My 18-month-old daughter Bronwyn, nicknamed Bunny, was laying claim to her babysitter. She could be very possessive about some things, and about some people. This was one of those times.
Her dad and I tried to hide our smiles, which threatened to turn into laughter. When asked her name, she would reply firmly, “Bunny Moss-hoe-der” (her pronunciation of Mosholder, Donna’s last name). And we would laugh some more.
A couple of months after Bunny was born, I knew I had to do something that filled me with fear and dread: find a babysitter for my new baby daughter for when I had to return to work. I had no clue at first what I was looking for, but as I started to interview people it became clear to me what I hoped to find. Not someone with a spotless, sterile house and carefully organized activities, but a good, kind, generous, warm person with a genuine love of children. A person who was patient and loving and whose smile and laugh came from deep inside her.
When Donna welcomed us into her house that first time, she did not start the discussion with a list of rules, hours, and fees. She asked if she could hold Bunny. When I saw her holding and looking at Bunny, patiently trying different ways to soothe my colicky 3-month-old, I knew this was the one. As for the details, her house was neat and clean, but with just enough kid mess to show that real kids could and did live here and could do all the kid exploring and kid playing they wanted and needed to do. “We’re a family on the go,” she explained. “We go to school, to visit my parents, and to see friends and neighbors.” Donna did not refer to herself as a child-care provider but as a babysitter, so I followed her lead. Such an unpretentious title for a person who could be a wonder-worker when necessary.
Donna’s house was a hub of activity for her family, friends, and neighborhood. There was often a gaggle of teenaged girls who loved to hold babies, as well as another little girl that Donna took care of who became Bunny’s first playmate. There were Donna’s two sons Brian and Jason, who gave the little kids rides in their wagon and let them play with their Playmobil and Lego sets when they were old enough. There were her husband Butch, sister Vicki, and her parents who were the extended family that we did not have near us. This was not the frantic, pressured whirl of an overscheduled family, but a more relaxed, stop-visit-and-smell-the-flowers type of activity. It was this warm and affectionate environment that my daughter spent a good part of her early years in. I am convinced that this environment and especially Donna’s extraordinary character and personality shaped so many of the wonderful qualities that are evident in the young woman my daughter is today.
Donna remained a part of my daughter’s life as she grew up, although visits became less frequent when Donna and her family moved to West Virginia. Even then, she was one of the first people Bunny would notify about important events in her life. She would also seek her out when she was tired and stressed and just needed the comforting presence of Donna and her family. During her junior year in high school, she missed the first week of school when she came back from a summer program in Romania suffering from a severe bacterial infection. From the lingering physical effects, the extra efforts that had to be made to catch up, and the wear and tear of a grueling and rigorous academic schedule, Bunny was exhausted by the time Christmas vacation came around. “I have to go see Donna,” she told us. The days she spent at Donna’s house in West Virginia were the key to her final and complete recovery.
Donna died on March 3. I cannot begin to describe how this has affected her circle of family and friends. Donna lived life the way it is supposed to be lived, and she was so vibrant a personality and so full of life that it is impossible to imagine her otherwise. My daughter described her as “the most unselfish person I have ever known.” She has left a wonderful legacy with all the people she has touched, but it is still so hard for all of us to let her go. I do know that some day we will be able to truly celebrate her life without tears. I owe her more than I can ever say.
Good-bye, Donna. We love you.