The Truth About The First Year
Crescent: Holding the Moon
I feel as if I have been called on to guard the moon herself. A moon with dimples and a tiny crooked grin. A moon with the sweetest scent emanating from the soft spot on the top of her round head -- a smell sweeter than honey or flowers. How do you do this? How do you safely carry the moon around on this earth?
When we first brought Teenie Wee home from the hospital, it seemed shocking that we were allowed to take her outside, put her into the backseat of the car, and drive through such loud, bright, crowded streets. I sat back there with her, trying not to think of car crashes and how she was so little that her car seat straps barely stayed on her shoulders. I wished, then, that I was a marsupial with a pouch, hopping happily, hippily through a jungle.
After giving birth my body was so different that it wouldn't have seemed odd to have a new flap of skin formed on my abdomen, a soft sling that appeared overnight for cradling the little one. But there was nothing except my still distended, now empty uterus. And months later I still want a pouch.
The car seat is just not natural in any way. This struck me most when we left the wee-ist one sitting in it asleep one night on the bed. Illuminated by light from the television and the blue globe lamp, crunched down with her features pressed together beneath a little man-in-the-moon cap, the creature in the seat looked like an elf or young alien who had been captured in a net in a forest among the roots of a gnarled tree and imprisoned in this contraption with its straps and buckles.
Even the starry night sky print doesn't help the car seat seem less sinister. There is a huge warning sign right near Babela's head about how death may occur if the seat is not used properly; this makes me crampy-sick to my stomach every time I see it. The car seat has a strap that must be snapped into a slot between two pearly chubette thighs. It takes a lot of pressure to do this and makes a loud, painful sound.
Every time I snap Bunny in I cringe and wince, imagining what might happen if I pinched her legs with the metal. When I lug the heavy seat out to the car I hear my birdish wrist bones clicking, threatening to collapse. Finally the car seat is in and then I must drive. I find that I hold my breath at almost every intersection, in spite of my yoga training. I feel nauseous at each left turn, waiting to make sure I can see everything in front of me before I creep forward, causing people behind me to honk their horns. I say an incantation to keep me calm. Because Fuzzy Wuzzy must face the back of the car, I can glimpse only the downy top of her head and hear the soft jingling of one of her stuffed guys -- purple rhino, yellow giraffe, or striped and multicolored whoozit -- as we go along. When she falls asleep her head lolls forward like a flower on a slender stem and I now have a new worry. Will her neck hurt? I know that kangaroos do not have to fret about such things.
The carriage looks sturdy and safe, but it, too, is covered with warning signs, and as we go down curbs I always pray that the straps have not somehow come loose and that the wheels are still secure. There is something strange, anyway, about setting out with your young riding far in front of you, the first to brave traffic, rather than contained against your body. Our spaniel, Vincent Van Go Go Boots, accompanies us proudly along the narrow sidewalks, keeping perfect pace. We dodge poisonous oleanders, dog crap, garbage, mud. We nervously try to catch the eye of each driver at stop signs.
Once I startle so much at a car coming toward us that the driver decides to be funny, inching up slowly toward the carriage while I stand like a headlight-stricken deer. He laughs, "What, you thought I was going to hit you?" Even the sun seems to be playing mean games, peeking in on the moon baby skin at every opportunity.
Instead of the calm my walks used to bring to me and Vin, we return home exhausted and tight. I remember when I was pregnant and we would walk up steep hills, go on two-hour treks down streets without sidewalks, climb the many flights of stairs among the gardens of palm, bougainvillea and riotous six-foot-tall wildflowers. Now we can only take one route and it is not a meditation but an obstacle course. Our baby usually falls asleep, though. I peer down at her through the little sunroof in the top of the carriage and see two glimmering bluebells slowly close, rose feet stop kicking, bud fists no longer reach out to grab the cherries on the shade blanket. So this is my flower garden now. The best one even though I can't stroll through it but only peek at it like the magic worlds inside a sugar Easter egg.
My mother says that when I was a baby there were none of these contraptions; I used to ride in a little pink plastic seat in the car, or on her lap; there were no straps or belts or heavy high-tech carriers. But even the most natural, age-old baby-carrying devices seem daunting to my weakened body.
I have a cream-colored cotton Guatemalan Maya wrap, but I can't get the hang of it. The tattooed yoga goddess who sold it to me did an impressive demonstration, tossing it over her shoulder, making it look so easy, but when I use it, my bundle wiggles and wriggles and writhes and I end up just carrying her in my arms. This is wonderful; my arms feel her warm weight and my skin absorbs her sweet smell.
My food digests easily and my body temperature regulates. And yet I worry when I am trying to use one arm to open a jar of vitamins or water a plant, is my hold on her secure enough? In the first week, when I was wretched with no sleep, staggering to the changing table, my hands gripping the treasure, I saw horrifying flashes of accidents. The room spun with fatigue and worry. The world was all sharp corners and edges, germs and poisons, carcinogens. Doorknobs and cabinet edges seemed to come to life in the swirling night, little demons of destruction that I must battle.
Why was I so haunted? I felt raw with guilt that I even envisioned my beloved in danger. I have often lived in fear, punishing myself with harsh judgments, obsessions, and near-starvation as, perhaps, a way to ward off the loss of my loved ones. This fear, now, cannot be distanced. But such a heightened, vivid, hallucinatory fear had its own weird purpose.
In my exhaustion, which might otherwise have made me less diligent, the cringing fear kept me brilliantly, shockingly alert. I don't run from wild animals, but I still feel jolts of adrenaline that just fester and strain my heart. Now here is fear with a purpose, and I try to honor and respect it even as I tell myself that a good mother is always calm. Maybe I can learn to love fear, too. It will make my arms strong even when they shake with fatigue. In a strange way, wrapped around love -- love's guardian -- it will be my pouch.
Cannibal mamas in Mommy and Me yoga threaten to devour the miraculous toes of their babes. My baby giggles giddily when I put my mouth around her feet, pretending to savor her piggies. My mother says she thinks it is an instinct to take the little ones back inside where they are safe. The womb is even better than the pouch, but I know I will have to let Tinkletoes go out in her car seat, her stroller, eventually on those pink silk pouch feet, into the world with all its dangers.
My husband and I joke that no one can touch her but us until she is 25 and ready to marry my friend's blue-eyed son, who, when I was enormously pregnant and feeling completely unattractive, put his hands on my belly and crowed huskily, as if seeing straight through that wall of flesh, "The baby is cute!" We tell her that we will have lots and lots of fun until then, watching videos, eating take-out Japanese, and playing behind a locked gate in the garden -- we'll even build her a fountain and gazebo covered with roses. But we know our fantasy won't last long. Already little boys reach out to touch her hand, so pudgy that it looks as if someone tied a little string bracelet around her wrist.
Once she was inside of me, tucked up, upside down, kicks and hiccups, my own secret. Once she was a flicker of heartbeat on the ultrasound screen and then a little shadow-baby there, with a spine like a fish's, like a fern's, scratching her elbow, sucking her thumb, and revolving to look out at me with the two sparks of light in her face.
Now she belongs to this place, to the night that rises out of the throats of the purple flowers, to the pale dawn singing the white flower of her name.