Tuesday, January 19, 2016

You Forget

My new grandson, Paul, is asleep on his back.  Every now and then, he startles, his arms flying up, fingers splayed, legs jerking in close to his body.  His tiny brow furrows and his lips purse.  When our dog, Kody, twitched in her sleep, we’d say, “She’s chasing rabbits.”  Absent bunnies or the ability to chase, what images flash through a baby’s mind? 

No wandering stuffed animals lie within Paul’s reach; no blankets threaten to suffocate him.  Statistics on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) have banned such comforts, but he snoozes on the floor, serene on his jungle mat, under curling felt palm fronds and the gaze of a smiling giraffe.  Lisa, Paul’s mom, is taking a much-needed nap, and I’m stretched out on the brown velvet couch, keeping watch along with the giraffe.

As a young mother, was I as anxious as I am now about this baby’s safety when he is in my care?  I don’t remember worrying about catching a heel and pitching forward while holding the baby, or thinking I might injure his hand while struggling to inch his arm through a tight sleeve.  When he squalls, I’m saddened by his anguish, yet when he’s asleep, I stare fixedly at his chest for its reassuring rise and fall. 

I guess you forget.  You forget the jolt in the stomach in the middle of the night at hearing a squawk soon after transferring the sleeping – so-asleep, definitely asleep – baby into the cradle.  This, after an hour’s feeding and a half hour of pacing and cooing, having gently eased the baby down, swaying and rocking as you lower him, tricking him really, into thinking he’s still being held, even as you’re settling him into a crib no longer filled with friendly stuffed animals, buffered by cozy bumpers, and festooned with intriguing mobiles due to those SIDS statistics.  Who wouldn’t wake up and wail?

You forget the awkward flurry of trying to get a fresh diaper maneuvered into place before the baby poops on the changing table, soiling another pad.  You forget the dodge and weave when you neglect to cover the baby’s penis and a jet of urine barely misses you, soaking the brandy new outfit you’d laid out for the child, and landing a droplet on the baby’s cheek.  You forget the knot in your back and your tired arms.  How can eight pounds be so heavy?

More easily, you remember the child once cereal’s been added to the menu, and that squawk is no longer a nightly occurrence.  You remember a baby that has discovered his or her hands, extraordinary appendages that swivel, wave, and whack toys, with fingers that soothe better than a pacifier, thank God. And you remember a baby who knows you, and rewards your goofiness with a smile.
Having a grandson blows memory’s veils aside some, and while climbing lichened rocks splotched with emerald green mosses during a recent hike, Dave, our friend Joanie, and I chuckled in recalling mishaps decades ago with our newborns:

Joanie gingerly tiptoeing across the hall, her arms curved in rock-a-bye mode, to re-place the baby into her crib after nursing, only to discover her arms empty and Tracy already there.

Me, awakening, panicked because Tucker was not in my arms.  Desperately patting the bed around me, whipping back the sheets, searching for the baby.  Finally shaking Dave awake to ask, “Where’s Tucker?!  He’s not here!”  And his doting father’s answer, “Who’s Tucker?” 

FYI: the baby was not under the pillows or on the floor, but, like Tracy, asleep in his cradle.

Last week, I commented to Tucker, now 35, something about the delightful ease of breastfeeding.  There was a silence on the phone.  A noticeable silence.  An audible deep breath was drawn before he said, “Are you sure you’re remembering right Mom?  These two weeks have been hard.”

Maybe I have forgotten.  Certainly I remember the first abysmal night home from the hospital.  Dave had cooked up a welcoming feast of steak, potatoes, and asparagus.  After eagerly consuming dinner, I nursed the baby, and Dave settled in for an all-nighter with his graduate school studies. I’d not yet made the connection between my diet and the baby’s, and apparently asparagus was too acidic. Tucker cried through the night, his mother along with him.  Dave tried to comfort us, and I have a misty image of the three of us sobbing, but maybe, over the years, that’s been added for spice. It’s a funny story, but at the time, it was miserable.  In that way memory is kind, blurring over rough spots and throwing a halo around holy ones.   

For I remember the scent of my freshly bathed babies, their hair fluffy and soft as dandelion fuzz.  I remember downy cheeks and serene little faces, lips working, and lifting into fleeting smiles.  And when I remember the miracle of my little ones, they are surrounded by an aura of light and love that I had never known before.  I look at Paul, peacefully sleeping, and I remember… and feel it anew.

 Posed! Taken later! Adorable stegosaurus in the jungle!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Christmas Old ...and News!

My father, Paul, was tough on Santa Claus.  Mom, my sisters, and I would sit on the stairs in our nighties and robes in the morning on December 25 while Dad lumbered down to the living room to “make sure the fat man was gone.”  While surreptitiously turning on Christmas tree lights and lighting the fire in the fireplace, Dad would bellow, “Hey!  What are you still doing here?  Off!  Off you go now!”  Even as young believers, somehow we knew this was funny and not a rudeness that would send Santa off in a huff having snatched back our gifts.

Dad’s performance in berating Santa and chasing him away became ever more outrageous as we three girls grew older.  And Dad was still shooing the fat man when those gathered on the stairs included my own children and tiny nephews.  Is it totally pathetic to grow misty over such a memory?  Perhaps, but for all the lights, tinsel, jingle bells, and parties, Christmas is poignant, ripe with promise and heavy with expectation.  Like a snowball gathering size and weight as it rolls, the holiday carries with it the shadows and brilliance of years past.

Early this December, I drove to Pennsylvania to join my sisters in a green room vigil as my mother had surgery. The procedure went smoothly and, undaunted, Mom went to dinner and the theater with friends two days later.  So I headed home, free of worry, serenaded by a Christmas CD Dave had compiled. 

My current favorite is a Don Henley song and when it played through the first time, I chimed in at the end of the chorus, then tapped the replay button on the dashboard for another round.  And then, a third.  I listened a mite and repeated the lyrics, striving to learn the words.  At some point, I keyed in to the message beyond simply singing along:

“Bells will be ringing the sad, sad news.
Oh what a Christmas, to have the blues.
My baby’s gone.  I have no friends
To wish me happy, happy Christmas, once again…”

No friends?  Ouch.  Not exactly jolly.  Time to move on; no more replays.  Johnny Mathis began to croon, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and I cruised vocally on auto-pilot, joining in on every word.  But you can’t miss the melancholy in that World War II lament as a lonely soldier longs to head home. 

Next up, “White Christmas.”  In my mind’s eye, Bing tapped his pipe, tamped in some tobacco, and gazed with languid eyes into his pool of memories.  From some musical archive in my soul, the lyrics spooled forth as Bing and I sang together of tree tops glistening, sleigh bells in the snow, and Christmas cards.  Clearly Bing was wistful.  His Christmas held not those things; he was yearning for them, “just like the ones I used to know…”

When Dave toasts fresh breadcrumbs, chops black olives, and mixes them with browned garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, he senses his Aunty Cam, deceased for seven years, watching over his shoulder and nodding her satisfaction.  As he reaches to the top of our tree to place an angel, crafted in 1986 from a barely disguised toilet paper roll, we picture little Tucker, the artist, leaping about in anticipation with his sister, Casey.   On Christmas Eve, as is our tradition, Dave and I lie in bed, reciting “The Night Before Christmas,” and I remember my father with my kids in his lap, reading them the same story.  So many snippets from the Christmases we used to know.  

When I was a kid growing up in the fifties, tree lights were universally multi-colored, but ours glows now, magical as a snowy Christmas, with tiny white lights.  Its prickly green fingers display shimmering glass icicles and decades-old ornaments.  Many hands have crafted the satin peppers, rustic calico creations, clothespin dolls, and salt-dough figures tucked among shiny red and silver balls.  The eighties reaped a host of pieces personalized with Tucker and Casey’s names:  crocheted snowmen, wooden teddy bears, tiny sleds, and sweaters. Our grandniece, Ava, has provided our most recent acquisitions: a clay Santa face made from her handprint, and a glittery pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers.  That is the way of family trees, whether balsam or genealogical, their branches fill with new additions.

And so it is this December, because this has been a richly blessed Christmas: Casey and her boyfriend, PJ, announced their engagement, and Tucker and his wife Lisa brought a new Paul into the family!  With a full head of hair and soft kissable cheeks, this little bug looks much like Tucker did when he was my baby.  And I miss my father on this fourth Christmas without him, but I know he is beaming from his spot on the heavenly couch.

 Tucker, 1980

Paul, 2015

2015, PJ and Casey, engaged!