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.