“Whot awe dose?”
She pointed at my nipples, erect thanks to the frigid air conditioning. I laughed to myself, uncomfortable with the situation. “Umm…well, those are called nipples.”
Immediately, Maddie lifted her shirt, showing me her own nipples. “Nipples!” She pointed proudly, waiting for my applause.
The twenty-one year old girl inside of me wanted to laugh and teach her other inappropriate parts of her anatomy; teach her how to moon someone and play the butt bongos like my brother taught me when I was four. But the responsible side of me refrained. She got it right though…those were her nipples. And at least she was using correct language and not saying, ‘Boobies,’ right? I supposed that this one circumstance was ok, as long as she didn’t learn any other or more graphic body parts. I made an executive decision and clapped my hands together, only not nearly as excitedly as the other times. “That’s right, Maddie!”
The bronze bell around Eliza’s front door jingled as she entered, three bags thrown over her bony shoulders.
“Mommy!” Maddie cooed, suddenly not tired at all.
“Hey Liza,” my gaze lifted to hers as Maddie broke free from my grasp, running to her mother. “Mommy!” She held her hand out, palm up waving. Clenching two little fists around her shirt, she lifted it to her chin revealing her chest. Then, pressing a finger into the skin around her sternum, she yelled, “Nipple!”
Liza dropped her bags to the floor and glared at me from over her eyebrows. “That’s going to come back to bite you in the A-S-S, Aunt Colleen.”
* * *
Fast forward two weeks and I was babysitting again. It was 7:00 pm and neither Liza’s fridge nor my fridge had anything worthwhile for dinner. I decided to take Maddie to one of our favorite cheap restaurants; a very popular fast food burrito restaurant that was always heavily populated with my fellow students. I pushed through the heavy glass doors with Maddie on my left hip. I balanced the weight by carrying my bag on the opposite arm. We could barely step through the door before joining the long line of patient customers. There were at least 11 people ahead of us with only two employees working at a slow pace to piece together the made to order burritos.
Sucking in a deep breath, I allowed it to escape from my parted lips in a sigh.
“Whot’s wong Aunt Cahyeen?”
“This might be a little wait, Maddie. Do you want the baby burrito or do you want to go to somewhere else?”
“Ok, burrito it is.”
“Aunt Cahyeen, where’s your nose?”
I smiled. The game had advanced in the past couple weeks. She would now ask me to point to things as well as me asking her.
I pointed at my nose. “Where are your lips, Maddie?” The couple in front of us in line started to take notice of our little game. They turned to look at Maddie, smiling, arms linked. The woman’s head tilted to the left, her ear grazing her boyfriend’s shoulder and she placed her hand over her heart suppressing a small sigh.
Maddie grazed her lips with her three middle fingers.
“Yay! Good girl! Ok, your turn…”
“Where awe your nipples, Aunt Cahyeen?”
The couples smiling faces turned confused very quickly as they tried to decipher if they had heard correctly.
My stomach turned and I could feel it twisting into a knot.
“Your nipples, Aunt Cahyeen! Point to your nipples!” Maddie’s voice grew louder, assuming that my not answering meant I hadn’t heard her.
She continued, “Nipples, where awe your nipples?”
At this point, half of the line and a few people sitting at tables eating were looking in our direction. Some were disgusted, but others found the situation humorous. I knew one thing was for sure…Maddie was not going to stop asking me where my nipples were until I pointed to them. Reluctantly, I lifted my left hand and attempted to discreetly point to my breast. My fingertip grazed the soft cotton of my shirt and Maddie shrieked with delight, clapping her hands together. The half of the restaurant that was amused at our display started clapping as well; cheering, which only made Maddie squeal louder. While the more reserved patrons of the place stared disapprovingly.
Lesson Learned: No teaching children about any body part that you would be embarrassed about in public.