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!