Friday, January 6, 2012

Small and loving person

The baby loves me now. Oh, OK, I'm sure he always did, yadda yadda. But, you know, the way a newborn loves you is not so clear. A newborn would collapse his tiny self against any handy warm body, because a newborn has no choice in the matter. And even a 2- or 3-month-old, while happy to be picked up by someone with a familiar smell, doesn't seem to have any sense of who you are.

But now, I swear, Littler Man and I have inside jokes. He is 5 and a half months old. You might ask how it is possible to have inside jokes with a person who doesn't have language yet, and I understand the confusion. Inside jokes might not be the best phrase for what I mean. It's more like this -- he laughs in anticipation when I make a certain noise while changing his diaper, because he knows that I'm about to sail my face down to kiss his naked belly. And I know that when he's in my lap and he turns his body in a certain way, he wants me to settle him in the nursing position. I know when he's restless in his sleep, he wants to lie on my belly for awhile. And he knows, when he gives a disgruntled shriek from his infant seat, that I will come and pick him up and say "Want to come with me to the kitchen?"

It's such a love affair. I remember one of my favorite bloggers, Catherine Newman, writing somewhere about her daughter, "Birdy is peaking," and I know what she means. This age! This "older baby" age, when they are past the newborn stage and not yet approaching toddlerhood. If you like babies at all, you love this stage, with its round fullness of baby warmth and charm, its belly laughs and its flinging limbs and -- one of my favorite things -- the fascination with which a baby of this age will STARE at something they are learning about. In Littler Man's case, it's the faucet. Every time I turn on the kitchen faucet, he whips his head around as if he has heard a chorus of angels bursting forth from the heavens. And he stares at the water coming down out of the spigot and draining away, stares and stares, as if at a miracle -- yes, that, but in fact also as if he were a scientist, paying infinitely close attention to every detail. The whole rest of the world falls away for him when the faucet is on.

Maybe this post should be called "Larger person in love," because I'm noticing that what I'm really writing about is my more and more focused love for him. You love a newborn because of hormones, and because they are there and warm and need you desperately. You love them because they are warm and vulnerable and soft and because you are responsible for them. The process of that sort of love, gradually deepening into a real, tangible love of a specific, individual person, transfixes me. It's slow and gradual, and builds on little things happening every day -- the way he grins wildly when I show him himself in the mirror and say "Who's that handsome boy? who's that beautiful baby?" The way he turns his head this way and that way a few times before settling down on my shoulder in sleep. The way he watches the dog in fascination, forgets the dog entirely, and then remembers about the dog and watches him again.

It was the same with my older son, when he was this age. I want to freeze up this moment -- another baby cliche, see previous post -- the way you want to freeze time when falling in love seriously. The settled, stable relationship is rich and beautiful and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but the way the world drenches itself in warmth during the process of falling is one of life's unmitigated delights, and I am in the thick of it. Thank you for this, world. It's a simple, almost stupid thing to say, but thank you for this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Little Man goes to college... OK, not really

This morning I was finishing up Little Man's lunch and trying to make the baby laugh so that he would stop practicing his ear-piercing SHRIEKING skills, when Little Man wandered into the kitchen, sat on the dog-food tub, picked up his kid-sized acoustic guitar and started strumming. He was barefoot, wearing faded jeans and the same grubby long-sleeved T-shirt he wore yesterday, and his hair -- which he is growing out -- was tossled in perfect bed-head chaos. Sleepy eyes. And I suddenly got a clear-as-day picture of him as a college student.

Little Man is 7. But he is a pretty big 7-year-old, and has picked up some adult-ish mannerisms and turns of phrase from his years as an only child. And we just had a weekend visit from his adored Uncle Bob, my husband's brother, who is a guitarist and spent the weekend idly strumming while chatting with everybody.

And in this moment, with Little Man sitting on a tub and strumming away, I found myself wondering: what college-student cliche will he most resemble? Will he be the sensitive, vegetarian co-op guy, who dates feminists and plays folk music? Will he be a player -- the subject of angry-warning graffiti on the wall in the women's bathroom? Will he be obsessed with sports or will he continue making art and writing poetry, or both? Will he be the good friend, the guy everybody goes to when they're in distress? Or will he be oblivious to other people's feelings, and drink too much with his friends, passing out on people's ratty sofas and stepping on empty pizza boxes while looking for his shoes?

It's so weird how little we know about what our kids will be like as adults, or even as almost-adults. I had no idea what Little Man would be like as a 7-year-old when he was Littler Man's age. We were surprised when he turned out to love drawing so much that it's almost hard to get him to do anything else. Where did he get that? My husband reminded me recently that, even as a baby and a toddler, Little Man wanted us to draw for him, the same firetrucks over and over and over, and he would watch the movements of the pen carefully, as if already taking notes -- oh, so that's how you make the firehose look like it's coiled up on the side of the truck! It's not as if one of us said to him, "Hey Little Man, drawing is really fun, you should try it!" Before either of us thought of suggesting anything in particular, he was already drawing. Already himself.

And with Littler Man, I'm thinking, it will be the same way. Somewhere in that delicious conglomeration of roly-poly flesh and baby-belly-laughs and drooly toothless grins is a real person, slowly getting ready to develop. He will be one thing or another. He will dance or he will run or he will tell stories or he will cook for everybody; he will gravitate towards some activities and not others; he will have a personality and a sense of humor (God willing). I used to think parents had all kinds of influence on their kids, but really, I get it now, it's the parents' job to provide a loving environment for them to freely grow up into themselves. And it's weird to think that this baby, this bundle of warm cuteness who cuddles up against me in his sleep, is already a person, but I just don't know who yet. It's so weird to think that you don't know who your kid will be, even though you feel as though you know them so intimately. I know every time the kid poops, and I clean his most intimate parts for him, and I latch him onto an intimate part of myself every time he's hungry, and yet I don't really know him yet. It's weirdly like a one-night-stand -- that most intimate of acts committed with a stranger.

I'm writing this and I'm thinking: This is a cliche. Everybody knows this about babies. And that is true. In fact, anything you write about babies is already a cliche, because everything has been said, not only by brilliant and well-known writers, but also by every mom or dad who strikes up a chat with another parent at the playground.

But there is a compulsion to say it anyway, because what is a cliche to someone who has been a parent for 30 years is a powerfully tangible, almost bodily truth to a new parent, or even a parent of a new baby. Oh my god, you think, he's growing so fast I can almost see him do it! And it doesn't feel like a cliche, but rather like an earth-shattering revelation. And it is, but when I say these things to my mother -- grandmother of 11 -- she smiles in a sweetly beautific way that says "Yes, you get it now." Meaning, that which she has known since 1963, when she had her first baby, and when (I'm sure) her own mother gave her the same beautific smile.

To me, though, it's a revelation --Babies are a mystery! -- and I vaguely feel as though I should be given the Nobel prize for discovering it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Little Man has a sibling. I know! I'm as surprised as anyone. It's the weirdest thing... I was just trying to catch up on some stuff, you know, dishes and whatnot, and suddenly, kaboom! There was a newborn baby in the house, all wiggly and cute and asking to be fed, diapered, held, you know -- mothered. And I looked at myself and said, Oh, hey, I'm a mother! I could take this on! And so I did. And so there was Littler Man.

OK, it didn't happen exactly like that. But it sort of feels as if it did. Actually, there was a tremendous amount of effort involved. And I don't mean the regular baby-making kind of "work." I mean the sort of expert work performed by teams of fertility specialists; and also the emotional work performed by people who generously, incredibly, donated their own embryonic children to us. Some of those embryonic children took one look at the inside of my uterus and said "Um, no. Thanks, though" and left. One of them, though, hung on for a bit, checked it all out, listened to the sound of my voice, muffled as it was through all those internal organs, the breathing and the heartbeat and the gushing of blood through my veins, and said "She sounds nice. I'll bet she'll be OK for me" and took a leap of faith.

For which I am tearfully grateful, even though I sometimes wonder if either he or we are crazy. Are we ready for this? A whole 'nother baby-raising time, after Little Man has already graduated into schoolkid-dom, all making his own snacks and deciding on his own hairstyles and writing his own poems? And at 4:00 a.m., when Littler Man wants to be fed AGAIN after JUST FEEDING an HOUR BEFORE, I do wonder what in tarnation I was thinking. But then we get up in the morning and sit in the chair by the window, and it's quiet and there's a funny early morning light, and I hold him against me with his feather-soft head just under my chin, and his heartbeat humming against mine, and he snuggles all comfortable-like against me, palpably content, and I nod.

Yes. Oh yes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Learning to ride a bike

When Little Man taught himself to ride a bike with no training wheels yesterday, I was standing chatting with a neighbor and watching him out of the corner of my eye. He was having a hard time at first, struggling over and over to get the bike going before he started to fall sideways and catching himself just in time. I started out helping him, but, honestly? Bending over that far and keeping the bike straight up while running next to him? I wasn't so good at it. The bike wobbled -- it wobbled a lot. And having me in control (in name, anyway) of the bike seemed to make L.M. nervous. Finally he wanted to try it by himself, so I let him.

I had mentioned earlier that everyone falls once or twice while they are learning to ride a bike, and he was appalled. "I don't want to fall! I'm not going to fall," he declared, and I thought, "Oh, sure you will. Why is falling so terrible?" but I let it go. Weirdly, though, he didn't.

Within what seemed like a short amount of time -- an hour or two? -- he was making it 3 feet -- 5 feet -- 10 feet before starting to lose balance. And then he was zipping up and down the street, only losing it sometimes while turning, but otherwise fine. Still chatting with my neighbor, I watched and applauded him, "You're doing great, honey!" My attention was only partly distracted, because I really was beaming with pride at his determination and success.

Even so, I almost missed it. He said it quietly, to himself really, and I was in the middle of a story and only watching him peripherally, but I did catch it with some part of my mind. Because I didn't respond at the time, but later I woke up and remembered that moment and had that experience I've never been able to put properly into words. I didn't get tears in my eyes, but I was -- halted somehow -- in everything: breathing, thinking, feeling. Lost in wonder. Grateful. What he had said so quietly to himself was,

"I have dreamed of this."

What I saw, yesterday, with my very own eyes, was my son experiencing, literally, a dream come true.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Re: the suggestion of taking a walk around the block: "Yeah mom! and then we can lose ourselves, and then find ourselves again!" Exactly.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Naturalist poet

Driving by the river this morning. From the back seat: "Mom! I saw a heron!" [pause] "At least I think it was a heron. It was as tall as a baby tree and as thin as a bicycle wheel. And kind of blue-ish."

Friday, May 14, 2010

The three little wolves

New favorite story: one Little Man told me at bedtime last night, about the three little wolves and the big, bad pig, who kept trying to blow their newly-built houses down. See, the bricks- and cement-based houses went down easily with sledgehammers and jackhammers, but the one made of flowers? That one survived. Because of the beauty and aroma of the flowers, people. The pig was overcome by beauty and decided to make friends with the wolves instead of eating them.

See? It's like I've always said: Art saves lives.