She is small; she fits in the crook of my arm. When she is hungry, she cries. I pull her to me and offer her the only thing she has ever yet been hungry for. A greedy-happy look overtakes her face, contained in the slight smile over her lips as they open, the teardrop shapes of the corners of them. Her head waggles as she roots; her smile and waggling head almost makes her look like some man’s wife at a party when he tells a bad joke she likes.
If she is very hungry, her body shakes a little in the intensity of her rooting. Her breathing is rapid, but only in the few seconds between the time that she realizes THE MOMENT has come and the time that she latches on.
She can’t use her hands to grab anything at all yet, unless you force your finger into her little grasp. She is hardly aware that her hands exist. And yet, somehow, when she is latched on, even a five-week-old can take her tiny, raggedly-nailed fingers, twisting them, resting them on thin skin, and begin to apply pressure on her human bottle. This brings more milk for her, and somehow she learns this without having ever shaken a rattle. Her strength of purpose translates into simply three tiny fingers, or a palm, pressed down and to the side to get more of life itself.
Her bottom lip is bent backwards on itself as she drinks; after this there will be a small red line imprinted in the horizontal crease above her chin. When she is finished, she lounges, sideways, across my front with her arms akimbo. This is all there is in her little world that means ‘joy’. Joy, in her contracted experience, is the need followed by the latch followed by a milk-drunk belly.
The day is warm; not the first day of spring but it feels like it. A blanket is spread on the grass in the shade of a single large bush in our front yard, where the ground is flat and the grass is like a mattress. A baby is lying on the blanket, and a bag of carrots is next to the baby, and a sippy cup is next to the carrots. The blanket is green, and the sky is blue, and the grass is dead, but new grass is coming up under the dead grass and you can already feel it under your feet.
A two-year-old girl is sitting in a tire swing 50 feet away, under an oak tree. She is sitting on the inside of the tire, where only two-year-olds can really fit; it’s a suspended play house for her with a curved rubber floor and curved rubber ceiling and two missing walls made out of springtime air. She was pushed, five minutes ago, but the push ran out two minutes ago and she’s still sitting there, dazed by the spring.
I roll over and open Pride and Prejudice, but I haven’t read any of it because the baby keeps spreading white creamy puddles on the green blanket and I keep wiping her mouth. She ate too much.
It’s four am. Grunts have begun in the cradle next to me, grunts that elevated to snuffles, which eventually became insistent enough that I woke up. I roll over, place my feet on bare floor, and lift the baby out of the folding cradle. She stretches like a cat on my chest.
I lie down again and place her next to me, where—barely conscious—she drinks herself to sleep and molds her body to fit the crevice formed by my torso on the mattress. I can see her profile by the light streaming from behind a cracked closet door. She smiles in her sleep. I lift her back into the cradle and am instantly asleep again myself.
It’s seven am. My husband comes into the room, carrying the little girl who looks like him.
She is sleeping in a toddler bed now, her “big girl bed.” He wakes her up at six am every day so that she can spend the first hour of the day with him while he gets ready for work. In the dark, she puts her head on his shoulder as he prays a morning a prayer. Then he sets her on the potty, makes her breakfast, listens to her chatter and finishes his coffee.
At seven, in his work boots and jeans, he brings her to the bed where I’m sleeping. I hear her voice saying my name before they enter the room; it’s what actually wakes me. Then, with my eyes half open, I feel her hair in my face as he puts her on top of me. She lies down, giggling, on his side of the bed, pulls the covers up. Talking, always talking. She’s telling me something that happened to us both yesterday.
“I remember,” I say.
He kisses us both and leaves for work.