The other night, I stood at the sink washing out a drinking glass. I grabbed a dishtowel from the drawer to spread on the counter to set the glass to dry when I was overcome by a hot rush of déjà vu. I was looking out at myself, weary and bleary eyed, blankly setting on a dish towel the too many parts of the anti-gas bottles we used for The Baby when she was an infant. Next to the bottles, I set the numerous pieces that made up that torture device of a breast pump. The shudder of consternation at the remembrance of the round the clock ritual of washing and drying brought me out of my head. And standing there, attempting to block out and at the same time to recall it- the memory became a blur. Did that time really happen? Did we really have another baby?
I had wanted so badly to speed through those dark days when she was so painfully inconsolable- stuck to me so that I didn’t know where my skin ended and hers began. The days ran on without the promise of a new dawn and with the same blues song playing on a loop, ‘My Baby Done Me Wrong.’ Exhaustion broke me- spun me into a perpetual state of vertigo. Where did those days go? Where did that baby go?
The Baby turned two last weekend. The Baby. Will we always call her that? When she turns sixteen will we say, ‘The Baby is getting her driver’s permit today’? Princess Commando was the baby of the family for 8 years. But, she was the first girl, so ‘little girl’ stuck to her over the distinction that she was the baby of the family. The universe just knew that Princess Commando wasn’t really the last chapter- there would one last installment years later- when everything and anything that a baby might need had been given away.
We had a small celebration for The Baby’s birthday with family and without much fanfare. But we still tried to get her excited for her special day.
‘Is it your birthday?’
‘Yeah. I have cuckcakes?’
‘How old are you going to be?’ I hold up my two fingers and make a peace sign. The Baby imitates my gesture; but she is having trouble keeping just the two fingers up and inadvertently keeps flipping me the bird. Maybe she really is the wise child I illustrate in my work- knowing full well that I will overlook her gesture as a ‘mistake’ because she is, after all, the baby.
But, she isn’t anymore. A baby does not know how to count to ten when climbing up the stairs for her bath where she reminds you with her chastising finger, ‘No pee pee in the tub.’ A baby doesn’t come over to you and pat you ever so gently on the arm and ask, ‘Mommy what wrong? You okay?’ when there is a look of defeat painted across your face after realizing that your 15 year old son ate the three dozen Christmas cookies you struggled to bake the night before and which were supposed to be your contribution to your family’s dessert buffet. A baby doesn’t behold the flaming candle on her birthday cupcake and wave her hands in front of her face, just as the family is about to break into the birthday song, screaming, “Away. No! No! Away fire!” realizing that her family must have done gone crazy. (After all of that preaching to stay away from fire, ‘Fire bad. Fire burn. Fire hot,’ we idiots present her with a flaming number two candle. She is smart to pass on fire cake).
I draw pictures of her- tracing her face with my pen, with my eye. With each stroke, each line, I feel like I am trying to trap her, freeze her as her face swiftly changes somewhere beneath my finger tips and right before my eyes. I do not see a baby anymore. I see… a kid. I want to take my camera and snap a billion pictures to capture every expression, every subtle glance, every little detail that makes her who she is right now. I am not the only one who is grappling with the opposing feelings of pride in her achievements and the despair at the inability to slow down time, to keep her small. Princess Commando sighs and wells up with mourning at each revelation of her little sister’s growing independence, “Mom, look at her. She’s growing up too fast.’
You must be careful what you wish for. I wished to speed through her infancy and now it is but a little smudge, a tiny fingerprint in my memory. I think that pleading and wishing so hard for one thing made the wish so powerful that it affected all the days to come. I am going to blink and she will be in pre-k- just as I will blink and Princess Commando will be in middle school, and Henry in 8th grade and First Born Son in junior year. You can’t have your flaming cuckcakes and eat them too. And yet, that little waxy number 2 candle burns fiercely in my heart-leaving an indelible mark-answering my question. Yes, she will always be The Baby.