This new little person in my arms doesn’t care about riots in Washington, vaccines, or Iran’s missile threat. A pox upon them, she might say. She’s intent on filling her tummy, then filling her diaper, and she has already gained a pound, thrilling all of us who in contrast wish we could lose a few. With wide eyes she checks out the ceiling fan and the fascinating lights above the dining room table, and she is mesmerized by her momma’s face, all the while playing piano against her sleeper with her long fingers and stretching her legs straight out.
I haven’t hard-core cooked in a long time, so getting meals on the table for my daughter and son-in-law plus visitors has forced me to revisit recipes long forgotten and curb my tendency to scorch everything or at least overcook it. Our visiting Chicago daughter has cooked up a storm, too, with the bulk of her tasty efforts nicely packed into the freezer.
I haven’t had laundry going day and night, either, for ages, but it’s a comforting sound and it represents my idea of housework: just get all the appliances running. The washer and dryer rumbling through their cycles, the dishwasher lazily swooshing, the vacuum roaring, the oven fan whirring, and the microwave groaning and beeping all orchestrate a soothing symphony of housekeeping to an electric beat. They are a woman’s equivalent to the manly leaf blower. Let the electricity do the housework, I say.
I haven’t felt so useful in a long time. My daughter and her husband are so besotted with this new little one that they scramble to attention at her every whimper, check her diaper five times before it’s the real thing, and — heavens! — wake her to feed her, at least for the first couple of nights. When their fatigue wins out, I get my turn. Then it’s time to snuggle that little one against my shoulder, sing “Oh, they built the ship Titanic” to her, rock her, babble to her, dance with her. I guess I’m besotted, too. Nothing is as much fun as acting like a fool with a newborn. We helpers, after all, have had the luxury of a good night’s sleep.
My parents, God rest their souls, traveled across five states years ago to spend a whole week with me when I had a baby. Wonderful Lost Nation women brought the storied casseroles to the house and offered help and camaraderie; a new baby was a community event. But it was my mother who told me to sleep when the baby slept or fatigue would hollow me out. She showed me how to burp my baby, how to bathe the creases in her neck, how to stave off the sniffles by keeping a hat on her head; Dad was an affable observer, nodding and approving of it all. Looking at my baby gave me a sense of family genes and traditions marching through the generations. All those memories are gems on my life necklace.
I am trying now to be my mother to my daughter.
Rejoice in your baby right now, I tell her, as my mother told me. Don’t wait until you have the time or the energy or the spare bedroom redone. You’re needed now as you will rarely be needed again. The housework and lifework can wait while you take time to revel in this miracle. See her, notice how she has everything she needs, in tiny format. All systems are go. Soon she will realize she has control over her hands, and she will touch the face that has looked into hers so intently. Listen to her, she sounds like a squeaky door hinge and surprises herself with burps and coos. You will begin to translate her different cries, and soon she will talk to you in a language just for the two of you. Enjoy dressing her in those ridiculously cute clothes your friends passed on to you; she’ll outgrow them in two minutes. Let her flap her arms and legs; the motion gives her exercise and prepares her for crawling and walking. It also tires her out so she’ll sleep longer.
She’ll be a week old only for this week, a month old only this month, and the time will fly by. Don’t let it go by unheralded.
Like Bill Keane’s Family Circus cartoon, you’ll turn around three times and blink twice, and she’ll have gone from toddler playing on the living room floor to teenager flying out the front door.
Be there and enjoy the ride.