The neighbor’s dog won’t stop barking but he has only startled once. He is sucking his thumb as he goes down.
K and J were over with little J, counting down days till work begins full-time again. Sweet days, never to be returned to. Vacations, sick days, personal days will provide, numbered by work; but tandem life, day after day, not again. How are you coping, I ask. What’s going on in your heart? I’m trying not to think about it, she says, and I’m trying to be present. Not to space out when I’m tired. Not to go do things when she’s down to sleep or playing alone happily. She picks Shaw up when I am busy doing things and he is fussing, his father doing things too. We’ll get to him in a minute, we are both thinking. He’s all right and it won’t hurt him to wait just a minute. She picks him up, speaks kindly to him, plays with him, attends to him. He is happy. I feel guilty. I often look for an out, for someone to hold him so I can…go do things. Immaterial, trivial things, mostly. Or menial things that I just want to cross off my list. I will miss him after a while, I know. It is good to have a break. But I sense that she yearns to fill her life as it is for the next few days with as much blissful baby, guileless and true, as she can, and she’ll take it where she can find it. In that moment I long for her longing. I say aloud that I love watching him in another person’s arms because I can see all of him, see who he is in the world, not on my hip only. My hip where he is heavy and my arms ache and I eagerly anticipate the days when he’ll hold more of his weight, cling to me with his own hands and knees. But wait, my next thought chimes in. By then he’ll be older; this dependence, this sweet wholeness of devotion, will be over. I tear up. No! Hold onto this fleeting present! I switch hips and flex the muscles in the other arm, fueled as if by adrenaline; they should but drop from overuse.
The same loop plays as he settles himself to sleep. TS Eliot, was it? said, and I paraphrase, ’twas never a child so sweet but that Mother was glad to see him asleep. The moment he stills I tear up again. No more games till the morn, this day’s chance is gone. I wistfully remember how he nearly sits on his own now. Why do these joys exit my mind so swiftly when I am tired, how could I tire so, waiting to eat my own meal, that I wish he’d play on his own for now? Can I not learn to attend longer, will my stamina not build up? I chide myself for every smile or gaze missed. For the hours in the car when he is ready to play and i have adult things to drag him along to. Missed opportunities. Love them, drink them, yearn for them, and it’s hard work nearly every moment. The adult brain longs for stimulation but the babe is irresistible. Or, maybe I haven’t failed. This is it, this is the stuff of life: do your best to drink your fill. Know you can’t drink it all. Love what you drank. Desire to drink more. Recount to others how it tasted. Remember the sweetness and smile.