I've mentioned before that my sister has five children to my two, haven't I? And until just recently she had five kids to my one, which qualified her as An Expert in my opinion. Since she had my niece, Olivia, almost thirteen years ago (And how on earth was that thirteen years ago? I just want you to explain THAT to me!), I've been watchin' Jackie with her kids. Partially because as I said before, she's An Expert in my mind, and partially because she's My Sister and we have all this sister-history and it's fascinating to see My Sister, with whom I played Candyland and made sock puppets and roller skated and snuck home after school, pulled down the shades in the den and watched Dark Shadows while we licked Hawaiian Punch drink powder off our fingers like Lick-A-Maid and downed way too many of those Little Debbie Star Crunch Snacks despite our mother's express disapproval of such activities (Sorry Mom. Yes, it DID give me nightmares, you were right!), being a Mom to her own kids, and lastly because most of her kids came along during the time that I was single and terrified I'd never be UN-SINGLE again and thus would never have any chiddren of my own so I was all about lovin' on my nieces and nephews and mothering them vicariously through Jackie.
Always out of range of any wayward icky baby goop that might be ejected from them, of course.
But I was watchin'.
And lately I keep comin' back to this one thing I noticed my sister doin' with each of her tiny babies. A thing that I always observed with confusion and maybe even with judgment although now that I'm a Mom, I totally GET what she was doing. In fact this one small moment I've witnessed between Jackie and her babies captures the essence of the relationship between a mother and her ittybitty offspring so well and so universally that I'm willing to bet every human mother of every kind every where in the world does it without thinking. It's a beautiful, telling exchange I know you're going to recognize.
No, y'all, I am not talkin' about you lickin' your finger and usin' it to wipe grape jelly off Junior's cheek.
Stay with me here, people.
Here's what I'd marvel at as I sat and watched Jackie with each of those tiny (weeks old, I mean) little people in her arms:
She'd take the baby in her hands - one to support his body in the sitting position a little way out on her lap, and one to support his wee little head, which she gently turned to face her - and she'd just STARE at that baby. With a look not of maternal love, though I am certain she loved and still loves each of those babies with a fierceness, but with ... slightly baffled scrutiny and puzzlement. Like she was just takin' a long minute to take a step back, look at that child and FIGURE HIM THE HECK OUT.
And as young non-mother, to me that was bewildering. Where was that Madonna-(I'm talking about the original Madonna here, not the Material Girl)esque look of pure bliss and joy? What was this gaze that looked like examination instead of adoration? Was my sister's eternally pragmatic approach to life hindering her natural motherly feelings? Why wasn't she melting into a puddle of butter as one would expect her to?
One (me) who had no concept of what newborns DO to their caretakers, mind you.
But now, you see, I get it.
Babies ARE inscrutable. They ARE puzzling. Perplexing. Enigmatic. Both of my newborns have been complete mysteries to me, to Al, and even to Jackie, whom I actually observed affixing The Gaze on Mr. Peabody while she visited us a few weeks ago.
Some days my babies've been mysterious like oddly wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree, other days, frankly, more like tiny little ticking time bombs. They've tied my eyebrows and neck muscles in absolute knots with their periodic inconsolability, their refusals to even tolerate the same thing today that they couldn't live without yesterday, and their flickering whimpers or searing wails in those long, aching moments after I've done everything I could possibly do to meet their needs to no avail.
But they've also tied my heart up in ribbons of rainbow-hope and soul-rocking love those times the torrents of tears have parted to reveal utterly perfect gummy smiles. Babies are like a box of chocolates, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, you never know what you're gonna get.
So a Mama stares into those fresh, new eyes, and hopefully beyond them and into that inscrutable little mind, that mysterious soul, and silently asks the questions Who are you, really? What'll make you happy? What'll bring you peace? Oh, and while I'm at it, are you ever going to let me sleep longer than 36 minutes at a time? And why are you so afraid of bath water? Does pooping feel as weird as it sounds? Were you hurt by that duct tape post I wrote on my blog? Sorry baby.
The Gaze can only get you so far though. The rest of the mysteries have to reveal (or not reveal) themselves over the course of precious time, with plenty of trial and error. And that's the very nature of mothering, isn't it?
Back to my shop vac!