I stand leaning over the side of your crib, forearms resting on the hard plastic frame. At least I think it’s plastic—or some other man-made material that they texturize and paint to make it look like wood. Because nothing is actually made from real wood anymore—at least not anything that new parents can afford. Real and authentic are commodities these days, and therefore expensive. But not you. You are the most real and authentic thing in my life, and yet you’ve cost me nothing. In fact, you’ve given me everything.
I’ve come to know this position well—this slightly bent at the waist, spine curved, head half-down—position. My body readily takes this form throughout the day, nursing you, bathing you, playing with you. And from the mere weight of holding you in my arms, balanced on the cusp of my hip. Someday, standing upright will feel natural again. When you’ve grown so big that you no longer require my body as a vessel to feed you, entertain you, and move you from one place to the next. When you’re so tall that I no longer must crouch to meet your gaze. When I long for the days you were little.
I just laid you down on your back (the position they tell me is safest) and watched you stubbornly flip, wriggling into your favorite sleep position. You let out a long, squeaky sigh—the sound I’ve come to learn is the sign that you’re down for the count. Only new parents know this bittersweet feeling of freedom and somberness. I could finally straighten my back if I wanted. I could go stretch out and relax. Read a chapter of my book. Drink that glass of wine that sounded so good an hour ago when you were screaming in the bathtub and I couldn’t figure out why. You’re sound asleep and you don’t need me right now. But I can’t pull myself away. I miss you already.
Your puffy diapered bottom distends in the air, your knees curl under you, little feet resting one on top of the other, your arms awkwardly tucked under your belly. I bend down further and listen closely for your soft breath. Are you still breathing? Of course you are—it seems silly to check—but I just need to hear it.
What a perfect, tiny human you are. I’ve called you this before, but you aren’t, really. Perfect and tiny, yes. Human, no. I mean, literally and scientifically you are, I suppose. But I’m not sure I’m ready to label you with all that accompanies that word, not just yet. There’s far too much baggage and negativity and responsibility attached to it. Sure, humans possess many distinctively beautiful qualities. But humans also sin. They lie and they hurt, ill-intentioned or not. They have insecurities. Faults. Scars. You have none of these.
You’ve yet to develop the critical thinking that, when mixed with selfishness, is the perfect recipe for hurting others. You feel no contempt for those that hurt you. Despite your relentless screams and squirms when I try to suck snot out of your nose, or wash your face, you still beam with joy when I walk in the room.
You’re entirely free from preconceptions and judgement; the kind that will ultimately be imposed on you by those around you, including, unintentionally, by me.
Your smile, the truest possible depiction of genuineness. Completely uninhibited by insecurities; unmasked by facade, unlike the smiles of grown-ups. You don’t care that you have no teeth, or that your jaw goes crooked when your grin is stretched to the max. It’s nothing but the deepest, most primal emotion of happiness that turns the corners of your mouth upward, glittering your eyes with wonder and lighting up my life.
And then there’s your laugh. So free and guttural, bursting up and out of your belly so fiercely it could knock me off my feet.
Babies are often referred to as angelic, and this makes sense to me now. There’s simply a ‘not-of-this-world’ quality about you. It’s somewhat unfortunate that you won’t remember yourself this way—unscathed by society and life experiences. It seems almost too coincidental that your first childhood memories will likely coincide with your earliest human-like behaviors. The ability to lie and manipulate based on fear of consequences. The feeling of disdain for not getting your way. Or even the positive human traits like kindness and empathy. The time will come when you will need to choose which traits you exude, but right now, you don’t have to.
When these infant days are behind you, so too will be the flawless innocence that defines them. I can’t help but sense a metaphysical disconnect between the being that you are now, and the being that you will become—as if somehow they are two separate individuals with their own souls.
This crib that contains you now, keeping you safe while you sleep, will not do this job forever. You will outgrow your crib, and you will outgrow your ignorance. The world will crush you as often as it inspires you. It will twist you and bend you and shape you and mold you, tearing you down and building you up, and you will have to fight to become what you want to be against what it will try to make you. And when you’ve reached it, well, there’s yet more bending and shaping to come. Because you’re never truly done learning and growing—trying to be the best version of you that you can be. And the world will never stop finding ways to teach you.
So I stand here—watching you sleep, staring intently, partially wishing I could freeze time—but mostly looking forward to being by your side as all of your transformations unfold.