“You look like you would do well with the toddlers.”
“Huh?” was all I managed. The door shut behind me and I was immediately swept away by the pervasive odour of soiled diapers in a room full of fragile little 1 and 2 year olds. Toddlers with snot running down their noses playing in some sort of organised chaos on a custard yellow tarpaulin. Right. Where to begin?
“Uhm… excuse me?” I had approached the older gentleman who had assisted me in my first diaper change. “I’m new here and I’ve just been deployed to the toddler section. Would you let me know what it is I should do?” I thought I had been clear enough but the man looked perplexed. Before his evident worry became my own he seemed to calm down and nodded.
“In this room I am not the authority, she is,” the man led me to the young woman who had taught me how to register babies in the first place.
“It’s you!” I remarked excitedly. “Well, seems like I am at your service. What should I do?”
She smiled at me. I guess my enthusiasm wasn’t misplaced. “Pick a kid and play with ’em.”
I returned the smile and went to town!
“Hey there you cute lil goo goo ga ga! What’s up? What your name?” As I asked all these essential questions my voice’s pitch only went higher and higher. Eventually I was just an unintelligible as the kids I was trying to communicate with which bizarrely made me more approachable to them. I guess somehow we ended up speaking the same language. I knew in that instant I had found my place of service.
If it wasn’t evident then it became even more so when in trying to escape my ghastly “I’m coming to get you” face a young man fell on an even younger, smaller girl. Now you have to understand that a kid under 2’s motor functions aren’t enviable. In trying to get up the boy continuously pressed down and squashed the little girl until he could get on his feet. This led to tears and someone needed to bring peace back. I picked up the little girl and did the only thing I knew to do in that situation. I rocked her in my arms and recited the little bit of Proverbs 31 I knew. “You are a strong woman of noble character. You are a virtuous woman. It’s ok to cry honey but you’ll be ok, everything will be fine.” Just like that she stopped crying. I felt an immense sense of victory. “Can I wipe your tears? Let me wipe your tears, ok?” All this was done with minimal fuss and we became the best of friends, praise be to God!
It would be great if the story ended here but it didn’t. After playing together for a while yet she reached for the hem of my shirt and said, “Daddy!”
“Shush…” I said, rather hurriedly, “Don’t call me Daddy.” I don’t think she got the memo.
“Daddy,” she repeated.
“It’s Ayanda,” I said exasperated. “Aya.”
I became Daddy for the rest of the day. Those around me sensing my discomfort tried to cheer me up, “Maybe Daddy is the only word she knows,” they said. Right. Makes sense. Relief flooded my veins. That’s not so bad then, I thought.
When it was time to go a lady approached us with a smile on her face. The girl turned and ran away from me like I had transformed into a ghost. She gave the woman a huge hug as she screamed exuberantly, “MOMMY!”