A girl turns three
“She’s officially not a baby anymore,” I sigh to Dan, as if Rose is getting fitted for an IUD instead of simply turning three. Meanwhile Rose is scampering about in a pink leotard, like Baryshnikov’s stumpy and bossy sidekick, demanding “watch this guys, now watch this!”
Dan notes, accurately enough, that Rose hasn’t officially been a baby since she gave up mashed bananas two years ago. And yet I feel this way every year, like the ocean tide of my daughter is inching out a little further, while I’m on the shore grasping at the ephemeral bubbles of her childhood as they disappear in my hands.
But it’s not all tinged with a somber sentimentality, this getting older. Dan gave me the romantic Mother’s Day gift of 5 hours of garden work, and together we planted our potato bed while Col and Rose busied themselves building a campfire of sticks and sprouting potatoes. And sure, there were detours of snack-procuring and listening to cryptic knock-knock jokes, but the potatoes got planted, as if we were the sort of people who make a plan and simply carry it out.
And it’s hard to dwell too long in the sea of nostalgia when both kids are out of diapers, dressing themselves and eating their dandelion greens like good little citizens. And it’s not like they’ve outsourced their need for a constant adult presence, but more like they’re performing cameos in the upcoming hit “Independent Children.”
I recently visited a friend and her week old baby girl. The two of them were so serene and in love; it was like staring at the classic Madonna and child painting, except for the bag of M’n’M-studded trail mix on the coffee table that Jennifer probably would have defended with her fists. (Remember that early nursing hunger? Another friend told me she used to sleep with a bag of cashews under her pillow when she was nursing). I was so taken by this brand new life, this absolute miracle, her tiny fingers as delicate as sweet pea tendrils, her milky breath the very balm that could heal the world.
And then she cried.
And that little mewling roar ripped open the raggedy seams of my last three years. Suddenly I could remember the bouncing, the shushing, the rocking, the walking, the waiting, the watching; Rose affixed to my body like surgery stitches; Rose nursing with a hunger like she’d been thirsty for years, then shooting fountains of warm, sour milk from the “O” of her lips. Rose crying, fussing, howling. Was it gas? Hunger? Fatigue? Cue up the bouncing, shushing, walking, swaddling, nursing parent and pray that something works.
I remember getting baby Rose to sleep, finally, and then extracting my body ridiculously slowly from hers as if ripping off an enormous band-aid. Sometimes it would work, other times she’d flick open her eyes just as I was slipping off the bed as if to say “busted!” And we’d start all over again; at times I felt as trapped as a caged bird.
And now, the bedtime routine? We read one book in the rocking chair. When the book is over I lay Rose in her crib and sing her a lullaby while she holds my hand and smiles up at me. “Good night my sweet girl. I love you so much, thanks for another wonderful day,” I purr down at this insanely gorgeous child. “Good night Mama. I love you. Will you tell Daddy I love him?”
So all I’m saying is nostalgia is a funhouse mirror: it distorts and tampers. And despite my own daily urges to slow down this speeding train of life, in dwelling there too long, I may miss whatever ordinary magic is being served up in the present moment.
Happy birthday darling Rose.