The Barnacle, aka Crusty One-Eye, aka Gordo, aka my son, is 11 months old, and we are counting down the days until he turns one.
By counting down I mean CHECKING HIM FOR SIGNS HE’S STILL A BABY AND TRYING TO TRICK HIM INTO ONE OF THESE REGRESSIONS I KEEP HEARING ABOUT.
For the most part, I’m rolling with this passage-of-time bullshit. I’ve stopped wondering when this baby’s mom is going to come pick him up. I’m not so bewildered when he cries when I leave the room (what does he want? Me? Why?).
Mostly, I’ve adjusted. I go DAYS without a SINGLE DROP OF ALCOHOL WTF MY VICES HAVE BEEN REDUCED TO OVERPAYING PARKING METERS ON THE OFF CHANCE MY THERAPY APPOINTMENTS TAKE LONGER THAN EXPECTED. I find myself saying things to my son I never would have before, such as, “You can’t live on a diet of cheese alone” WHAT YES YOU CAN.
But the one thing that’s truly grounding me in this whole THIS BABY IS HERE TO STAY thing is he’s showing PERSONALITY. He’s not just a developmental milestone in hand-me-downs. He has a look of alert and slightly snooty pleasure that reminds me of my grandmother. He claps for himself in his sleep. He gets your attention and then squishes his eyes shut and grins and spins his head the other way. He has a look of completely unselfconscious curiosity — closed lips, raised eyebrows — that shatters me. He puts his food in my mouth and says, “Ahhh.” He laughs so hard he screams and pants. He throws his head all the way back on his neck and makes choky sounds. He cannot handle himself when the dishwasher is open — he struggles to get to it ASAP, like he needs Plan B before the pharmacy closes, so he can pull every single one of the dirty utensils out of the tray and throw it onto the floor. He is just figuring out that if he shoots his arms straight up it’s difficult for me to pick him up. He’s also just figuring out how to throw a tantrum: First he lowers himself carefully to the floor so as not to hit his head, then he cries and flails, then he pauses to see what we’ll do, which is watch him to see what he’ll do.
He’s also literally a bruiser. When he’s asleep, he throws himself around on the bed dramatically like a soccer player flopping, or like Andre the Giant with his thick legs and little diaper. The other night, he flopped his thick cranium onto my eye socket and gave me my first black eye! Fucker!!!
See that, baby? That’s your mother looking through the ages at you. YOU WILL GET YOURS IN THIS LIFE OR THE NEXT.
I made SJ take a bunch of pictures the next day, when it was looking worse.
SJ: Why do I feel like these pictures are going to end up in court?
He may be paying us back for, oh, I don’t know, FORGETTING TO FEED HIM HOW WERE WE TO KNOW DAYCARE FEEDS HIM DURING THE WEEK SO WE KIND OF FORGET ON THE WEEKENDS. At least twice we haven’t been able to put him to sleep, and around 10:30 p.m. we look at each other, exhausted, four academic degrees between us, and have this conversation:
Jenny: Did we feed him dinner?
SJ: Oh. Not really.
SJ: Well. We gave him part of that falafel.
We also have been farming him out for work NOT A JOKE. One morning I was leafing through a magazine and noticed Lady Gaga in an ad for an expensive watch. JESUS, I thought. DON’T THESE PEOPLE HAVE ENOUGH MONEY WHERE ARE THEIR MORALS.
Literally the same day, a co-worker emailed me to see if I would want to put my son on camera to help promote a new kind of transitional baby bottle. Payment was a $150 AMAZON GIFT CARD WHAT ALL I HAVE TO DO IS SEND MY HUSBAND AND FIRSTBORN TO A PHOTO SHOOT AND I GET $150 SJ SJ WHAT ARE YOU DOING SATURDAY.
I didn’t even volunteer to go.
Jenny: I need to write. You take him.
SJ: I’ve been on these shoots. They’re like, can you turn the baby the other way? He looks fat at that angle. They’re not very nice about it.
Jenny: He’s too young to understand, and I won’t be there.
SJ: I’m not going to say I like the bottle.
Jenny: You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.
Jenny: But you have to go.
So on a Saturday morning, SJ put on a nice shirt and took our baby to the Mission, and for an hour my husband refused to play along with the production team. This is how he said it went:
Lead guy: Tell us about how easy these bottles are to wash.
SJ: I’ve never washed this bottle so I can’t say whether it’s easy to wash or not.
Lead guy: Just. OK. Um. Can you try to get him to drink from the bottle?
SJ: I can try, but I can’t promise he’ll do it. We don’t believe in forcing him.
SJ walked back in our house a couple of hours later looking haggard.
Jenny (brightly): Where’s the gift card?
SJ: You mean my gift card.
Jenny: What do you mean? That money’s for him. For diapers and stuff.
SJ: You never said the gift card was for him.
Jenny (had not considered the possibility SJ would not hand over the gift card): Just give me the gift card.
Anyway, all of these things were distracting me from the passage of time, until it hit me in the face last week (metaphorically, as well as literally). There’ve been a lot of firsts around here lately: Gordo’s first political rally, his first Pride weekend, his first speedboat, his first camping trip. And then his FIRST STEPS WTF IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING.
We were in a trailer on my friend’s lawn in South Dakota. SJ was looking at his phone, and although initially Gordo was hanging onto my leg, I was facing the other way, absorbed with something on the kitchen counter. A beloved third party said, “He just walked from there to there without hanging on.”
SJ: It’s true. I saw him out of the corner of my eye but it didn’t register.
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.
I led the baby to the center of the floor and let go of his hands and watched as he did it again, walked four or five steps before throwing his arms in the air and gleefully plopping down on his butt, and here’s the truth: In addition to shock — so it’s true they go from crawling to walking in a day — I felt only LOSS LOSS LOSS. Not happiness, not excitement, not joy. Only GRIEF. And a pit widening in my chest.
So this is over? In the same way a baby came along and gobbled up my newborn, a toddler came and gobbled up my baby?
I AM NOT READY FOR THIS.
I went to bed that night speared by this feeling of surprise — not surprise my son had walked, because we’d been expecting it for weeks, but surprise at my reaction, and its intensity.
Then, in the middle of the night, Gordo did something unusual. Normally, when he wakes up, I nurse him back to sleep, and when he’s finally comforted, he unlatches and rolls away from me. But this time, for the first time, he unlatched but stayed snuggled against me. Warmth flooded my body, and I realized, This is what this is about. My baby still needs me.
At least for now.
To make these summery sandwiches, which I always forget about but then am so happy to remember, you need:
- Yummy bread
- 1 Persian cucumber
- Cream cheese
- Yummy salt
- Black pepper or another yummy pepper, such as my standby, maras chile flakes
You need to:
- Toast the bread.
- Let the bread cool just a bit, then smear cream cheese on it.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper on top.
NOTE: If I’d had cilantro, I would have picked off a few leaves and sprinkled them on, too.