A hand reaches out and cups my chin. Her fingers are no more than two inches long, with dimples as placeholders for where knuckles will go. I could live in one of those dimples, set up camp, remain lost in the littlest fold of her delicate skin. Every night at last bottle, because she decided breastfeeding was totally out two months ago, she holds my chin. She barely touches her fingertips to it, resting there, finding comfort there, making every thought in my head vanish in a puff of smoke. No thought holds up against this moment, where I can imagine that I am an ocean and she is a stream, the purest stream, and I pour whatever goodness I’ve got into her. Then I wish her the goodnesses I cannot provide, and picture positive ions literally spilling into her, blessing her. I chant to myself, “Anything for you, everything for you.” Every night I almost weep – okay, every night I do weep – because a love like this is obliterating.
My fingers, which used to seem so petite, are gigantic next to hers. My face and any other adult face looks like a robot’s or a monster’s, full of pointy chins and jutting out noses and huge slabs of forehead, making me wonder why we have such big faces, making me wonder if we are ogres and babies are the true humans. Because hers is the new perfect, the new sun, the new screensaver in my brain, so small, cheeks round, dollop nose, Betty Boop lips, and that hair, that pixie-cut-I-wake-up-cool crop she was born with. I stroke her eyebrows – tiny, strawberry-blonde caterpillars – and as I caress them, trailing my fingers to the land between her nose, her eyes close in gratitude, in surrender, and she is off in baby dreams. What could possibly be better than baby dreams, I ask you? She only knows mockingbirds dancing in the sky from the viewpoint of her stroller, and cuddles in bed after her first nap, and pumped-at-3am breast milk delivered to her esophageal doorstep, and being held in arms that want her.
As I rise from the glider into a squat, thighs burning, I slowly lower her down in her crib. My footsteps play connect the dots on the floor, careful not to step on a square foot of wood that might creak as I ninja out of the room. And…she is down! I glance at her again before shutting the door, and a part of me is so happy, so happy I am lifted into the scary flight of contentment, of satisfaction, of accomplishment, of yes. But another part of me shakes in terror, in dread, in denial, in anger, in lastima because one day her dreams will be about so much more – the real, the wrong, the truth, the no. One day she won’t be a baby.
How do I keep her hand on my chin forever? How do I stroke her eyebrows into eternity, keep her in a vault, convert her joy into a guarantee? Defeat crashes against me as I realize I am not powerful enough to ensure any of that, and I almost fall apart, until I move on to the next minute like we all must do a thousand times a day.
Back in my own bedroom, I enjoy the freedom by staring at pictures of her on my phone. Resisting the urge to wake her up and make her blow raspberries at me or crinkle her nose at me or burrow her head into me, I fold her laundry and clean her toys. I know there will be days down the line when she doesn’t want me in her drawers, kicks me out of her room, slams her door, rolls her eyes. I know her knuckles will come in soon and that she may use them, may bruise them, may break them fighting. But for now, for right now, there is her perfect cherub face on the monitor, her breath even and easy, and the invisible but very real line where only love flows back and forth between our hands, a chin, and two eyebrows. I don’t need to do a thing to deserve it, and she couldn’t do a thing to make it go away. It’s just there, the apocalyptic reality of parenthood, which only my husband feels in the same color and shape and size as I do. The big secret we share, the feeling of being her mom and dad.
“We did this,” I sing to him when he walks through the front door, as I do when I stare at his beautiful but now-giant features, when he touches my stretch marks and tells me I’m gorgeous, when he falls asleep with her beside him, holding his finger.
Before this man, I didn’t believe letting go could mean receiving more. Before our child, I didn’t believe lastima could be a superpower instead of a super price. It hurts to love. It’s the point to love.
We did this.
And the new world is more than I ever dreamed it could be.
p.s. Hands strategically placed so you won’t notice how badly I need a mani.