[Originally posted in 2007, when my son turned 4. I've updated on 5/8/09 to add this to the MOMocrats.com "Every Day is Mother's Day" blog action in recognition of the central importance of maternal and child well-being to any and every culture on earth. Happy Mother's Day. Please visit White Ribbon Alliance and MothersDayEveryDay.org for more information, and post your own birth or adoption story.]
The Unreliable Narrator stories that I make up just for him, about characters that he supplies and situations that he dictates. But the stories he loves most of all are the ones that start, “When you were a little tiny baby…”
HB and I are pretty comfortable with the decision that the Unreliable Narrator will be an only child. Given how he revels in our attention, I think he’s very happy with this state of affairs also.
I am also an only child and having been a morbid and self-dramatizing kid, I’ve always felt a tiny shadow of mortality and the bony hand of erasure where most kids are probably thinking what comic book they want to acquire next, if it’s okay to drink the tap water because the pipes might be the same ones leading to the toilet (a fundamental failure to understand how plumbing works), if they should finally eat the chocolate Easter bunny they’ve been saving for 3 months now, or other matters of large and looming importance to kids. Somehow I became obsessed with forgetting. At the same time my mother was an incredible and devoted archivist of all my modest nursery, elementary, and high school achievements. As with so many things, she was a scrapbooker before her time–maybe she was as concerned with committing things to memory as I was.
I’ve always known that as far back as I could remember, only my parents could recall the 3 years prior to when the light-bulb of self-awareness and recollection turned on in me. So when my parents pass, those things they witnessed of us will be lost forever.
The Unreliable Narrator turns four years old today. When he was born we called him the Cutie Nubbin.
One early dawn that many years ago, as I held the week-old Cutie Nubbin asleep in my arms in our bedroom and watched the darkness outside lift and melt into day, I had the hormone-laced epiphany that the reason newborns resemble little elderly creatures (Winston Churchill, as one wit has said) is that we their parents will never see our children old. So nature mercifully gives us a glimpse of the peaceful sleep of the wizened person we hope our child one day becomes, writ on a newborn’s face.
That thought devastates me now. And devastated me then, buzzed on vicodin and oxytocin and a hundred other neural-hormonal re-wirings, the old me uncrimping out of my chrysalis and unfurling a new mother’s damp new wings. But it still doesn’t explain the Winston Churchill bit; I mean, the then-Cutie Nubbin (now Unreliable Narrator) looked like an Asian Winston Churchill.
Nevertheless, I’ve resolved to write down some of his favorite “When You Were a Little Tiny Baby…” stories. Because memories are the warp and woof of consciousness, and we weave them with the hope that it’ll be a long long while before the self frays.
Here’s one of his favorites:
When you were a little tiny baby…just a few hours old, I finally got to hold you. The nurse wheeled you in your hospital bassinet next to my bed and had HB scoop you out. He gave you to me. Inside your nappy flannel swaddling, you felt like a football with limbs. I was oh so careful with your head and neck. Your umbilical cord protruded from your stomach and was painted a purple so dark it looked black, with a clip like you’d use to keep a bag of chips fresh clamped on the very end. Your skin was pink and a little mottled. Your feet with its dimpled toes were barely half the length of my hand, and I have small hands. Your face over one eyebrow had a slight scratch from the journey out and your nails were long. We kept our room dim so the lights wouldn’t blind you; plus, it was late at night–I think almost 1:00 am.
Even then your eyes were extremely alert, and bright. Almost as if they were lit from within. You squirmed and I shifted you in my arms and your knit cap slid off. I saw again that you had very fine, wispy hair. I admired the perfect curve of your head and put the cap on your head. At that moment I knew if the hint of any physical harm to you presented itself, I would tear it sinew to sinew to defend you with my ferocious love.
A nurse had come into our room to have us fill out some paperwork, and help you latch on for some colostrum. She slid the papers over to me on the bed sheets, along with a pen. I scribbled my name with one hand and held you with the other. She started saying something else, a bit of bureaucracy that to this day I can’t recall. I ignored her and while she was still talking I held you more firmly and nuzzled you, opened the hospital gown and put you to feed. We became absorbed in each other.
I vaguely remember the nurse trying to get her task accomplished, maybe HB signing whatever additional form needed signing. But your cheeks moved and the ear closest to me wiggled a tiny bit as you settled into your latch. For the first time in what would be a very long series of days, I put your head in the crook of one arm to help prop you up and supported your head with my other hand as you nursed.
The nurse babbled quickly, then pressed her lips shut. If she was impatient because she couldn’t complete her errand, she also took odd satisfaction in our obliviousness to her. It was as it should be. Seeing her irrelevance, she took a peek at the latch for her own reassurance, smiled at us, and left us to become a family.
Happy birthday, little boy.