I realized a few years ago that I’d become one of those women of a certain age that used to unnerve the Pampers out of me when Elliot was a baby. There I’d be in line at Kroger, or Walgreen’s or anywhere that a cross section of humanity gathered, and I could feel their crow-footed eyes lock onto my son and not let go. Sometimes they’d reach out their hands and try to touch him. The polite ones reached for his toes; the rude ones reached right out and stroked his cheeks. If their eyes were teeth, he would have been devoured one, two, three. And now I am one of them.
I see a young mother in line and something deep in my belly awakens. I feel my vocal cords tightening just enough to make my voice rise half an octave before I say, “Oooo she’s so cute. How old?” Or, “He’s darling. Your first?” I try not to gaze too hungrily. Once the babies are grown, once they’ve not only learned to talk, talk back and then talk to you while walking to class or to the subway or via text, you begin to miss those days of whine and toesies.
But I have just been blessed. Two eight-month-old nieces born mere weeks apart last spring. See Stella above. Thank you Daniel and Tammy. See Dagny below. Thank you Abby and Brian. See Debra smile. Smile Debra smile. We just got back from a family gathering down south and I got to hold them. Feed them a bit. Watch them wave their slightly uncontrolled pudgy palms at each other and anyone else crossing their sightlines. They were a riot eating dinner side by side in their high chairs and babbling to each other as they reached for toys, board books, one another’s ears and noses.
All kinds of new equipment. And parenting advice as well. There are apps that chart feedings and what comes after. Apps that synch you with the baby monitor when you are halfway across town and apps that monitor where the latest baby sales are. (That last one I made up but who knows?) The breast pumps sure have come a long way, baby. So has sleeping advice. Scares the heck out of me, but today’s prevailing wisdom instructs parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs. In bumperless, blanketless, stuffed animal-less cribs. SIDS statistics have plummeted as a result.
What hasn’t changed is that magical soft powdery baby smell. Or the electrifying miracle of gazing into a baby’s eyes. Or holding them close and feeling that long-forgotten solid weight mold itself against you. What hasn’t changed is singing songs and playing the tickling games your mother and grandmother played with you. And hearing them blow raspberries and then laugh great big belly laughs at their own ingenuity. Don’t know when my next baby fix will be. Most likely in May when we gather again. By then Dagny and Stella will be walking, if not running. They’ll have teeth and minds of their own, and maybe they will have mastered a handful or two of words. I’m thinking Auntie Debra has a great ring to it, yes?