Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Baby

First kids grow up more quickly. Or maybe it just seems like they do. It's not necessarily good or bad; it's just what it is. At least that's what I, as a parent and as a first child, like to tell myself.

It's not only that, when their sibling is born, they become immediately older in your eyes. It's not just that they automatically become the model of Big Kidness that you use to show your littler one what they need to aspire to. It's also more concrete and physical: For instance, although N sometimes still asks me to pick him up--and I do it, more often than not--I stopped carrying Em around when she was 3 years old, and I was as pregnant as anyone ever has been and could no longer carry ANYthing, obviously.

(No, seriously. Don't believe me? Fine. Totally irrelevant-to-this-post photographic evidence, coming right up:

Case made, don't you think? That was only one baby in there, by the way. One relatively small baby, actually; he weighed just over 7 pounds at birth.)

Moving on.

Since her brother's birth, my relationship with Em has always been more...mature. I enjoyed spending time with her when N was newborn, because I could ask her a question, and she could answer me. When N demanded three repetitions of his ABC board book for bedtime reading, I could then go and read a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods with Em. She and I can have actual real, sometimes even deep, discussions on topics that don't involve firefighters or guns. I adore both my children, but there are ways in which, throughout her life, I've enjoyed Em more.

All of which is rambling prelude to saying that, over the past three days, I've had two occasions on which I got a glimpse of pre-N Em, of the baby that she was if only somewhat briefly, and it shocked me, truly took me aback in an almost physical sense, at how much I've missed that part of her all these years--especially recently, as her 10-year-old's body has begun betraying me by trying to enter adolescence.

The first of these occasions was the other night, when I was putting her to bed. She keeps her bedroom door closed, because Snug has an unfortunate habit of occasionally stealing stuffed animals out of bedrooms and eviscerating them, and Em's stuffed animals are still her babies. (And if anything should happen to one of her American Girl dolls? Oy.) Most of the time, that's not an issue, but it's been chilly here in LA, and our house is heated by a single floor furnace. The furnace is near Em's and N's rooms, but obviously doesn't work through a closed door.

In other words, the other night, Em's room was a frigging ice box. And when she wanted me to come lay down with her in there, I began to whine about it. Which struck her as funny. Which made me play it up some more. Which made her start to giggle. It's not that she never laughs, of course, but the giggling got to me. I'm the one with whom she's usually much more serious; we talk all the time, and we laugh together, but the silliness and teasing is her relationship with her Dad. So for me to get that giggle was gratifying, and I wanted more. And, after some more antics, I got it. In fact, she began to giggle so hard that, all of a sudden, the sound seemed to turn into that infant chortle, that sweet brand-new baby laugh. She went from 10 years to 10 weeks old in an instant, and it brought actual tears to my eyes...even if I was shivering too hard to do anything more than dive under the covers and hold her tight as she laughed and laughed and laughed.

And then, last night, she arrived by my bedside at 2:30 in the morning, complaining of a stomach ache and crying a little. I almost cannot remember the last time she did this; she is not a middle-of-the-night waker any more. But when she was a baby, it was constant; she never had trouble going to sleep, but she woke in the night for the first two years plus, and then again after N was born. And when we moved into this house, when she was 4 and a half, she began having night terrors and sleepwalking episodes, and we got into a habit of letting her come up to our room and sleep in a sleeping bag by our bed, and things were slightly out of control until she was 6 or 7, when we finally hit on an idiosyncratic and successful solution that involved a little bit of tough love and a lot of toys and costume jewelry from the dollar store.

Last night, all of that came back to me--even as I took her down to the living room and set her up with a throw blanket and a heating pad and made her a cup of Pop-Pop's recommended hardly-any-tea with lots of lemon for stomach aches, and even as I sat down next to her and stroked her forehead and gently probed to make sure it wasn't appendicitis (no tenderness to the touch, thank goodness) and then talked to her about how this was likely just gas but that one day, soon, though maybe not for another year or so, these sorts of cramps might be her period starting, and so if she were to see blood when she wipes, she shouldn't be shocked--even as I did all of that, I was remembering her in my arms, a restless infant searching for my nipple, a headstrong 2-year-old who had too much to say to keep sleeping all those hours, a disoriented 5-year-old who didn't remember how she'd wound up in my bed when she'd started the night in hers. And although I've paid for it, all day, I really didn't mind losing those three hours of sleep in the middle of the night, because I was able to help, because I was able to watch her drift back off to sleep once the heat and the tea did their jobs, because I was able to spend that time with my baby, my 10-year-old, my oldest, my heart.

[No, I don't know why she and her friend G-girl (Em's the blond, to the right) felt the need to stick their heads in the snow in Big Bear, and no, it has nothing to do with this post. I just had to add it, because it makes me smile.]


PnP said...

Incredible post, can we go back to NoPoBlow or whatever its called, I love reading you everyday. And thanks for the laugh at the end, those kids crack me up!


po said...

Waaah, waaaah, waaaaah!!!!!! I remember that baby, and I remember mine (now 5 feet tall). I remember all those days at the Huntington, and at the mall, pushing them around in strollers, their little bitty hands clutching sippy cups. It really and truly feels like just yesterday, and I am bawling here that it is gone forever. But I know what you mean about those little glimpses back into the past, those physical reminders of the babyhood.

And dude, you really were big as a house, weren't you?? I was too, but six months behind you :)

Krista said...

I can't believe that picture! I mean you don't look like there is any fat, just really pregnant. How can that uterus expand that much?