Besides the moment my husband walks in the door, the best thirty seconds of my day are when my babies “pretend to be my babies” – a strange nightly ritual that floods my nervous body with oxytocin.
“Please, Momma, I be your baby now?”
My days can be so hard that, by bedtime, I feel clawed apart, chewed up, spit out, left for dead, drawn and quartered, and buzzing with sickening amounts of adrenaline.
My children have never been able to really relax with me. I guess I should say “on me”. They can’t relax on me. Well, one of them can. One of them fits my body like a glove. (Or I guess I should say like a tight shirt, because who wears a body glove?) The other two children just don’t seem to be able to relax on me unless it is the middle of the night. Darkness is my friend.
Maybe I’m too bony, and they prefer bosomy. Maybe I’m too cold, and they prefer warmth. Maybe I’m too anxious, and they can smell my anxiety seeping out my pores like gasoline. Whatever the reason, they have usually preferred their father, and often even their grandmothers, over me.
But after our whole day has passed, after dinner is cleaned up, teeth brushed , scriptures read, prayers said, they each take a turn to lie in my arms like a baby.
They ask, one at a time, “Can I be your baby now?”
They may have been kickboxing each other all day long, but they calmly give each other the time and space to lie in my arms for the duration of a song. I gather each into my arms like a newborn. Even though each one is three feet longer than at birth, and about six or eight times their original birth weights, they each nestle into my chest in the exact same way as they did as newborns.
One rests his ear against my heart, because it soothes his bad ears. One nestles into my breast as if he were vaguely still aware of long ago nursing. One stares into my eyes with unashamed devotion.
To my arms, they each feel the same as they did as newborns. One is clammy and stiff. One is warm and floppy. One is cool and solid.
But each one physically relaxes as I begin to sing into his ear in turn. Their shoulders loosen, their heads nestle in deeper, and I have their complete attention for the first time all day.
There is no one else in the world when it is that child’s song. I lean over him so my hair makes a soft curtain over his face. I stare into his eyes, whether hazel, deep brown, or almost black. I press my cheek against his cheek and whisper-sing into his ear.
I sing southern gospels, church hymns, songs my momma sang to me, or old nursery rhymes. It doesn’t matter. He is really listening to my heart and to my breath and to my voice. Whether that child grew in my belly or not, my voice and my heartbeat are his, and his alone, for those thirty seconds. We belong to each other.
I am terrified of the day they never do it again. “You’ll remember all their firsts but none of their lasts.” When will the last time be? My voice and my heartbeat and my bony arms will someday not be enough to relax them or to fix them. These days are so incredibly draining, but what kind of toll does it take to have a child be too big to “pretend to be your baby”?
It is the best thirty seconds of my day. It gets me through. That oxytocin, that fierce mama bear love, that desire to eat them whole, is fuel to get me to the next day. So I can feel it all again.