March 6th, 2007

Rush

Baby Bonding and Beyond

Many mamas birthed babies yesterday, including a beloved cousin of mine. I fell asleep last night thinking about them falling asleep in their new little world, inside the baby bubble. 

There is nothing more astonishing than those first days and weeks with a baby -- getting to know her, letting her get to know you. 

It is a mutual study, both scientific and sensual. 

First, there is that examination of every crease of every finger and every toe, of the little stump of umbilical cord, of the blotchy skin. If I were that thorough and detail-oriented in my day-to-day life, imagine the administrative productivity! 

And then, on top of that precision, there is the intuitive touch and dreamy exploration of scent and sound, the falling in love one little breath at a time. This phase of observation is less orderly, more womblike, and requires no experience or skill beyond mere presence. 

This is a time, I think, we never stop missing. My husband closes his eyes when he remembers one of our babies falling asleep with her head in the crook of his neck. There are times when I ache with a vengeance, watching a nursing mother. And those snapshots of our daughters -- tiny blinking eyes, skinny arms and legs swaddled in buntings -- they might as well be 3D and scratch-and-sniff they're so visceral.

It is a lot to leave behind. 

But it occurred to me last night, during my tossing and turning, that we sustain this intimacy best when we read, out loud, to our children. In the rocking chair with a toddler on your lap. On the couch, one child under each arm. In bed, under the covers, morning or night, sick or well. 

Even as they grow ganglier, and learn to add and subtract, and skin their knees, and choose an instrument, and clear the table, and hang from monkey bars, and write in their diaries, they soften and slow down when we offer up the stories and lyrics, pretty pages and imaginative wanderings that are books. 

I know, from what teachers tell me, that lots of folks stop reading to their kids when their kids learn to read. And I know from reading to my daughters, from reading to my students, even from reading to my husband on long road trips, that we don't outgrow the pleasure, the comfort, the sensual connection inherant in being read to. It's ageless.

Tonight, my cousin's baby girl will fall asleep at her mama's breast and again, later, in the crook of her father's neck. I will nestle into the cushions of the couch with my babies, whose legs are nearly as long as my own, and read.