I wrote this back in June with the intention of editing it as a birthday post for Trombone, whose birthday, of course, was July 1st. And then I forgot all about it.
But it’s all still true. So I’m posting it now. Turn it up / Bring the sap!
You can now find your belly button with your own two hands.
At first, it was this oozy mess I had to fold your diapers down around. We used the newborn-sized disposable diapers because the cloth diaper covers were too big and were keeping your belly button too moist. We would dab around it with a Q-tip. I worried about it; was the stump taking too long to fall off? Was that blood around the edge? Would it get infected? But I guess I got distracted by something and forgot to obsess about your belly button for a while.
One day when I paid attention again, there it was, healed and clean and a perfect pink swirl. Someone described a baby’s belly button as looking like a cinnamon bun and I wish I could credit that person but I don’t remember where I read it.
You and I were connected at your belly button. I tell you that sometimes when you are poking my belly button with your fat finger. Your finger gets lost in my belly button and you delight in its disappearance and reappearance. You and I were connected at your belly button for a long time, I say. Then, one day, you came out into the world and we cut the cord that connected me and you. And you were a separate person. You were free.
You don’t have much patience for this story – there are no ducks in it – but I like telling it.
I cut the cord, I say. The midwife who helped you be born guided my hand with the scissors in it and I cut through this tough, weird rope and separated us, after all that time together. It didn’t hurt, I say. And then you floated free from me, I say. Like a balloon cut from its string. Filled with air, alive.
You’ve been busy becoming you.
I have tried to attach you to a cuddly toy or blanket but the only thing that soothes you is a book. [ETA: of late, you are also keen on sleeping with a large plastic travel mug.] If I am too late fetching you from a nap and you are despairing that I have abandoned you, the only way to calm you is to pick out one of your favourite books and go through it several times. Then, when the book is done, you let go of my waist and crawl off my knee to explore the room.
Your dad’s family will tell you this behavior is like his when he was small. As legacies go, it’s not bad and if you were to grow up to be exactly like your dad, you would be a fantastic person indeed.
Let me tell you a little about your dad over this first year of your life.
He didn’t want to cut the umbilical cord. He announced your sex instead and I cut the cord. I got the feeling the midwife and the nurses thought it was a little funny that he didn’t want to cut the cord. Maybe they thought he was squeamish or wimpy. I don’t know, I didn’t really give it too much thought until after you were born and had nursed for the first time and then they moved you over to the baby warmer to put a diaper on you and so I could be stitched and tidied.
“Come over and put a diaper on your son, dad,” said one of the nurses. And your dad went right over and leaned into the bassinet and put his face close to your face and talked to you. You know what he said better than I do. He touched your body all over and put the tiny diaper on your bum and spoke softly and told you it was all OK. I could see him out of the corner of my eye.
Your dad doesn’t hang back when it comes to you. He has changed as many diapers as I have, he has rocked you to sleep as much as I did, he has been teaching you important things like Linux and penguins and the world outside our door and how to say “november” and how to turn out the lights. He also has worked almost every weekday you’ve been alive and then come home and played with you and helped me put you to bed and listened to me vent and cry and held me and brought me wine and pretty much been the best damn father, partner and human being who ever existed.
Not that I’m surprised. But I am grateful.
The first anniversary of your birth is not so important to you right now. The actual day of your birth, your becoming into the world, your breathing of air; it is nothing to you. It is not even what happened because I don’t think you consciously remember. But the first anniversary of your birth is very important to those of us who remember before, who remember when you weren’t here. It is important because you and I and your dad all survived our first year together as a family. It is important because we all three of us became new versions of who we were a year ago.
You are cautious and deliberate. You watch and evaluate. You practised going up and down the three bottom stairs before you would climb any higher. I can see the gears turning in your head sometimes, when you evaluate a new situation and figure out how you’ll approach it. You are not one of those kids, yet, anyway, who takes a big step off a tall bridge without first examining the water for crocodiles.
You have a very healthy appetite. But you don’t like carrots and you don’t like noodles with butter and cheese. [ETA: the only food that you like consistently is squash.] I do not pretend to understand this last dislike. Would you forsake your Italian heritage so easily?
You have four teeth. One of the top two came through last week and the other two weeks before that.
You have a lot of hair. Sometimes, in the wind, it blows against its grain and you look startlingly like Donald Trump. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched The Apprentice when I was pregnant.
I still call you my baby but you haven’t been a baby for quite some time. You are much smarter than we give you credit for. The first time I asked you to do something and you followed my instructions without me having to demonstrate – my mind was blown. You weren’t mimicking anymore. You were listening, understanding and making your hands and brain coordinate to do what I had asked. Today, at a restaurant, you handed me a creamer for my coffee when I asked you to. A long, beautiful relationship of you handing me liquid refreshments is ahead of us.
Just think: a year ago you were still floating in what was left of your leaky swimming pool, bumping up against the edges but quite content to wait patiently until something changed. Now that I know you a little better, I imagine you were staring at the exit, trying to develop a strategy to get out but wondering how the hell you were supposed to work with so few resources.
Just think: a year ago today I had never seen your face.
Just think: a year ago today.
And now you can find your belly button with both hands.