When I was pregnant, I dreamt often of forgetting my baby, as many pregnant women do. In one dream, I frantically retraced my steps through SanFrancisco, alone in a strange city, and finally determined that I must have left him at the restaurant. I called them from a pay phone: I know this is sort of strange, but by any chance have you all found a baby? They had.
My theory is that those dreams are a function of the pre-motherhood self being unable to fathom how one could possibly ever keep track of anything 100% of the time. Just think how many times you have lost your keys, phone, wallet, and you can imagine why one would worry.
This is of course all before you give birth and discover that you are inherently connected to your baby as if by a powerful spell, that you cannot re-orient the internal compass that always points to him and fires the alarm if ever you step too far away.
It is not fail safe, nor is it impossible to lose your baby. But it’s a lot harder than losing your keys.
A few weeks ago Joseph had a play date with some of my friends’ kids, two twins who are just a few weeks older than him. I was stunned by how independent he was, completely happy to explore a totally new place without my help, and form his own friendships with the other babies.
I came home and reflected that he’s becoming his own person more and more all the time, that he’s about to start walking and then he’ll be a toddler, and I’ve still not even come to terms with the fact that I’m a mother and a bona-fide adult. Somehow even his existence still manages to shock me.
Once, I was sweating in the mid-afternoon sun in the yard in front of the Birdhouse, talking for a moment to Charlotte and touching a beaded sweater hanging from a wire hanger on a rack of yard sale clothes. When I looked down Joseph was standing there holding on to the edge of a faux wood end table, his bare shoulders sweating under the straps of tiny blue jean overalls. He was looking up at me with such intentness — huge dark eyes and small open mouth with the corners turned down just so, the sun lighting his hair up copper.
For that split second it is as if I have never seen him before, this small person who is searching my face and wondering how to feel. I stare at him dumbfounded, so he tries a smile and a small half laugh, hee! I remember to smile back, Hi, bub! Whatcha doin’ down there? And the unshakable intimacy of our relationship floods back.
I experienced this one other time, back when we lived with Elizabeth and Ruby. Joseph had fallen asleep for his nap on my bed and I had gone to work elsewhere in the house. He slept for so long and I became so engrossed in my work that I was actually shocked when I walked back into the bedroom and saw his naked sleeping body sprawled on the lavender colored sheets. For just that moment, my mind reeled, Where did this baby come from? And then I placed him. Right, he’s MY baby.
At the time I filled up with all kinds of shame and guilt. What kind of mother is actually shocked to find her baby still sleeping where she left him? Can I really so easily forget his existence entirely?
But now, many months later, I ask different questions.
Do we ever really come to terms with the existence of our children? Or will the unlikely miracle of their existence continue to astonish us to perpetuity? I kind of hope it does.
Do we ever really come to terms with Motherhood? Or do we on some level always see ourselves as we were before? As just Lauren: Lauren who loves finding a perfect watermelon or a gallon of fry oil in the dumpster. Lauren who loves crashing around in a mosh pit on the floor of the Pilot Light, who places her half-drunk beer on the ledge over the door before stepping out onto the sidewalk to bum a cigarette. Lauren who loves to ride her bike as fast as she can over the Gay Street bridge, green painted iron flying by, Lauren who spends days on end sewing a dress by hand.
I am all these still even though I can no longer practice these happinesses in these forms. But I am also the mother of Joseph. My compass points towards him as irrevocably as the mapmaker’s points north. This has been one of my harder tasks of motherhood, to understand that who I was before my baby was born and who I am now is really, truly, actually, the same person. It’s been me all along, and at the same time there’s versions of myself that might as well be dead for how close I can come to touching them again. I am slowly regaining lost bits and pieces, gathering them in the basket of my skirt as though for a witch’s brew that will somehow produce a version of myself that I can recognize. But it’s not likely, is it? We are brand new and recreated every day, and this is something to feel joyous about, and unafraid.
Joseph is my son. I can still barely believe in the reality of this statement, and I’m starting to think that that’s just fine, that in fact I might count myself lucky to have the privilege of living in touch with this staggering and unresolvable mystery.