Am I asleep? Or am I awake?
The infant in my arms is almost six months old. He is both lithe and solid, a convergence of contradictions for a baby. Usually he writhes with wiry energy, just like his papa, but now it is close to nap time, and he is still. Binky firmly in his mouth–a new habit (the habits they come and go without warning)–he stares off into the distance, saucer-like brown eyes absorbing the cool energy of the blue room.
Yes, his eyes are brown, the opposite of mine. Everything about my son is the opposite of me, from his worried brow line to his muscular limbs. Am I in there at all? Is it better that I’m not? Surely he came from me. I watched him emerge from my body and I’ve hardly let him out of my sight since. After the doctor caught his slippery little form, the newborn looked right at me. Oh yes, I know you, his look said.
Anyways, the Panda–that’s what we call him, as right from the beginning his adorably round face and calm demeanor reminded me of YouTube videos featuring cuddly bears munching on bamboo–is plopped in my arms like an extra limb. He smells of chewed-on fingers and fresh shampoo, of joy and comfort, of home. I inhale deeply, trying to cling to it.
“I think it’s time for sleep-sleep,” I say to him, “Shall we read a story?” The way I speak when speaking to him came just as naturally as dreaming whilst asleep. I don’t even realize I’m doing it. But my words are suffused with mother magic, and have the power to soothe and delight.
After I lay him down, I close the door and stand in the kitchen. I look around the room. I sit at the computer, cup of coffee at the ready.
– – –
I am writing on borrowed time, as all mothers who are writers do. I am supposed to be ticking items off on my to-do list, just as the PPD therapist instructed me. Choose three items a day, she advised. That way you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something. I nodded vigorously and scratched it down on my notepad, ever the grad student. Therapy for the newly postpartum is prohibitively expensive, with one session equalling the cost of about a quarter of my monthly pay. This will be my only visit, and I’m determined to make it count.
But the to-do list keeps swelling, and I haven’t written in months–six months, to be exact. The words are amassing inside of me, the untold stories piling up and with nowhere to go result in tiny explosions at those closest to me. Tiny explosions that can chip away at a person, a marriage, a family.
So I am clacking at my keyboard on my borrowed Mac on borrowed time. Nothing is mine: not my time, not even the child I birthed. I have always known parenthood is like any other work of art, an exercise in constantly letting go. Your creation separates from you, and you teach it to have its own life.
– – –
My husband comes into the bedroom after the baby is asleep, and he is greeted by the sight of me folding laundry.
“When will you have time for yourself?” he asks.
“I won’t,” I snap with more sharpness than the situation calls for. He meant it kindly, but I backed myself into this corner. No one forced me to become pregnant. No one forced me to put my career on hold. Wrapping my head around this new role of mine, the thanklessness of the work and all the responsibilities that come with it eludes me.
And the love, the size of the love. Nothing prepares you for it.
These two polar truths hang suspended in correlative opposition. I finally stop folding, and lie down to sleep.
– – –
I stop typing, and lie down to sleep. Or wait–have I been asleep all this time?
– – –
The Panda, whom yesterday I was afraid to lie down in bed with for fear he would break, has now seemed to cross a threshold. He moves his head around with expertise, he grabs at toys and cups of coffee with intensity. I wish I could write; I wish I could capture it all, the enchantment and the struggle of him. His personality sparkles in a way that is hypnotizing. I can’t look away from him. I don’t want to, either. But I also want to remember who I was before I upended my existence.
– – –
43 minutes have passed, and he is awake. He rarely sleeps longer than 45 minutes at this age. He’s a catnapper, my baby. I leave my essay unfinished, only to pick it back up six months later and wonder how I survived this long.