Today she sucked her toes for the first time. It had been weeks of the happy baby yoga pose and then, suddenly, pop! Into the mouth they went.
She was tuckered out. Beanie is stretching his will, particularly at nap and bedtimes. What should take five minutes ends up taking fifteen. Thomas this and Gordon that and James, too, and no no no Knuffle Bunny! I don’t want to go to sleep! He sounds like such a professional speaking in complete, grammatically correct sentences that I almost feel guilty forcing him. But then Teenie was waiting, ever so patiently, for her meal and nap. Alas, I’m afraid that’s her lot.
“Seeing you for the first time was…”
A trip. You were so small you didn’t look as though you could possibly exist. You had hair on your head, which was some kind of miracle. Your eyes were scrunched closed, and now I can’t remember if you were screaming or not, but there must have been screaming at some point. You were skinny, but you had fur. We were all anxious for you to start sucking on me. Were you getting anything? Yes, but it never seemed like enough. You slept and slept and slept. Until we tried to sleep. Then you woke up with your little protest cries, and I would say, “It’s okay, Teenie, it’s okay. Mama’s here,” and you would quiet down for a moment. I did this in my sleep over the span of what could have been minutes or hours.
The food at the hospital gave hospital food its bad name. Dad would never say it was bad. In my head I thought it was bad but didn’t want to claim it out loud for fear of being branded as negative, or for fear that the negative would start to bleed out and taint other things, even you.
I’ve hit a wall. I don’t remember anything else. There’s a scene in the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland where Alice is walking down a path in the darkness, and as she walks a dog or a broom or a dog-broom is sweeping up the path behind her. It then sidesteps her and sweeps the path in front, and Alice is left standing on a loan square in the darkness with no path in front and no path behind. That’s how I feel sometimes with my memory. The path behind me has all been erased or shrouded, and the path in front is unknowable.
And so the days go. I have a headache. Reading V.S. Naipaul is making me cynical. There are too many sides to me, and none of them are real, especially sitting here like a perpetual armchair, brain fuzzy with inanities and fevered by a low-grade anxiety. I am so tired that everything has begun to seem the same. Malaise? Malaise.
“Seeing you for the first time I was…”
You were so small. Tiny. They measured you stretched out at 20.5 inches, which later turned out to be wrong, unless you shrank, but I wasn’t surprised considering that they lay you complaining on a sheet of paper and drew two haphazard marks that were supposed to represent your north and south poles, utterly inadequate, but who really cares when the ruddy, furry, fragile thing is squawking for her mother? Twenty point five inches is the span of space between my wrist and my shoulder. I measured it to prove the point of how small you were, but now that distance seems impossibly great. Suffice it to say that measured length, though reported in every email by every new parent, is meaningless. You were always curled up, obeying the comforting strictures of the womb, even when you had the run of the universe.
Your weight tells the better story. Light, lighter even than your light brother, so light you were barely a thing. The nurses thought so, too. They were all in a rush to weigh you because you might have been too small, and something medical would have to be done about that. But you had just enough heft.
Awed. I didn’t think I would be. I had done it before, seen it before. Or maybe I wasn’t actually awed but simply observant, wondering if I would be awed because I had done it before, and in the wondering I destroyed some of the awe that would have been there if that cold part of my brain hadn’t decided to withhold itself out of curiosity.
The worry, though, began straight away.
You had a nice coat on you. Did it keep you warm at all? It seemed almost thick enough to. I already began to mourn the day you would lose it. Nothing makes you lose your grip on time more than a newborn baby. Those days of explosive growth. Oh I wanted so fiercely to protect you! I guess that’s love.
Oh I am so delighted with her! Even though on Saturday we went to Walnut Creek for a party, stayed out too late, missed her bedtime, and since then she has not slept through the night as she had for the past few weeks.
Her skin has cleared with the help of the hydrocortisone. That explains much of the delight. I had been so anxious, witnessing her torment: the frantic clawing, the grimaces of frustration. Now she is willing to smile again, though I’ve yet to find the trick to her laugh.
There is also this: now I feel free to kiss her. Before I had been afraid of aggravating her skin. A semi-subconscious fear I chided myself for but that I never quite succeeded in overcoming. As K has said, there is always something, a “thing” about their infancy that dominates our attention, however unserious relative to other conditions. “Poop,” she said, “is ours.” We looked over at Beanie playing with his cars. I nodded. “Hernia.” “And sleep, too, wasn’t it?” “God yes, though I guess they were related.” The talk of mothers.
We’ll forget, you know. By the time we are our parents’ age, we’ll have forgotten almost everything, except maybe the identity of the “thing,” and one or two stories we repeat too often. Hence this record. Because the minutiae are what make it real, and lived. Two little scratches on her forehead, a few hours old now, no longer bright. Her lovely, thin, long eyelashes, curved perfectly at the tips. This accounts for the prettiness that brings such immense satisfaction to Panini’s mother. The soft force of her sweet breath, swirling in the drowsy space between us.
I think it is safe to ask Panini to switch with me now, but I fear disturbing the peace.
I wait in the car with her while she naps. It has been a rough day for her, pocked with broken sleep and inadequate feeding. And then a visit to the doctor with all the probing and poking and weighing. She gave out and screamed, which is unlike her, at the end of her rope and desperate, finally, for some relief.
The wind shakes the car, and I nervously wait for it to wake her up. Why do we have to live in such a windy place? I grumble. Already the hot days have been combed away.
I remember the importance weather took on during the days when Beanie was sleeping poorly. He’s too hot. He’s too cold. The rain is waking him, no, the wind, no, the heater. But Teenie I let sleep in a swing of ten degrees, and it seems to make no difference.
How much do we care about our descendants? Right now it feels as though we would do anything for our children. Assuming they feel the same way about their children, by the transitive property we should also feel similarly about our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, etc., unto infinity (or the end of mankind). But do we truly have more than a passing interest in someone five generations away? If everyone has their children at age 30, our great-great-great grandchildren will be born roughly 120 years from now. One hundred twenty years ago was 1897. In 1897, people were still traveling by horse and buggy. The leading causes of death were pneumonia, flu, and tuberculosis. There were no computers. The Chinese Exclusion Act had just been renewed five years before. I do not believe in the existence of 1897. Even if someone born in 1897 were alive today, she would not believe in it, just as I don’t believe in the 1980s or my parents in the ’60s, albeit theirs was a different ’60s.
I cannot, then, even fathom the existence of 2137. It looks like an address, not a year. Conjure 2137? A year peopled with strangers, a few dozen of which might be mine. Would any of our money be left? Should any of it be? What are those people to me? Accidents.
But Teenie and Beanie feel like anything but accidents. They are so very much themselves, and the love they evoke is ungovernable. Could it be that the transitive property, so important to logic, simply doesn’t hold for people? Obvious and yet ludicrous! Oh well. So much of life is.