My daughter arrived twelve days early. In doing so, she offered her hand in friendship. It was a harbinger of the harmony we were to enjoy for the whole of her babyhood.
I had an achy, vomity, transverse-positioned, bed-rest filled, isolated pregnancy and I thought it would never end.
All around me pregnant women seemed to bounce through their days, chic in maternity dresses and heels. Heels! I spent my third trimester watching cable. One night I heard a snapping sound.
A briny uterine tidal wave poured from my cervix to the floor and suddenly, the baby’s movements became sharper. My shoes filled like tide pools.
Twelve days off my sentence. It’s over, I thought. She isn’t even born and I already owe her one.
Instantly loving motherhood is a gift as unequally bestowed on women as is an easy pregnancy. I was lucky: the memory of nine crushing months of gestational servitude vanished the moment she was placed in my arms. I tend toward melancholy and it seemed a certainty I would slip down the landslide of post-partum blues.
It didn’t happen.
Studies show a newborn’s pulse slows when she hears her mother’s voice, because it is the voice she has heard from within the womb each day.
My newborn cried in the hospital nursery and I put her over my shoulder and said, “Mommy’s here.” She went right to sleep.
My daughter’s early life can be summed up by a single material item: a Beco baby carrier. The Beco is padded cloth and canvas with some dangling straps and buckles. It was my child’s transportation system, cradle and home. Shower, dress, pack bag, strap on baby. These were my days and nights. I grocery shopped, ate lunch, made dinner and swayed on walks in Central Park with my velvety infant strapped to me. I felt little joy in carrying her before she was born, and it seemed as if life had decided to dole out compensation. Carrying her outside my belly was blissful.
In summer, my six-month-old would bang on the front door at 6 am: time for our morning walk! I would buckle the Beco around my waist and bounce her into position. We passed sleepy people waiting for free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theatre. We sat on quiet benches to nurse. We ate apple sauce and she crawled on the grass as the sun broke through the morning clouds and dried the dew.
We waved at people waiting for the bus, watched teenagers straggle out of drugstores clutching Red Bulls; we pointed at dogs and greeted doormen.
When she began to crawl and later walk, she wriggled to let me know she wanted out. Soon enough, she would run at the sound of its clicking into place. Freedom had replaced togetherness.
My daughter is three now. We haven’t used the Beco in almost a year. I washed it and put it in the closet.
It isn’t the only thing that has been retired.
Lately my child prefers the company of her father. He has a gift for imaginative play: the three-year-old’s raison-d’être. He orders endless cups of tea in her restaurants, rides in the back seat of her taxi, requests a trim in her hair salon, inhabits any world she creates. I’m so grateful for his cleverness, his sense of fun, his supportive creativity.
I’m so grateful I could spit.
The last few months have hurt.
In the old days, I took my baby to the park in pursuit of mallards and blue jays and squirrels. We fed turtles and climbed rocks and made hats out of fallen autumn maple leaves. Now she has an internal world to explore. She also has a new partner.
Our paths are diverging.
Yesterday my family seized on a rare warm winter’s day. I had packed a picnic, a favorite doll, and for some reason, the Beco baby carrier. I don’t know why…
“I want to climb to the top of Belvedere Castle!” my daughter shouted. I imagined the long march up the castle’s tower.
“Do you want to ride in the Beco with Mommy?” I asked uncertainly. Would she remember the Beco? Would she find it strange after all these months? Was it outmoded, unwelcome, babyish? Would she prefer her father’s arms?
“Carry me, Mommy!” she squealed. My hands shook as I buckled the belt, as if I were performing a sacred rite and my skill was a measure of maternal fitness. I lifted her up, folded the padding over her back and snapped it into place.
We bumped noses and laughed. To the left were the Delacorte statues. To the right was the baseball field, empty under the gray January sky. I saw our shared springs and falls on either side of us, like ghosts lining the gravel path.
Our old path.
A song came to mind, as if it had floated from the pearly sky and into my ears only. I sang it to her, slowly at first, picking up speed and rhythm as I did confidence.
Seems like old times
Having you to walk with.
Seems like old times.
Having you to talk with.
And it’s still a thrill just to have my arms around you.
Still the thrill that it was the day I found you.
Wind ruffled her hair and my daughter’s eyes drooped contentedly. I stopped singing.
“Don’t stop,” she murmured.
That night she told me she didn’t want to see any babies. They made her sad because she wanted to be a baby again. I told her she would always be “my baby,” and she told me that wasn’t the same thing.
Don’t I know it.
But here we were sharing something new: nostalgia. Someday I’ll explain irony to her.
As for the carrier, it’s back in the closet. But I’ll take it out again before it’s too late.
Sometimes it’s more important to travel back in time than it is to live in the present.