The hushed sense of liminal time that infants can create around families is fading fast from our family now. Mikah turned two last month, and we are back to careening downstream with mainstream frenzy into frothy schedules of jobs-school-sports-chores. I love that Mikah walks, eats, and even makes friends on his own. But my heart twinges when I think back to a year or so ago, when the family felt so still, quiet, and close as we took turns holding our new arrival. We were fulfilled back then – even thrilled – with ventures as far as the river that cut across our land or the apple orchard up the road.
Not so much now. We are less floating stardust as a family, more streamlined meteor. We make plans and pursue them. We squeeze tasks into minutes and soccer games into half hour slots. We can even fit two birthdays into a single afternoon. Everyone has ambition: Drew wants to build a three-foot high rocket with two “C” engines, Grace wants to play her clarinet to Beyonce’s latest, and Mikah wants to ride the tractor. Eric and I, too, have plans – and maybe we’ll get to them, after 9 PM, when we can get all three kids to bed (and if they stay in those beds).
We do still have what I call “between moments,” which offer some of that original timeless feel. Yesterday around 3 PM, for example, I scooped Mikah from the chair where he’d fallen asleep and walked upstairs with his warm body in my arms to check in with Eric, Drew and Grace who were playing cards. The room was hot, the fan on, Eric’s shirt off. I lay on the hand-me-down couch so Mikah could nurse and watched as Grace jumped up and down in anticipation of winning, and Drew sat perched on the arm of his chair, barefoot and entirely focused, seeking any chance to rally. Eric had a beer in one hand and a fan of cards in the other, happy to be in a chair at last.
I lay back, soaking in everyone’s facial expressions, their acrobatics, their banter. Mikah was warm and lazy against me as he nursed, and I rubbed my hand along his back, enjoying this chance to go nowhere. Eventually, Mikah wiggled to the floor and began to cook with various plastic foods he found in dusty corners, using Eric’s old camping gear and a couple of wooden spoons he must have sneaked from the kitchen. His hair was damp with sweat and curled up at the back of his neck, showing a faint birth mark, one of my favorite places to plant kisses. Each time he brought me a food item, he said, “For My Best Mom Everrrrr!” and I felt joy akin to the original thrill of holding a child for the first time.
Between moments are difficult to capture with words and easy to dismiss as wasted minutes. Yet I need to remind myself that they are essential to this family’s health, perhaps even the glue that holds us together. Surviving a hot afternoon by playing cards; teasing each other with newly learned jokes and riddles; throwing a Frisbee or tennis ball or rice-filled sock in the yard after dinner – these non-productive hours of our lives spent together are antidotes to the parts of the world that uphold transcripts, resumes, mirrors, Facebook pages and property lists as the whole of a person’s value. I don’t want to live with that kind of pressure, and I don’t want my kids suffering in that way either.
What each infant has brought to this home and family is the awareness – perhaps the memory – that the universe is so astoundingly unbounded. As we hold a baby’s fish-like body in our arms and stare into a baby’s Yoda-like eyes, we encounter the unknown and may even feel transported into it – to that place where angels whisper and stars hang out and fate becomes destiny. Passionately, I want to hold onto this magic for all my life, even as my kids’ legs lengthen into tweeny reeds and Eric and I collect snowflakes in our hair.