It is Friday night. The baby is asleep after a full day of walks around the neighborhood and exploratory play. My husband and I have eaten dinner and had much-anticipated sex. The needs of each person in the household have been met.
The baby is now five months old, and I am finally feeling less invisible than when she was just born. It’s as if the development of her personality and the accumulation of a few big milestones have given me back some of my own weight as a person. I was wispy there for a while just after her birth, the milk pouring out of me and into her. When we’d venture out of the house in those first months, I felt like an alien, some kind of weakened amnesiac rogue who’d gone dark on the radar of anyone with any sort of power. I was definitely working a job — I had the stress and exhaustion to show for it — yet I earned no wage, received no accolades, and except for nightly help from my husband, remained in isolation.
I mean to say it is a radical thing, to care for another human like that.
Mothers (and caregivers) don’t only know their children inside and out; they also know what it looks and feels like to step outside of the great consumerist machine so influential in our daily lives and be present in the free work of caregiving. To be invested in the corporeal and not the corporate.
That’s not to say there isn’t stuff to buy.
The stroller is a necessary burden. We own two strollers now. The regular stroller does not have great maneuverability, not like the jogging stroller, but it allows for carseat attachment. The jogging stroller has a built-in suspension but doesn’t offer much of an undercarriage for storage. These are the things I wrestle with now. Literally. Both strollers are hulking things with multiple loud click mechanisms, at least five adjustable straps and buttons to trigger their collapse. I am pushing, collapsing, opening, or lifting one of them many times in a day. Despite their encumbrance, the strollers remain a vehicle, a source of freedom to those who push them.
There is a nanny in my neighborhood, Berta, whom I regularly see pushing two toddlers around in a double stroller. It’s loaded with two diaper bags, a mesh bag of toys, her purse, the actual children, and a plaid picnic blanket draped over the whole thing. She is petite but obviously strong, and I love to see her shoving that elephant up the steep hills in my neighborhood. When I was younger and busy taking steps to prevent pregnancy, I hardly ever noticed Berta’s heroic walks. I probably drove by her a hundred times, but the landscape of children was invisible before I had my daughter. I never noticed the clothing and toy stores, play structures, park benches, and diaper changing stations interspersed throughout my neighborhood. It’s like living inside an optical illusion. What else am I not seeing because I haven’t lived it? And what must I become to be able to notice everything?
I recall a peaceful evening much like tonight, when the baby was bathed and fed and ready for sleep. I cradled her and shushed her, and with her hand she took the pacifier from her mouth, looked into my eyes and said some baby-words, little coos. Whatever she said, it was loving and gentle and saturated with adoration of me. I was everything good to her, in that moment, and the power of that responsibility made me go blank for a minute until I could put her down into the crib and step out from the room.
What's the saying? “‘Mother’ is the word for ‘God’ on the lips of children”? I didn’t feel like her God. I felt like her Home, and I’m not sure what is more powerful in a human life or if those are really just two words for the same thing.
With the birth of my daughter, my hobbies and ambitions and conceits of self melted into a temporary puddle on the floor. I fed my baby milk and kept her alive and for that she rapidly attached to me for dear life.
On the other hand, becoming a parent filled me with a certain ego-stroking self-fullness: I am this child’s utterly unique caregiver, bonded by blood and scent, by face and by voice. The words I say matter. It is my face and her father’s face which brings her security and peace enough to grow drowsy and loosen her grip on everything and finally go limp and warm in my arms.
In such moments, I am both nonexistent and totally shining, totally alive.