“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.
Over the past few days her babbling has become more complex. The addition of “mamamama” is particularly gratifying. Fewer smiles, though. Could it be the cradle cap itchiness? She oozes from the skin in front of her ears, but at least it doesn’t smell the way her weepy neck does.
I indulge her because she is sweet. Panini’s mom says she needs to get used to being on her own. Such is the fate of the second child, she announces. Nonsense. She tolerates much; why push her to her limits?
My head throbs from too little sleep, too much screen time. Maybe dehydration. The desert of the bed, its distance from sustenance. Burbling humidifier. The stink of her neck. (What is that? Bacteria? Harmless or treacherous?) I could lose an arm, holding her like this, the blood cut off to my nerves, limbs limp and damp.
She seems at once knowing and inert. Sometimes on the changing pad she will flail her arms and legs manically, but elsewhere she slumps into stillness, watching with her round, almost coquettishly pretty eyes. Her favorite activities: talking and sucking her hands. And sleeping.
She laughed for the first time the day before yesterday. Panini’s mom had been handing Teenie puffs to eat. “How many puffs?” she had asked. “One puff. Two puffs.” And then that surprising, low chuckle. I was holding her facing out, couldn’t verify except through questioning that the sound was indeed a laugh. She repeated again for Ami but only looked at me curiously when I brought her to the mirror for an encore.
Now she naps on me, knocked out by her meal. But her sleep is uneasy, interrupted by little movements, her chin tucking in, a flutter of the eyelids.