I took Isaac to a baby shower over the weekend, and everyone wanted to be his friend. He was immediately whisked away by the host of the event, who handed him off to a baby-crazy teenage girl, leaving me to indulge in guacamole and tiramisu and open-faced Finnish sandwiches and bocconcini. Eventually, the teenage girl wandered into the kitchen, where I was enjoying the use of both my arms. “How is he?” I asked her. “Great,” she said, just as Isaac caught sight of me, his face crumpled, and he began to sob.
Month the ninth, and separation anxiety has set in.
Suddenly, the outside world is a doubtful place for Isaac. Suddenly, the easy, open, automatic grins are reserved for me, Rachel, and Rowan. Strangers get solemn looks — what we refer to as “the baby stare of death” — and the occasional small smile, if they work really hard. Suddenly, jolly little Isaac is adept at “the lean,” that baby manouvre that indicates he’d much rather be in a mother’s arms than, say, yours.
If both his mothers are present, Isaac is starting to show his preference for me, the one with the milk. Personally, I don’t think it’s as marked a preference as Rachel does, but then again, I’m not the one on the receiving end of infant rejection, actual or imagined. (At least, not the moment. It’ll come, if big brother Rowan is any indication.) “I was thinking about this age,” Rachel said yesterday, after she and Isaac had spent the afternoon together. “I have so much more fun with them when ... you’re not there.”
Baby love. Inasmuch as it’s tiring, it’s addictive. I can see why so much of the rest of the world — at least, that segment of it not already occupied by or recently liberated from its own clingy children — wants a small piece of the action, wants to be wanted by the baby. I remember that fierce longing myself, for the adoration of my fickle childhood cousins, to be the object of their toddler desire. I watch how grown men stoop to make funny faces at Isaac, how arms involuntarily reach for him — and how his own arms, like Rowan’s used to, instinctively wrap around my neck, or Rachel’s. No thanks, he says, the classic pint-size kiss-off.
They love us so fiercely not because we’re fabulous people, or, for that matter, fabulous parents (although I like to think we are both), but simply because we show up. Again and again, day after day, well into the nights and early mornings, we show up. Often grouchy, often not entirely present, but we come back again and again, and this is our reward. For a brief, shiny window of time, we and no one else are perfect in the eyes of the children. Sometimes I think that Isaac would be happy forever perched on my left hip while my arm slowly goes numb, or standing on my lap, holding on to the skin of my neck and trying to eat my nose. But he won’t be. And that will be okay, too. I hope.
I’m not advocating having children in order to be loved so purely. But it is an unexpected perk in the midst of the madness. Even if it means less guacamole for me.