Of course, when you move to a new place, you leave things behind. But what’s been so surprising for me, is how little I miss from the Park Slope life. Clearly I was well past the expiration date of my living in NYC, gone before I was even gone.
But of course what you miss most—what I miss most—is people. One person in particular, our beloved babysitter and stalwart friend, Camille.
She was such an amazingly steady presence during those absurdly challenging years. I literally did not know where I would be one day to the next—Philadelphia? Brooklyn? Both?—and she took it all in stride. She was a rock for Zack, the sure thing, when I could not be, when I was disappearing sometimes in the middle of the night or for days at a time to be with my mother when my father first fell ill (or disappeared into his illness, I should say).
Then she went through Zack’s crisis with me. She tolerated his often terrible behavior, his temper and tantrums, his constant “no,” his repetitive habits, usually meaning squeezing her arm or, unfortunately, slapping her behind. (I got the same behavior, but I’m his mother.) She was the one who often had to deliver bad news from school, delivered to her by his teacher when she picked him up. She arranged the play dates, when my head was too full of other things to remember to do that. Oh, and she always knew when Zack had a half-day of school or when school vacation was coming up. Truly? I rarely knew. I would have been caught by surprise. Except for Camille.
She was with us when Derek moved in; she was with us when Derek moved out.
She stayed with me when I could pay her fulltime not to work, because I was at home, at loose ends, after my parents died. She stayed with me when I had to bring her down to (and could barely pay her) parttime, until I got back on my feet and found fulltime work. And of course, she was with us this whole last year, as we headed toward moving.
It felt awful to be so looking forward to moving, because I never wanted it to feel like we weren’t going to be losing so much with having to leave her behind.
I know her mother; I’ve met most of her family. I got to watch as she got her Green Card and she was finally able to go back to Trinidad, where she hadn’t been since she was 13 years old. She came back with long braids and a big smile. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to see family you haven’t seen since you were that young, to go back to island life after living in the city for more than half her life.
She brought Zack sweets from Trini from her Brooklyn neighborhood; she printed out photos of the tropical fruits that grow there, most of which you can’t get here; she always brought little bags of a Trinidadian treat called kurma, sort of for Zack—but I was always the one who gobbled them all up. Ridiculously good.
She made a mug for Zack as a goodbye present, and when I saw the photos of her with him when he was so little, I couldn’t help but shed some tears. Zack was all like, “Mom! You can’t cry!” I know because he was afraid if he started to cry he wouldn’t stop. He’d been dreading leaving her for so long; he thrives on routine and Camille was so loyal and true to his routine.
I’m telling you, for many months she was more present and dedicated to his routines than I could be.
How do you say thank you for that? How?
The answer is, you can’t. But we tried.
But she knows what she did for us, and she knows we are so grateful. And that we love her so, so much.
I gave her a little necklace with a small gold heart on it, as a token of the big, big, big love she showed us, and a symbol of how she’ll be in our hearts forever.