The first time I saw Nina was in front of her building in Bayside being carried by her father. She was roughly about 6-8 months old and took my breath away with her popping blue eyes and her full head of beautiful golden hair. I remember wanting to touch her to see if she was real! About a year later, my mom asked me if I would be interested in babysitting Nina for the summer, six weeks, Monday-Friday, 7-5. My mom explained that I would actually get paid to spend my summer with this beautiful child! NOT SO FAST – two conditions had to be met – I had to go to one week of training/boot camp at Katina’s house and Nina had to like me.
Now, Katina was no joke when it came to her granddaughter. I was taught EVERYTHING from how to put on diapers to how to sleep train. My eyes went from a college girl’s eyes to the eyes of a hawk that week. Katina also made sure that I had enough “fruto” to last me the summer (red frozen Katina fruit concoction that was like an ice cream sundae to Nina and an after meal must!). Katina observed the way Nina and I played together, the way I fed Nina, changed Nina, put Nina to sleep and after a week I got the seal of approval from both Katina and Nina and was officially deemed Nina’s babysitter for the summer!
The first few weeks, looking back, were HYSTERICAL! Our day went as follows: 7 a.m I would arrive, Nina would have her milk we would watch her favorite show “Jojo” and I would cringe as Effie would leave for work (although we had a great time together – Effie’s morning departures were rough, but Nina, the brilliant seventeen month old, found a way to pacify herself by suggesting to me that she carry a picture of herself with her mother!!!). (Of course Effie would call the entire walk to the car – so now I had Nina crying for Mommy and Mommy crying for Nina). By 9:30 a.m. Nina and I would have a nap for about an hour, then wake up and find out what Eleni was up to (By this point Pappou Leftheri had called from Greece “shocked” that he had missed Effie and wondering what Nina was up to since Effie wasn’t around to talk to, Giagia Katina in the background of course whispering questions). At 12:30 meal two and at 2:00 we had our next nap. (Three more phone calls from Effie, and Teddy had cracked at least twice and called). By 3 we were all outside again playing, waiting for Effie and Teddy to get home from work. (Obviously Effie had called another three times by this point – how else would Nina and I have known that she was on her way home, looking for parking, and walking toward us!)
Meanwhile, I spent my days mesmerized by Nina. Effie would make fun of the fact that I treated her like my little doll – always wanting to pick out different outfits for her and style her hair. She would dress herself – as I picked out her daily outfits. One day I turned around and saw her with her pjs on, trying to put on another pair of pants, a hat and a shirt around her neck, I immediately snapped a picture. She loved my flip flops and would try to wear them any chance she got – again I had to snap a picture. She loved purses and would love looking through mine, I eventually got her a denim purse of her own to match mine and she loved it and posed for it in yet another picture!
The best part of our days were when I would put Nina and Neni in Katina’s double stroller and take them to Bell Blvd and the park. Now there is a reason that I say that Nina babysat me that summer. Children that are seventeen months old mumble, point, play with toys, observe, not Nina. Nina was in on everything and had an extensive vocabulary; you could not even place this child on a development chart because she was so far off. She asked me for a swiffer to dust her mother’s coffee table and would pick up objects to make sure that she got all the dust on the table! She would remind me to put on her sunscreen, desitin, and would always show me spots I missed when cleaning her up after a meal! She called me “Nini” but when I was in trouble she called me “Einini,” my full name! I would kiss her perfect little nose before each nap – by kissing my finger and placing it on her nose (and her bear’s nose of course), she would then take out her pacifier, kiss her finger and place it on my nose (this is what I have missed the most through the years). She made sure that Neni was in on everything and Neni always wanted to be in on everything Nina was in to. One day I styled Nina’s hair in pigtails, and both Neni and Nina insisted that Neni got pigtails too. Now, Neni barely had the hair to support pigtails so we just clipped up whatever we could find. We then added a third pigtail to Nina’s hair so that Neni wouldn’t feel bad – and of course, pictures ensued.
Nina taught me and showed me so much that summer. I feel bad for my future children as Nina has set the bar impossibly high. Nina was surrounded by love and happiness always and I know it is for those reasons that she was able to become the amazing little girl that she was. Nina mou, thank you for taking care of me that summer and teaching me so many important lessons. I will always remember our time together and will share your stories. We will all pull together to help your family, the great loves of your life, get through the impossible task of living in this world without you.
May your beautiful soul rest in peace agapi mou!