This was written a month ago. I’m sort of on a month late schedule all around.
What does poignant mean — is it like getting pinched at the same time you are getting pet? Is it happy and sad; maybe happy but you think it will go away; sad but glad it happened anyhow; happy but pregnant with fear; an echo of another emotion?
Everything about having a baby is poignant. Today Ivy turns one. Poignant.
I look at her face. I try to see my own, since I hear so often that she looks like me. I might inadvertently see my mother looking up at me—something a little Britishy about the nose—or my dad sitting across the room, legs out in front of him, in a light blue fuzzy sleeper. The other day I saw my cousin, Susan.
This morning, I looked at the kids in the rear view mirror as the car was warming up. Henry in the back, eyes dark and warm and lovely, but in Ivy’s face, bundled to the 9s because it was 12 degrees out, with everything obstructed by a hat and a hood except a circle around her eyes mouth and cheeks, I saw my sister laughing.
When I am helping her fall asleep, and her face is in repose, I think about how much I have to learn about her. And yet, I am the person she knows the best. Every time I consider this fact I well up. It happens every time. The love I feel, responsibility I have, the care she needs. A baby is poignancy embodied. When a baby is born she has all of her eggs in one basket, and the basket is her mom. The responsibility is enormous.
As for her dad, he would have done anything for her the moment she was born, and yet it’s just within the last months that I am watching them truly fall in love, in the sense that they light up in one another’s company. Dah-ee, Dah-ee, bye bye, she sings when he leaves the room, or goes to work. When we come back into the apartment after being out, it’s a question. Dah-ee? Is he here?
And at night, when I am getting the children ready for bed, and Henry is wiggling and refusing to get dressed and she’s doing rabble rousing of her own, laughing and throwing herself to the floor to hug an animal or two, she’ll then crawl off and turn to yell over her shoulder HIYA!, her version of Henry. He will laugh and jump up and follow her down the hall, even further from the pajamas I am trying to apply to his fresh little body. They laugh together in a last burst of energy before bed.
She talks about her father and brother, and she can demand to be fed bananas, but she has no words for me, yet. She doesn’t seem to recognize me as separate.
The first year of having a baby is tiring. The first time around it’s exhausting, not just the pinched nerves down your arm from holding her day in and out. If you are an anxious person, you will have watched the subject of your fears shift from your own mortality to that of someone else. With a second child, it’s sweeter if only because it’s less scary and you know that the exhaustion will pass. You can relish the taste of the short time of babyhood. Plus, there is the mirroring of emotion: the ability to re-experience the love for the first child as reflected in the feelings for the second.
Mostly, the first year of having a baby is secretly feeling luckier than everyone else put together. People approach me in the store to tell me how luminous and lovely my little girl is, and all I can come up with is an earnest “I am really enjoying her.”
Today and all the days, it is gravely important that I do my best for her. I’ll be your defender little girl, though the truth is that I’ll also be your aggravator, if only accidentally. I’ll do my best to get you ready to leave here someday, though I will cry to see you go. I’ll try to tell you what I think is important, and watch you come up with your own ideas. I don’t know what will happen but my intention, at least, is to respect you, Ivy, and let you flower in your own unexpected way.
You look like us but the light in your face says that you are wholly, wholly your own.
I love you, baby girl. Happy birthday.