When you sleep, I watch your profile. You are total stillness. I love sleeping next to you, the salt-smell of your hair, your warm, thin limbs flung lightly outward. Your bird-bone hand might flutter against my shoulder and I hold my breath to keep it there.
Your profile is still exactly at it was on that sonogram image, seven-plus years ago. The upturn at the tip of your nose. The slight bloom of your lips. Your forehead, high and smooth. From your first glimmer, you were a question-mark. Not your being, but your impression upon my being. Our connection was not the instant “I know you!” as reported by the magazines. It was then as it is now — a connection filled to spilling with a query: “Who are you — so miraculous and intact and outside all prediction? Who are you — full of contradiction, all intense need and pushing away? Who are you — already so whole and so skeptical?”
I think you were almost instantly disappointed by the world and the way it squashes magic. So you brought your own. You had, I think, from the moment of your arrival, little patience for much of what this realm has to offer.
You are my mystery. You are my horizon. I carried you and could not even then interpret you. You have always been exactly you. Even inside, you slept when you should have kicked. I fretted. The contractions that brought you were upside down, at the top of my ribcage. I didn’t recognize them for what they were. You saw no reason to dilly-dally and came sliding forth two weeks early, within a few hours of announcing your intent with a shocking gush of water. (That, then, was the one time that you matched the movie-screen cliche of parenting.)
I have learned that my job is to ride your wave. To stand and stay standing, correct my angle, stay balanced. If I steer that way when you want to go this way, I will fall smashing and get rolled up on the sand. Splutter.
There was no struggle to bring you out — only holding on for dear life. I quite literally grasped the railings of the bed and lifted my body upward in an effort to keep you in. And finally they said I could push.
Oh, I should have laughed.
You could not then, and never since, be pushed.
I birthed you — but a more accurate description is this: I let go. I was your gateway, child. From a place within and above, I observed your entrance. From inside a narrow tunnel of conscious-altering pain, my work was only to let go.
You arrived all squinty consternation and bird-baby squall.
You slept when you should have eaten. I nearly broke myself trying to feed you by the book. I finally taped a tiny tube to my finger and pressed it against your high, narrow, soft-as-silk palate and tickled your chin to make you drink. I murmured and implored you. But it was always on your terms.
You taught me in those early, hazy days that when you cried a certain way, you did not, in fact, want to be held or rocked. You told me, in the wordless, forceful telepathy of infants that you wanted to be put down. So I did. And you settled and slept.
But oh, I could not stop gazing at you. You, child, were and are gazed upon with so much love and awe.
Always, you and I, we’ve had a dance of instincts. Synchronized for an instant and then utterly off-kilter. I learn, over and again, to let you lead. Our path is one of constant course-correction.
This morning I brought you to your first grade classroom. A new school in our new town. You said to me several times, “Mama, I feel so important today!” You told me that you were certain the fairies had come in the night to “extra-polish my sweater buttons!”
You brought Piggie in your backpack. Did you choose him because you remember that Piggie was the stuffed friend who saw you through your early, hard days in preschool? He used to ride with us in the mornings. He went to school too, you see, and was scared. You talked to him about it, back then. It helped. (My Piggie voice: anxious whisper and quiet enthusiasm.) You talked to him about school again, last night. (Then you looked at me and whispered, “Mama, can you stop making Piggie talk?”)
You were thrilled on the walk up the hill. You were tickled that you have a crossing guard, “Just like in the old fashioned days!” You told me that you thought the desks would be set in rows, and would open, and that the teacher would teach from a platform, with a book open before her.
You were disappointed in the flat-topped desks grouped in squares. You shushed me, embarrassed, when I pointed out a teacher walking by, a dapper man in a bow tie. You love bow ties. You do not love it when I talk too much.
And when it was time for me to leave you at your desk, you gripped my hand with both of yours, tight.
“I’m scared, mama. I want to be with YOU!” Tears. We walked into the hall and I tried to help you get it together. I murmured encouragement, I told you it was time, that I knew you could do it. That I would be right there, at the end of the day. You would have none of it. “I will NOT go in.” So I brought you back inside and handed your hand to the teacher and you gave in and hugged her leg and cried.
Oh, Noodle. Again, my basics instincts were stymied. You don’t know how hard it was for me to peel your hands away. I looked back and you were peeking at me, tear-streaked, from behind your teacher’s leg. I shot you a thumbs up and a huge smile. My heart was thudding. It was just like those many, many preschool mornings, handing you over to the day.
You didn’t want to let go. And neither did I. With a push, off we both went into Wednesday.