Dear Lily June,
Last night was more stressful than you can believe. The biggest day of my work year, Orientation, happens today, and I was cramming through last minute details yesterday, making copies of handouts, putting together folders of materials, booking rooms and catering, and doing all the things one does for an event like this: namely, going into a wet chicken panic.
And then the call came in from your dad. You weren’t eating, Lily. You wouldn’t smile like you’ve been. In fact, you’d been shrieking like a gibbon monkey for two hours straight, that is when you weren’t just sleeping through the times you were supposed to eat. Nothing soothed you. Not your fishy chair. Not being rocked through the air. You went to bed crying and woke up again, screaming. Rinse. Repeat.
We agreed to take you to the pediatrician, and I rushed home like on each traffic light, green meant go and yellow meant go even faster. I tried to suppress the drum where my heartbeat should be as I whispered, unconsciously until I caught myself doing it, my baby, my baby, my baby.
When I got to our apartment, your dad looked like he’d been tearing through his hair the way scared puppies shred through a Sunday newspaper. He was trying to feed you in your fishy seat, but it was clear he was in a frantic panic (is there any other variety?). He went back in the bedroom to change for the doctor, and I scooped you up, sat you down on my knee, and proceeded to finish feeding you. You ate like you’d just discovered how good food can be.
He came back to see you, calm as a sated piranha, and sighed. Because I’d come home from work early, tearing through the streets like he’d torn through his hair, we took you to the doctor anyway, where we got the diagnosis no mom and dad wants to hear: Apparently, we’re first time parents. I believe the technical term is idiots, though the doctor was kind enough to explain that babies cry, and leave it there.
I ribbed your dad to no end, but the truth is, hours later when he went to sleep, you did the same to me. Your eyes welled up with tears, and you proceeded to try out vocal ranges that opera singers can’t reach. And just as I was about to flip the switch from calm mama to “It’s time to go out of my freakin’ mind,” you fell asleep. I don’t know what ailed you, though I tried everything from rocking to singing to feeding to changing to starting back all over again at the beginning. I think I’ve learned something: Babies are apparently tiny people, too. They get pissed off, like you did and do. But like a five-year-old, I’m not content with the what. I want to ask Why Why Why?
You’ve been smiling more and more overall, in part because you love your fishy mobile that swims above your head, but also, I think, because your vision is clearing and strengthening and you’re starting to see. Your parents hover over you like gnats bearing their teeth, hoping our crazy grins will be contagious. And sometimes, like in the picture below, they are:
Other times, though, you have a fear or an anger or a sadness that’s seemingly inconsolable. Why, Lily? I admit it, I don’t always know. Are you cold? Tired? Wet? Hungry? A tiny diva in a baby disguise?
When your dad and I got married, the photographer scolded us for kissing too much. It didn’t stop us one bit. We were young(er) and so in love that every kiss felt right. (I wish this for you, as I wish this for everyone–that you marry your best friend and the love of your life.) When we weren’t kissing, we were beaming, and the photographer said when I smiled, I lost my eyes.
It’s an actual thing–it’s called a Duchenne smile, a facial expression that includes, along with your lips in an upside-down rainbow, contractions around the eyelids so tight, the irises seem to disappear. Discovered by French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne, it stimulates the orbicularis oculi muscle, creating crow’s feet under the eyes as a result of the lifted cheeks. In one of my rare shares of photographs, you can see this smile here:
It’s a smile I get from my mother, pictured in the cover to this post holding my little brother. She’s got a wry grin on as my little bro, Denny, has his head thrown back in a classic colic wail. It’s called purple crying, named so for the way the face goes purple-red as a beet that’s been furiously weeping. The strength she has in the photograph to hold that grin is nothing short of a miracle. I don’t know how my lips would begin if you were that inconsolable. And yet, after years of night terrors and fussy mornings, Denny is about to graduate high school in a year and more often than not, he’s taken on the sarcastic half-grin, half-grimace of my teen times. It’s so weird to see it on him.
A smile, though, can be more than a sign of happiness; it can serve as a form of protection. I remember learning, in a class I took in college about violence and victimization, that women often smile at men in dark parking lots or alley ways as a way of signaling with their physiology, “Please don’t hurt me.” Does that mean I should take the fact that you’re not always beaming as testimony that you feel comfortable enough around your parents to get pissed off? (It’s better, as your daddy says, than getting pissed on.)
For that matter, at what age will you develop the ability to cry as a response of joy? There’s a strange sort of echo–called tinnitus–in our ears after you’ve been on a crying jag, even after you’ve calmed. Is there a point at which it will be a sound your dad and I almost long to hear again? When you slam the door as a teenager, will we find ourselves wanting to be back here, when we could still lift you up and hold your face to our chests and let you wail like a kitten whose tail is on fire?
Will we miss the tenderness of futile soothing mechanisms, if only because they’re motivated by a desperate need, little Lily, for you to be okay whispering quietly and unknowingly sometimes, my baby, my baby, my baby? Is it too much to ask a three month old to just speak, telling us what you need, not with your cries and your eyes, but with your words?
Is this the question asked by every first time parent, Lily? Forgive us our failings, my baby. We try, we try, we try.
- “Symphalangus syndactylus, Chiba Zoo, Japan” by suneko – http://www.flickr.com/photos/suneko/373310729/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Symphalangus_syndactylus,_Chiba_Zoo,_Japan.jpg#/media/File:Symphalangus_syndactylus,_Chiba_Zoo,_Japan.jpg