From her own shell, she rises

5 04 2013

…a look in her eye says the battle’s beginning…

Out of context, this line looks like a complaint, like animosity is brewing somewhere; you have to know where it’s from, how her voice sounds, the story surrounding it to hear it as precious, poignant: a note of warning tinged with pleasure, surprise, maybe even a little rejoicing. It’s from a Tori Amos song (of course) about her daughter Natasha, the same Tash Neil Gaimon’s Blueberry Girl is written for. And so the mother-daughter antheming begins, as I attach myself and my feelings about my little girl to others’ words, narratives, lyric ways of looking out the corner of the eye at a phantasm impossible to capture, the spirit (motherhood, womanhood, sisterhood, the fairy tales and legends of amazons brought to life, the maiden and the crone). The song isn’t supposed to fit; it was written for a Tash who was at least four, maybe seven or ten (I’ve lost track of the fandom I was once careful to follow), and the rest of the stanza provides more context for the battle the writer holding the pen had in mind: My Little Pony is growing up fast; she corrects me and says ‘you mean a thoroughbred’….from school, she comes home and says ‘I don’t want to grow up, Mom, at least not tomorrow.

My little pony, on the other hand, doesn’t even know what a pony is (and while I know I’ll likely find her someday catching the little-girls-in-love-with-horses bug, it’s hard to imagine her ever loving anything more than her big brother), and she certainly doesn’t come home yet from school, but she corrects me plenty—the deliberate, careful-hands pushing-away of unwanted toys, books, and touches, the turning away; even her tongue, still months from its first meaningful syllable, knows exactly how to tell me ″no.″ It’s not so much her eye, where the look is; instead, it’s her whole body she battles with, turning forcibly away from whatever direction I thought we were moving in, launching downwards when I think we’re up, reaching for up when I err on the side of down, all of this, granted, from within the safe and so-far-inescapable circle of my arms, but mobility is coming. Separateness is coming. And her father and I have already begun to brace ourselves—once she starts walking (and it’ll be too soon; she’s made it quite clear that the intermediary crawling step is not on her agenda), we’ll be following, chasing, and dropping off behind her walking away, physical and metaphorical both, forever more.

Another thing Evanny doesn't need me for anymore: petting the cat.

Another thing Evanny doesn’t need me for any more: petting dear Gustav.

My poetic sensibilities say the next line should be ″she took her first step away when…,″ but of course every step I’ve experienced is farther down in the count than I can ever measure. Her first steps happened when she started to grow her own cells, not mine, when she moved her own arms and legs and tiny fingers in my womb, when she was pulled out into the blinding room and sucked her first clogged, coughing breath of air into her tiny lungs: a thousand steps away from her starting point of ″mine″ before I’d ever seen her face to claim her. She physically tries to walk away from me all the time now—at 6 months, when crawling isn’t even on her determinedly self-designed radar; I have to grab her elbows, because she’ll be standing, held up by her two hands in mine, and then, seeing something she wants and convinced that she can reach it, she’ll let go.

Solid foods were a big one. I read all the research and recommendations about waiting as long as she’d allow (the Super Baby Food lady says her youngest held off until 8 months), about waiting until at least 6 months, about food allergies and digestive problems and all the reasons not to give in to the vague but heavy social pressure to start earlier, about how developmental progress, not rice cereal, is what actually makes babies start sleeping through the night as they enter their fifth month. Her dad was adamant about the sleeping, though, swearing that, research bedamned, it worked for Caleb and it would work for her, and even if he hadn’t been piling the guilt on about how I was overriding him constantly and never letting his expertise count for anything, Evanny was firmly on his side. At barely four months, she started exhibiting all the readiness signs they tell you to wait for: fixating on us eating and drinking, mimicking our chewing with her little gums, reaching for our food, trying to drink out of our mugs and glasses. Outnumbered, I went with it, and they were both right: she loved to eat, she was delighted by spoons, she wanted to taste everything, she didn’t have any discernible trouble digesting anything (at least until we got to stage 2 corn last week, which, on retrospect, seemed like a stupid idea anyway), and she slept.

And because she was so happy about it (so happy that now it makes her mad to be in the kitchen and witness any food-preparation that isn’t for her), I was happy about it for her, but oh it was hard to watch at first, her eager intake of processed powdered cereal (I tried to lead with avocados, but she wasn’t an immediate fan—it’s taken two months to get her to the point where she protests not being given avocados. We’re there now, though; earlier this week we made guacamole without setting some aside for her, and heard such complaint we ended up sharing bites of garlic-hot guac!), her wide-open, excited mouth about foreign substances that weren’t me, comforting and feeding and sustaining the baby. I’m not that much of an ego-maniac, really. But there’s so little in this life that I feel I have a handle on—that I can fit into and steer with my own hands—that I probably got a little too attached to her role as my defining role-determinant. I wasn’t keeping up with anything else, but by dang I was feeding that baby. And then, at all of four months old, she was happily eating in the other room with Daddy, jarred food, and a spoon. I consoled myself with how at least the jars said ″organic″ (I still intend to do some of my own pureeing, but at 4 months she needed smoother textures than I could manage, so all I’ve made yet with my own hands to put into that little mouth are apples and butternut squash—and, of course, the guacamole.)

Last week and the week before, it was teeth: the first came through on exactly the six-month anniversary of her due date, the second on the same anniversary of her birth. She hasn’t really abused her teeth-endangered nursing privileges; I get a little scraping-nibble when she’s getting impatient with the rate of flow or wants my attention, but she has yet to champ down hard, and the fingernail gouging is more painful so far. She has bitten my fingers with them hard enough to smart—they’re sharp like kitten-teeth—but it’s really their presence rather than their actions that wound me. I wasn’t ready for a baby with teeth. I’m still not ready. I don’t know what I expected on the teeth front, but they seemed like an issue for big babies, the older kind, the walking-and-gumming-at-biscuits kind, not for tiny babies who still lose their legs in the belly of some of their three-to-six month sleepers when they kick around. I’m getting used to them, gradually, but they still offend me. I was down right put out at first: what were these teeth doing, uninvited, in my baby? How dare they steal her soft, perfect little gums from me? Our days of painless finger-sucking are over; that quick, with no real warning, her infant mouth—my baby mouth—was gone forever, replaced by a toothy soon-to-be kid-mouth that argues about toothbrushing and has to worry (me) about cavities. And I’m in mourning more than a bit about that mouth. It was my baby mouth, and being with it has me starting a dangerous pining for tinier babies. I covet the younger stroller-riders at the zoo. I want to put my fingers in their mouths. Of course I don’t, and won’t; there’s only one way to get a newer baby mouth to stick my fingers in, and that’s to make another baby.

On some strange emotional level, that’s starting to sound more doable than before. Not pragmatically ″doable″ in terms of sleep, looming neglected job-tasks, housework, parenting—I’m terrified of the very notion. I have no idea how we’ve survived this far, and I wouldn’t welcome the responsibility of having another plant to keep alive. My stepson asked if we could plant things in the yard yesterday, and my instant response was ″no!″ Dear lord, no, not another thing to try to feed and keep happy. But for the first six months, the thought that stopped me from even considering another was always ″it won’t be fair to Evvy.″ She needs me, she deserves all I can give her, and a newer, littler, needier baby would take way too much of me away from her. How could I ever betray that trusting little face by taking any, let alone so much, of me away from her? I still feel great stabs of guilt when I imagine how her face crumples when I put her down, and then I think of how many times a day I’d have to do that to change or feed or dance or etc. another baby. But I also feel like, in some ways, it would be, if not retaliation, at least a bit of balancing: after all, she eats peas and oatmeal from a spoon. She grew teeth. She’s already leaving me.




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