Jan 23, 2007

The Safe Babies

My baby writhes up against me in bed--a limb flops hard against my neck--her chest pushes up and out and over towards me--her lower body follows a moment later.

“My!...Babies!” she shouts out. Eyes closed, still sleeping. Trapped in that great in between she gets caught in every night. It doesn’t last more than a minute or two but in our quiet horizontalness it can feel like forever.

“My!...Babies!” she complains again. Almost like two separate sentences--each word shouted with the same frequency as the other; the same booming.

It’s 4:32. I think about how pleasing those digits are--4s, 3s, and 2s seem soft to me. The sky is a chocolate brown. Some birds chatter from far away branches; distant teakettles at the just-before-bubbling point. Now a closer one --more persistent. A chirp like a smoke alarm signaling a weak battery.

“My!...Babies!” she pleads again, pushing up against me hard--three times her own weight in this moment--such intensity in her little body.

“Your babies are safe--” I say reaching out to grip her chubby thigh--trying to give her an anchor--something steady to reassure her. “Your babies are all here.”

Her babies are not here.

The soft pink one with the hard rubber face is still lying face down on the bricks in the backyard. It rained hard last night. I’ll have to rescue that one before she wakes up.

The bald baby that always looks like it’s mocking us is still strapped in the doll stroller at the bottom of the stairs.

Po--the green telletubby (really Dipsy I think but Po to her)--is wearing a Barbie pull-up somewhere in the living room. This one we got at a stoop sale two weeks ago. It says something when you squeeze it. But we don’t know what. I found my daughter having a private moment with Po on the stoop. It sat facing her, in her lap. She’d give it a full body squeeze--it would murmur--she’d pull it away and say ‘what?’ Squeeze--murmur--’what?’ Squeeze--murmur--’what?’

I’d have been jealous of all those hugs if I weren’t the recipient of so many myself. She’s the most physically affectionate of my children. The feel of her fists at the nape of my neck melts me. Arms stretched out as long as she can make them, little fingers curled in a tangle in the roots of my hair. Her powdery cheeks smell like warmth and caramel.

Her body begins to relax back into sleep.

“Your babies are safe,” I whisper to her. “You take such good care of your babies,” I say. I’m not lying because she does the best she can.

The sky is lavender now--the color of my bathrobe when I was seven.

“Geg!” she shouts now. One last spasm of need. I draw my knees up towards her and she pokes her feet in between my thighs. She invented this system herself right after she stopped nursing. Geg means leg.

“Must be like putting your feet into a vat of dough,”--a friend offered. I considered being offended at the metaphor--but honestly it’s just about the best sensation in the world--her hard little baby feet squidged firmly in my flesh. It’s so easy to imagine how amazing it must feel to her. Like when hotel covers are just perfect. I like the vat of dough thing. I put it on my list of reasons why I shouldn’t feel guilty for not working out.

It’s Mother’s Day morning. My other kids will be up in an hour or so and they might try to let me sleep in, but they probably won’t. They’ll come pile on me, and then they’ll start to bicker.

“Ah-layyy-da!” she calls out. Pure nonsense this time. She presses her feet against me and draws her whole body upright. She sits for a moment like a little triangle, head cocked back a bit. Looks and blinks but doesn’t really see. Then she thumps back down again hard--pops her feet back into the dough.

“Geg.” she murmurs again, and breathes herself back to deep sleep.

I’ll be exhausted in an hour when the others come in to bed with me. But now I’m blissfully awake.

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