Rain falls gently outside, darkening the rocks in the garden just outside the kitchen door. Acoustic guitar plays from two speakers on the kitchen table where my stepdaughter eats a bagel and sketches girls with different hairstyles. Across the room, my ten year old son and seven year old daughter play Magic the Gathering, crouching over their cards on the rug, then jumping up and down for one play or another. I’m so happy here this Saturday morning, absorbing the presence of my children with my newest baby in my arms. At twenty pounds, he fits against me as warm and squeezable as bread. I lift him up and breathe him in, tasting all the delicious scents of “baby.”
People warn that babies gobble time, abolish leisure, and even cut deep connections with one’s other children, but Mikah has helped replenish all three for me. If it weren’t for Mikah, my baby, I would not be resting in this moment right now. I’m a professor at a local college and would more likely be evaluating new academic programs or reading articles on the future of higher education. I’m also a long distance runner, so I might also be taking advantage of the older kids’ independence by running five miles up the road. Or maybe because of the rain, I’d choose instead to lean over a keyboard and try to write something that feels important. The baby keeps me here, though, soaking in the present moment. I sway left to right, left to right, listening to the rain and and Drew and Gracie laughing. My muscles and limbs relax, my mind softens. Holding the baby in one arm, I use the other to lift my tea, loving its blend of honey and lavender. Every sense feels more intense now because I can take time to savor it.
Friends and family vehemently argued against me having another baby. It wouldn’t just wear me out, they insisted; it would also limit if not end all opportunity for growth. “You could try a triatholon,” I remember a girlfriend suggesting. Others mentioned traveling to different cultures, raising goats, or writing another novel. No one seemed to value the presence of a baby in the home.
Yet this baby is growth – in addition to the miracle of a new existence lighting into form. I could write pages about the wonder of watching a tiny water-bound being grow into a human that hugs, talks, crawls, walks…yet of equal value is the growth that babies inspire in those around them. For moms, this growth is exponential.
Mikah’s presence has inspired me to relax in my home with my family in ways I have never done before. I am content to stand here, feeling warm and cozy, while mist drifts across the lawn and two crows circle over the top of a pine. When did I ever gaze out a window like this? How often does any adult allow such a moment to stretch out so luxuriously? I have phone calls to return, a bathroom to clean, laundry to hang – and yes, yes, yes – money to earn in my new editing business. Yet here I stand, happily, letting my list sit on the counter. I’ll get to it – but not right away. The baby is beginning to purr, and he’ll sleep soon. My stepdaughter has moved on from drawing hair to doodling favorite movie quotes. Drew and Grace are still playing cards, now jumping on the couch between turns. Their legs look so long! Grace tosses her head back like a dancer when she laughs. I’m so happy watching them, swaying by this fire, relishing in all that is, just as it is, for a few more beats.
Babies give more than time. They also give more love – for everyone. One of my most heart-rending fears when I was pregnant was how the presence of another baby would affect my relationships with my older children. I loved them desperately. I had worked long hours throughout their pregnancies and infancies, so a part of me was always missing them, longing for an intimacy we had yet to share. I became pregnant when Drew was eight and Gracie six, and I vexed endlessly over how I’d ever love them enough with a new baby. I became plagued by a repetitive nightmare: my daughter was sliding down a rocky bank into a rough river, and I was too far away to reach her. I’d run faster and faster, but she always ended up lost to the water anyway.
Of course, a new baby changes a mom’s relationship with her kids. Babies need to be held most of the day and often most of the night. My daughter is on my lap much less since Mikah’s arrival. I’m at fewer of my son’s soccer practices. We eat more hotdogs now. Sometimes Drew and Grace put themselves to sleep as I cajole a fussy baby in a room across the hall. These changes are hard for all of us – but no one’s drowning. Quite the opposite. Both Drew and Grace are happier than ever before: they laugh more, are kinder towards each other, and act more confident in school and with their friends. They’re big siblings! Important people! Two weeks ago, Mikah learned to clap – which he does at least a dozen times a day to celebrate them. He claps and smiles when they walk into the room; he claps and laughs when one finishes a chapter of homework and announces, “Done!” Both are able to hold him while standing, and he wraps his arms around their necks and kicks his legs in joy as they parade him about the house.
Along with getting loved up by Mikah, my kids also get more love from me. While working full time, I was often on the college campus long passed the children’s bedtimes. Even if my body were home, my mind was often still up the hill on Route 66. Academic work is never finished: committees always need a report (or two or three); stacks of papers scream for grading; unfinished essays sit in uninspired poses on the computer. I am on leave now, and I am truly here, in the home I built in my twenties and thirties, with the children who’ve emerged from my body to share it with me. My eldest son feels closer to me now than ever. He entertains the baby while I make dinner, fills the wood bin, checks texts for me on my cell. We take trips into the woods together to gather kindling, and because Mikah is on my back, Drew is the one who carries and uses the ax. My daughter is eager to compete for role of best helper and often tromps into the woods with us. She and Drew are the ones who lift the logs and carry them together back home. Grace also loves entertaining Mikah, which she does by singing peekaboo-peekaboo-peekaboo, until he laughs like he’s being tickled. She loads the diaper bag for me in the car, every day, even when it weighs almost as much as she does. In dozens of ways, the baby has transformed Drew and Grace’s sibling rivalry into a much more palatable version of exertion for attention.
The baby has also transformed me. Modern life vexes us with so many pressures to grow and accumulate and improve, and all my life I’ve been chasing after half a dozen goals at time. Now, I’m present with my children and my own being in a new, deeper way. I listen better. I exert myself to follow through on my children’s ideas rather than only my own. If Drew wants to bike, I throw Mikah in the Ergo and run after him; if Grace wants to draw, I put him in the backpack and paint alongside her. I am so determined to make sure my older children still feel cared for. My favorite week days are when I bring Mikah to Drew and Grace’s school, drop him off with the office secretary, and volunteer in their classrooms. This time is their time and feels sacred to all three of us.
I wouldn’t have been so willing to follow others in the past, even if they were my own kids. In my twenties, I was obsessed with certain ideals and living them. In my thirties I was under extreme pressure to manifest a home and career. Now, in my forties, I just want to enjoy those I love. Three of my closest friends had double-mastectomies in the last year. My partner’s two best friends are dead. These losses and others have taught me to value every moment of my life and my children’s. Younger friends of mine seem more eager to send their kids away for a week or so into the care of relatives and friends, while a single overnight is all I can allow – and only to grandparents. I am pulled to be with my kids, not to miss a bedtime, or a good morning hug. How many healthy years do I have left? Whatever answer exists, I wish to enjoy those years with my family.
Of course, I’ll return to work fulltime. Time at home is expensive. I’m making a fraction of what I used to – but my career is not over. I feel it transforming. Like an acorn sending out a pale yellow embryo from its shell, I am reaching into new light, too. When pregnant, I felt inspired to learn a new healing modality “Healing Touch,” which I’ve been able to share with the whole family. I’d always wanted to learn various massage techniques, and at last I am doing so – and practicing on those I love. I also recently enrolled in an online class combining memoir with yoga. This creative and dynamic class is giving me ideas of how I might hybridize some of my own college courses. It’s also connecting me with kindred spirits. Several of the other students and I have become friends “on the ground,” and even our children are beginning to entwine. After fifteen years of working along the tenure track, I’m grateful to have this time to explore learning, teaching, and collaborating in alternative settings.
I would never declare life is easier now that Mikah is born. Babies require love and care around the clock, and with three other kids in the house, my partner and I are often desperately tired. We don’t get enough one-on-one time, and I miss him keenly. The house is messy, and the sink is always full of dishes. Some nights, I sneak into Drew and Grace’s room, and as I watch them sleeping I feel an ache in my heart because the day disappeared too quickly, and I didn’t get enough time to connect wholeheartedly with them. These details, though, do not darken the energy of all that is growing here. We’re happy, and the love in this home feels good. And our baby helped, not hindered, this goodness to happen.