Monday, January 30, 2012

Is you is or is you ain't The Baby?

I'm Two!
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.


  1. OMG, the first thing I thought when I saw your opening photo was, "The baby grew up!" :( She's changed so much since I've been here that I feel like a neglectful aunt who missed way too many of her journeys. I am a bit tickled at how smart she is about the candle though. A friend of mine's daughter recently burned her upper lip blowing out her birthday candle because she got too close. At least "the baby" (who YES shall forever be the baby) will always be wary of that candle. :)

    As a side note, I was "the baby who was many years after the others" too, and though it bothered me a bit in my teen years to be called that, I don't mind it at all now. They are all OLD and will remain OLDer than me, which is just fine by me.

    1. Ha!'They are all OLD and will remain OLDer than me' I'm glad to hear that being The Baby has its perks.

  2. I have a baby who is 9. She gets away with a lot because she is the baby. Her feet don't stink as bad, her hair is not quite as messy, her mismatched clothes are cute. My Princess Commando is sometimes so wise it hurts my heart. The 15 year old, even if he eats every morsel of left over planned for my lunch the next day, I can't quite stay mad at him.
    PS - Chase loves your blog and your drawings and is so excited you are following him. I think you two would get along VERY well!!! -thanks! (He's the baby of his family and his Mom would love this post!)

    1. Our families are so similar. I couldn't be mad at my oldest for eating 3 dozen cookies in one night (they were the bad/ 'test' cookies anyway)- but I did marvel at the fact that he didn't feel sick afterward (I added too much flour so they became brick discs).

      Your nephew is so talented. I am so happy to see a teenager pursuing and cultivating his talents. It will be such an asset when applying to college to show that he has built a portfolio of work. I look forward to watching his creative gift grow.

  3. wow, they really are so wonderful. My midwife said the best advice she could ever offer anyone having a baby is to enjoy them. It sounds like you have.

    1. It is so true that the best advice to give is to enjoy our children. I think many times I get lost in the logistics of juggling the schedules and needs of four children that I forget to enjoy them. And, there is a lot
      to enjoy. Midwives are wonderful. I was sad after each of the girls was born (I had a regular doc for the boys) because while I had these beautiful babies to love, it meant that I would not see my midwives anymore (except for yearly check ups). They were the most caring, intuitive, sage women and I feel so fortunate to have found them when I needed them most.

  4. Amy,
    I'm 43 and the youngest of seven. I will tell you right now: I will ALWAYS be the baby. Even with kids of my own, great nieces and nephews, and aging parents. When we get together for reunions, mass regression ensues.
    The bright side? I get to throw tantrums if I really want:)

    And our youngest who is 8? Same for me. I try to hug, smother, and draw out that sweetness that is no longer present in the two teenagers, and it occurs to me. He will always be the baby too.

    Happy Birthday to Princess C.