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Mary Jo Melone
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Babyhood fading fast as childhood takes flight
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2000
Having a baby is tantamount to letting Che Guevara into your living room. The existing government is immediately overthrown.
But watching your baby slip out of babyhood and into the start of, in my own child's case, little girlhood is another matter.
She tells me to go away when she's had enough of me. She orders me to sit down when she changes her mind. She declares what is hers in the house -- her cup, her blanket, her shoes, even the car I drive her to school in -- as though she were demarcating the boundaries of her own small city-state.
Life with her is a mix of delight, frustration, and -- there is no other word -- grief.
I had managed to keep this last sensation entirely out of view until a colleague brought her 9-month-old baby, with Technicolor blue eyes, to work, and I asked to do something I never, ever did until my own daughter came along. I asked to hold the baby.
She fit easily in my arms, and my nose instinctively went where it had gone with my own daughter, to the hollow in the back of her neck, where her sweet baby smell resided. It is the same in all babies and is not the result of powdering or using Ivory to wash their clothes. I don't know the source and don't want to know. It would spoil the magic.
I held that baby in the middle of the newsroom, where people were clicking away at their plastic computer keyboards, and began to sway with her a little, as if we were dancing. I was -- at least, in my memory -- resurrecting all the moments like this one, when my emerging little girl was my baby, so new I could barely tell where she ended and I began, and she needed so much there was no resisting me.
Some place within me that I had never known existed opened up, deep and wide, and she moved in, to stay forever. I remembered this, dancing in the newsroom with this baby, and suddenly I ached with longing from head to toe and the ache wouldn't leave until I handed this baby back to her mother.
Now my little girl is tall enough to figure out how to turn the lock on the front door. She has begun to figure out how to work the TV and the VCR in the living room, and the cassette player that plays her night-time lullabies. She will only nestle when sick or exhausted. The rest of the time she is all hands, for painting and making a mess, and feet, for running until I have to go into high gear to catch her.
When the cat escapes out the front door and scampers across the street, she stands on the porch, straightens her body into a near-military pose and commands him in a powerful little voice to come back now. When I tell her cats are not prone to listening, she raises her voice a bit more.
She is standing some distance from me when this happens. Somebody else might be seized with the urge to take a picture then, but no photograph can capture this. Her babyhood is over. She is hurtling right along toward the rest of her life, and I am along for the ride. I might as well try to stop her as try to make a spring morning, when I open the front door and get a whiff of the neighbor's jasmine, stand still.
When she was tiny, friends urged me to write down my thoughts of this new life we were leading together. Where I was supposed to get the time for this, in those sleep-deprived days, they never said. My memory tends toward vivid pictures, even exaggerated ones, and so I figured I would remember it all: her perfect little nails, the wrinkled bottom of her feet, her arms around my neck, our swaying together.
The truth is, the memories are fading already, being crowded out by the demands of the moment, the teary spells and the time-outs, the desperate searches for her favorite toy, the long walks where I push her in her umbrella stroller to the playground.
Always she heads to the swings first.
But each visit is slightly different than the one previous, because each time she wants me to push the swing a little harder, so she can fly higher.
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