These little fists of rage and fury are mine to hold

19 10 2012

Evanny is primarily two kinds of baby: sweet as sugar, and furious as fire. Really, I’m surprised sometimes that she smells of baby-scalp and cheese-breath; I expect caramel and brimstone in her wake.

Like all babies, of course, she’s adorable while sleeping. She also spends rewarding chunks of every day making the “oooo” face, her little lips pursed in a perfect Gerber-baby rosebud, just peering at things with her little ocean-eyes, which have progressed from alien pools of kitten-black-blue to deep, storm-tossed irises (presumably with plenty of lightening left to do: Caleb’s 3-week photo shows him still with black-alien orbs, and now his eyes are like robin’s eggs dipped in frost). It’s possible they’ll stay somewhat near that color; mine are the color of denim when the sun’s right in them, but most of the time they look closer to navy. When I tickle her cheeks, she twitches a lip my way and accidentally smiles, and she’s started making little cooing noises, although they don’t yet correlate visibly to any interactions with other humans (or the cats). When I try to kiss her face, she wrinkles up the top half of it in aversion (probably a reflexive attempt to keep my nose from winding up in an eyeball) and opens her little cheese-breath mouth hopefully, just in CASE this time she really is a baby bird and can be fed from my face. It never works, but it often results in me getting to smooch her little open lips (and sometimes that hopeful little searching tongue).

And when she’s angry, she’s all scream: rigid legs and flailing hands that coalesce into little fists punching the air (or anything that strays into their range, which often includes my face–Janet calls her “our little pugilist”) while that air vibrates at a frequency that shatters her parents’ sanity (and we’re sure glass won’t be far behind). When Evanny does fury (which is the single, wholesale step up from barely fretful), she goes all out, yelling until her every indrawn breath is a whistle and she chokes on her own saliva; this only slows her down long enough to finish coughing, and then she’ll start it right back up again. If you shush her–or otherwise make clear that you’re attempting to exert your will over hers–she will get louder, no matter how loud she was already (if there’s a limit to this clause, we’ve yet to find it). Daddy tried, once, to startle her out of yelling, and only succeeded in escalating her to volume+ with tears. He doesn’t do that anymore, but now that she’s learned to add tears, they come without a need for startlement. This, of course, is at least a little heartbreaking. You want to care when your children cry. You want to stop–or at least sympathize lovingly with–their tears. But these tears leak around the soaring-decibel screams of a fed, clean-and-dry, warm, burped baby being gently danced around the house, so there’s nothing to sympathize with. It’s just sometimes yelling-time. Matt says this is because she has her mother’s temper. I contend that I only yell about things, so it’s different, but he’s not convinced.

Evanny’s hands are her best talking tool, even though she’s still way too young for baby-sign lessons. Not to be held back by this, she’s building her own and teaching us: shaking fists (most often displayed when fully or partially undressed, on the changing table or at the pediatrician’s office) mean she’s nervous and I should submerge those little hands in mine to reassure her. Whapping fists mean the rage has come. Idle stroking fingers (across my belly while she’s nursing, or Daddy’s arms while he holds her, or each tumbling through the fingers of the other) mean she’s content. Jazz-hands mean she’s angry in part about the insecurity of having loose hands and should be swaddled promptly. Hands stuffed frantically and with loud slurping into her mouth mean she’s hungry, or maybe STARVING TO DEATH DAMMIT. Limp hands trailing like comet-tails at the ends of flung arms mean she’s fallen into a milk-drunk stupor, and that’s the best time for playing gently with those little fingers, marveling in the unexpected double marvel:

First, that she has my hands. Mine exactly, so much so that this was the first thing Matt noticed at her birth that marked her ours, so exact in miniature that I sometimes feel I ought to check my own to be sure they’re still attached, and not somehow shrunk and re-assigned to her while I wasn’t looking. I didn’t expect that. I don’t know what I did expect, really, but that she would be some wholly separate, unfathomable being. Maybe that some commonality would gradually emerge, like my brother has slowly come to look like my mother and her sister as he’s moved his thirties, like my mother is now recognizably my grandfather’s daughter in her sixties. I didn’t expect features to be instantly identifiable on a newborn–when in general newborns look like newborns.

And second, that I would be so taken by these hands and what they represent: I didn’t expect that I would be continued. Family resemblances in general, sure: the “Smith eye” Matt and Caleb share with Matt’s father and all three of Matt’s siblings; the red hair that my brother and I both have, and shows up in Matt’s beard and my mother’s highlights. But not specific, irrefutable pieces of me. They’re my hands; I feel a powerful responsibility for them. I’ve done some dumb things with my own, and missed a lot of opportunities to teach them to do cool things (before color guard wore my wrists out–there are so many types of art I never had a chance to learn the repetitive motions of!) but there they are again, reincarnated, with whole new chances to do whole new things, or, if she wants, to do some of the same things–but probably better.

But for them to do those things, I have to protect them. I have to teach them to be brave and experimental. I have to teach them to touch–everyone and everything–with warmth and curiosity and kindness. So when they flail at me, I hold them still (or loosely, and flail with them). When they’re cold, I hold them to make them warmer. When they’re loose and exploratory, I touch them, stroke their little fingers, pet the palms to trigger the reflex where they hold on to me, to show her how. This is holding, my-my hands say to her-my hands. This is how it’s done, closeness, protection, warmth. And I say to her, over and over, my first promise (because, after all, one should be careful with promises, and many of the things we might impulsively want to swear to our children are either outside of our control–I can’t promise to keep her safe forever, no matter how much I may wish to–or totally inappropriate as lifelong promises–one shouldn’t be safe forever anyway: some of our best adult experiences are born of risk and danger):

I will always hold your hands.

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One response

22 10 2012
MaxAnn Twomey

Love and responsibility are shared so enjoy

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