‘The Baby’ is no longer an abstract concept. Here she is: resting her weight on my hip as I carry her to the park, surveying the world with her bright eyes, thinking her own thoughts, breathing warm, milky sighs into my ear, revealing pink gums when she smiles.
When my husband and I had intense debates about the pros and cons of ‘having a baby’, the baby was an idea, an intrusion, the end of my life as I knew it. At the time, life involved 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, a slavish devotion to morning exercise, overseas trips, and spontaneous excursions chasing ramen, gelato, or sunshine and sea breezes. “We’ll have to spend all our money on it,” I said (referring to the baby), “My career will suffer and I’ll be bored out of my mind. Our world will shrink.”
And shrink it did, especially in the first months when I staggered around the house in a stupor of fatigue. At first, I was too exhausted to feel bored. Then, my daughter began to assert herself as an adventurous little person, and her sense of wonder gripped me and carried me along.
She is completely without pretence. Emotions dance across her face so clearly, they almost come with captions: the shock of her first lick of lemon, the agony of a lentil stuck in her nose, terror tangled with delight when her father throws her in the air. When she laughs, that cascade of pure joy feels like something sacred.
An unwitting master of mindfulness, the baby doesn’t agonise over past events or fret about calamities that lie ahead. To her, there is only now, and whatever is in front of her demands to be grabbed and shoved in her mouth, whether vaguely edible (a shrivelled pea that rolled under the couch) or not (Birkenstock sandals, Macbook charger, a fistful of hair). Her world may be small but, oh! - what wonders it holds! Ducks to chase; sand to eat; glistening spiderwebs to touch; muddy sticks to chew on; endlessly surprising games of Peek-A-Boo to play.
Each day, I’m constantly fighting guilt that bubbles to the surface at the smallest provocation, such as when I tell her through gritted teeth to “Go the [expletive] to sleep”, as well as the thought of future traumas, like her first time at daycare. She, however, has no inkling of the impossible standards I impose on myself. I committed a classic parenting mistake by leaving her on the bed for a moment and she crawled off the edge like Wile E. Coyote. Minutes later, she smiled at me, though I was weeping mawkishly with remorse. Each time she opens her arms to me, she teaches me to be compassionate to myself. She trusts me completely, backflipping off my lap with utmost confidence that I’ll catch her and opening her mouth for the food I offer, not caring that dinner is only a fried egg and defrosted blueberries. She reaches across the high chair and anoints my forehead with blue mush as though absolving me from motherly self-condemnation.
I used to think having a child was an act of vanity, a desire for a ‘mini-me’. But I see none of myself in her. I love her not because she mirrors me but because she is a mystery. What is she thinking as she blows raspberries on my neck at 4am? Why does she find it hilarious when I gasp in mock surprise?
She continues to reveal small facets of herself and, although she’s never spoken a word, she holds my heart completely.