Intimacy and Tiny Red Hearts
A Story of Being Let-Go
There was once a family who stopped calling me. Sometimes I think about why. I thought I was getting along with the children great. They seemed to enjoy when I was there. I met the mother-in-law and I think she was frightened of my clearly liberal stance; tattoos, piercings, queer. I think the mother who hired me was the most open-minded of the family and once everyone else met me it was game over. Or it could have been because of this incident which got back to the parents:
For the sake of privacy I’ll call the children Green (5yo) and Red (7yo). Green adored playing with her older brother and would go along with almost any game he wanted play or she would just play by herself if he wasn’t interested. Red enjoyed seeing what he could get his sister to do. One day around Valentines Day they were playing with heart stickers. Green was running around naked as a jaybird, as per usual. Green was sticking hearts on her body and invited Red to join in. After a few minutes, they thought it would be funny to put a heart on each of her nipples. Hehehehe, so funny.
“It looks like y’all are having fun with those stickers. Green, do you like when Red puts stickers on you?”
She responded with an emphatic “yes!”
Red had an idea. Whisper, whisper and they disappeared behind the couch. I could hear Green and Red giggling. I could guess what was going on. Red wanted to put hearts somewhere near Green’s genital area. I was on pins and needles. How was I going to handle this?
“No, I don’t like that. How about we put them here?”
They came out with guffaws a-blazing. Red was doubled over with laughter. They had put a heart on each her butt cheeks. Their laughter was infectious.
After the laughter died down, the heart stickers came off as Green was ready and we played some other game. I was satisfied as a caregiver because I had heard Green say what she wanted and Red respected her wishes.
I don’t see a problem with brother and sister exploring their bodies together in a non-sexual context. Would this incident have happened if they had been 12 and 10? or 10 and 8? No, probably not.
Would I have been more worried and active had they gone into another room? Or if Green at any point seemed uncomfortable? Or if Red seemed to have some kind of nefarious plot? Absolutely. I took it as a sign of trust that they included me in this game. I held the space for them to explore the boundaries of consent. And throughout the rest of the afternoon, I peppered in statements concerning personal boundaries and listening to one another.
As a caregiver I’m not there to police friends’ actions as some might think. I am there to assure their safety and show them acceptance.
This story illustrates something that can be a point of differencing views between a caregiver and the parents. Intimacy. A great many people are afraid of intimacy because our culture so clearly conflates or confuses intimacy with sensuality/sexuality. I have an intimate relationship with my mother, but it is in no way sensual or sexual. I have an intimate relationship with many babies I have watched. A child’s openness to love creates a space in which we can learn to relate to humanity so differently than many of us were taught in our dysfunctional families or in our schools.
Next time you pick up a baby, take a moment to ground yourself and feel the connection that that baby is looking for. I challenge you not to let the fears of intimacy that our world pushes on us taint the connection.
Have you ever had a toddler gently trace parts of your face as you talk with them? Have you ever had them fiddle with your beard or your earring? This is intimacy. Doesn’t it feel awesome to know that this little being who hasn’t been destroyed by oppressive systems accepts you and considers you someone they can trust?
In these moments it is so easy to break the trust. It is so easy to deny intimacy. This denial has been taught to many of us our entire lives. I challenge caregivers to allow intimate relationships with the children they watch. And I challenge parents to let their children be intimate.