You’ve blended into our normal and life feels ordinary again now. Ordinary, except happier than it used to be, because love you and you love us. You catch someone looking at you and the joke of it spreads across your whole face in an instant and you won’t let go with your eyes. You keep on grinning in a way that betrays how perfectly wonderful you feel inside from it all. Your whole body squirms with the joy of it, like someone is literally tickling you.
Sometimes from there you launch into conversation, long strings of complicated vowels – breathy when you’re happy, guttural when you get sad or serious or maybe just because you feel strongly about what you’re saying. Laughs come out involuntarily along the way, like punctuation. How is it you can be so fun?!
I can’t stop studying you. You’re lying next to me right now. I’m propped up on my elbows, belly on the carpet. You’re on your back on your play mat. It’s your favorite spot, and it’s always cute to see how your initial protest at being put down turns into a happy face when you recognize the toys hanging above you. You even like being on your tummy here, and one night we both fell asleep just like this at the end of a long, busy Saturday. The dog was sleeping next to us.
I love knowing you. We’ve had enough weeks together now that you’re building up a collection of mannerisms, likes, dislikes, and patterns and I am coming to know them confidently. I love how you rub your yellow blanket on your face while you’re trying to go to sleep. I think that’s my favorite.
I love being with you. I’m finding somehow there’s this charmed connection between the two of us and it’s only a rare exception that I don’t meet your cries with an eagerness to stop what I’m doing and hold you. Not always. Sometimes I have to let you cry because Jacob or Meredith need me or because I need me or because I really can’t let the laundry go any longer. And sometimes this feels frustrating. But usually I’m just glad it’s time to be with you again.
I think I’ve finally learned that I need to rest, and I need it more than I think, so I’m always happy for the invitation to sit and hold you and put aside all the other things. It reminds me of that needlepoint that hung on my wall when I was little, and I’m just glad I’ve finally internalized it with Baby #3:
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
for children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
Maybe I’ll spoil you and you will demand more of me than you might otherwise. But I’ve learned enough to know that four years from now you won’t need me very much and I certainly won’t need to rock you to sleep anymore. So I think I would rather have things this way.
Besides, you are easy. You seem to be self-regulating so well. Every couple weeks I have to put you down in your crib to cry because it’s clear you are so over-tired from a hard day or two that you can’t sort yourself out anymore and my rocking is just making you worse. But it’s surprising that for the most part you are calmly muddling through these early weeks, taking your birth order in stride, learning to sleep in your carseat and forgiving me with remarkably minimal upheaval when I interrupt or deter your nap for the fourth time in a single day.
Nights are the most remarkable part of this. You don’t have any semblance of a bedtime ritual. There is no normal. But at three months old you are happily sleeping in your own room. Sometime between 6:30 and 9:30 you decide you’re done for the day. Sometimes this means we pick up your cues and lay you down wide awake, either happy or screaming, and you thank us by silently going to sleep. Sometimes this means we hold you into another “nap” that turns out to be the end of the line, and then we set you down and don’t see you again for hours.
The amazing thing is that many nights in the last week or so you’ve woken only once, after 4:00 a.m. Once you slept all the way till 7:00. Often you wake earlier than 4:00 but you don’t wake twice often anymore. I find this amazing because Meredith woke twice through most of her first year, and Jacob slept through the night only because we finally got desperate and ignored him for a few agonizing nights. At any rate, it feels amazing and I am ridiculously impressed.
I love Sundays, how I get to snuggle you in your Moby through two rounds of church, how it feels when the pastor puts his fingers on your tiny forehead and speaks a blessing over you at the communion table. I love feeling alone with you when Jacob & Meredith are off doing their own thing, not just at church, either, but at home in the many hours they spend pursuing their own imaginations, completely disinterested in us. I rock you in your room a lot, singing to you, staring at you, or reading through my childhood journals, a cathartic and beautiful project I began last winter.
I love swinging at the park with you in my arms and I love how you raise one eyebrow just like your Nana does. Daddy says you’re flaunting this ability since some people (himself included) don’t have it. I say flaunt all you want. You’re super cute.
The other day I put you on your tummy to play for a few minutes. “Tummy time” has been a flexible concept, by which I mean I’ve only bothered to actually put you on your tummy a small handful of times, opting instead for endless tummy-to-tummy time where I see you developing that back and neck just because you want to look me in the eyes. But the other day there you were on your actual tummy on the actual floor. And then a moment later you were on your back. We’ll never know when you technically developed this skill, because the achievement was so devoid of effort that it was obvious we’d missed that magical moment in the flurry of life with three. It made me laugh.
Your brother and sister are pretty cool with you. I see little ways that Meredith is feeling challenged by your presence, most notable of which is how she comes to love on you and it comes out as this fierce, pent-up, tense energy that isn’t exactly safe. Her little jaw sets up and she pokes and prods and wiggles you and I have to stop her and ask her to try again, feeling gentle. Jacob, on the other hand, is developing a deep adoration of you and a love for your company. He studies you and pays attention to you. When you are sad he tries to make you feel better. He is very good at knowing what you want and need and I see the seeds of a deep friendship germinating.
Thanks for being a team player and letting them park their cars by your head and take your blood pressure with questionable bedside manner. I’m sorry you only get a bath every two weeks. Birth order is a thing.
This whole thing is going by quickly, and somewhere along the way I find I’m finally learning not to look too closely at it. On any given day it’s easy to try to analyze and strategize, but I’m discovering that there’s not much point in that. If I keep you safe and mostly happy then the day is over and another one comes, and like it says in Merry’s new story book, “In the meantime Alice got up and washed her face and ate porridge for breakfast. She went to school and came home and did her homework. And pretty soon she was grown up.” So I let you just be, and we do that together, and we enjoy it.
Sometimes I get impatient, and I’m learning new things about what patience means. These days I’m trying to be more like your daddy, whose success and happiness and sanity comes largely from his rather compulsively habitual processes. Every day he does everything just the same, and there is ease in that. I need ease, and I want to be like that, and to a degree it’s something I’m determined to achieve for myself and my kids.
But sometimes it’s not possible, because you never know what a baby will need in a given moment. So I can’t decide that every morning I will get up, plan, pray, practice yoga, shower, clean the bathroom, dress, worship, check email, read, and then tidy. That’s my ideal first two hours, but if you need to be held when it’s time to practice yoga, I might have to go out of order and read first instead. Or, as is still true 90% of the time since I’m trying to focus on staying rested, perhaps I need to stay in bed until all I have time for is stirring a pan of oatmeal with you in my arms while coaxing the kids to dress themselves.
So what I’m learning is that patience means accepting this. Motherhood wears me so hard it creates all kinds of cravings: I want to walk, every day. I’d like to do it alone. I want to feel my body empty and open instead of wrapped around a squirmy person. I want to eat beautiful food. I want the coffee table to be less of a dynamic sort of surface.
Sometimes I try to achieve these cravings. I grasp for them in a way that makes me love you less. I grouse to Daddy about how much I wish I had the luxury of being like him when he emerges like clockwork from devotions in his office to eat his bowl of cereal; about how much good it would do me to go see the damn sunset with my arms hanging by my sides. I tell him he’s lucky, not superior. That I want ritual just as much as he does.
Then I remember that what I actually want is you, and you can’t be turned into a ritual. Being in the business of tiny humans is messy. It is absolutely not static and there is no possibility of control. So I continue to practice my improvisational skills, and I see that as my art. And in my best moments this is what I’m discovering and remembering: patience sometimes means waiting not for the water to boil or even the potty training to take. Patience, for me, is measured by decades. Because in two decades, yes: my arms will hang by my sides and my coffee table will not need much attention and finally I will be able to go for those daily walks without any effort or planning. I noticed this one morning as I passed middle-aged women walking in pairs through the park, talking like it was a conversation they carry on every day. Probably it was, because they don’t have noses to wipe or strollers to fold and unfold anymore.
Patience means remembering all that won’t be mine anymore when I finally get to watch the sunrise in silence day after day. Patience means choosing not to want it right now so that I can have space in my heart to want you. Patience means knowing that this will prepare me to be happy about those empty arms, because I’ll know I’ve been waiting for them. Patience means accepting all of this as good instead of feeling threatened or feeling like a failure because I don’t have today all that my imagination can encompass. Life is long, and I find that beautiful: an art form all its own.
I love you.