When Baby C falls asleep on my chest, he’s this tiny nugget of warmth, breath puffing in and out, fuzzy little head, twitchy fingers, a smell of sweetness and earth and clouds that I could just curl up and inhale forever. One day, I clip a smiling toy octopus to his stroller and he likes it so much he stares deeply into its goofy cartoon eyes until he falls asleep (at the time, I find this strangely hilarious). The same week, he starts to respond to me and smile back and it’s like watching a meteor shower—flashes of sparkling eyes and open-mouth joy, one after another, shooting magically across the ordinary night sky. He is suddenly here with us in a way he was not before. And I want to ask him, where did you come from?
“Is this our baby?” J asked me in a serious voice, a few days after Baby C came home, holding up a small statue of a round, smiling Buddha that’s been collecting dust on our windowsill (see picture below). I laugh and the next day he asks me this again. When Baby C is all swaddled up—his chubby little face popping out of this roll of blankets, staring up at me with these dark, searching eyes, he does remind me of something out of this world. It’s like he’s this little god/spirit/buddha/creature sent here to teach me that it’s not about me, but about something else, a particular type of love that perhaps only a one-month-old human being demands. And maybe we were all sent here to teach our parents and each other more about that.
It’s the kind of love that wakes you up at midnight, two in the morning, and then again at four, drags you out of bed, forces your limbs to move, ignores your body who is begging you back to bed. It interrupts you, slows you down, and forces you to learn to eat with one hand. It doesn’t care if sitting in a rocking chair is starting to make your back ache, because it wants to rock with you for a very, very, very long time, until it falls asleep, however long that will take—and it is as simple as that. It’s so simple that it makes you laugh about a toy octopus. Or it makes your mind feel like an empty parking lot some days, makes you stumble over your words, or forget the point of your story entirely.
One night, while I was tucking J into bed, he announced solemnly, “I will close my eyes, so I don’t have to see you go.” And perhaps this is the love that our four-year-old bodhisattvas teach us. This type of love requires us to stand up to the magnetic trance pulling us together and say goodbye, goodnight, see you in the morning or after work. It’s like chopping onions, this love, it can make you cry but it is essential to the meal—believing they will be alright and therefore letting them grow up, that is. It forces us to face our biggest fears that our big kids won’t be alright when we say goodbye, while they are at preschool or in the other room—that when they are out of our sight we may lose what we cherish most in this world. It makes us plow forward and take this plunge, day after day, night after night, learning to have trust in them and maybe something else too. That night, after an extra snuggle, the time eventually still comes. There is no avoiding it. “See you in the morning,” I must say and then I walk out of his bedroom and into mine. That type of love.
“Have I hugged our baby yet?” J asks one evening. “But how?” He says and together, we give Baby C a gentle snuggle. J is learning so much about the heart too and what it means to welcome this new life into our family, to share his mom and dad, to have some things stay the same and other things change. He is asked to whisper more and wakes up in the night when his brother cries. He sees his dad making goofy faces at the baby and that makes him laugh. He asks, “Where was our baby when I was born?” I don’t know how to truly answer him or what I believe. I’m sleep deprived so over and over I think about that Buddha statue and those monks who meditate while they chop carrots and how this relates to the diapering-feeding-burping-cleaning-diapering-feeding-burping-cleaning-madness that is our life right now. And maybe, in some moments, I am able to see it all for what it really is—perhaps lessons in love, from somewhere mysterious and far away—and in which, day after day, night after night, learning them really is a messy, beautiful honor.