There is a child in our family, and I wonder sometimes what it is like to be him. He is the grand finale, the numero ultimo, the baby. I was the middle in my family, number three of five, and I was happy to blend and meld and otherwise fly well under the radar. If I could not do so in the safety of numbers, I would find a book and hide beneath the weight of its pages so as not to be noticed. This is not the case for my son, this thirteenth of thirteen. He is in-your-face, louder-than-life, and does not suffer being ignored.
Perhaps this is to make up for the circumstances surrounding his introduction to our circus of a family; perhaps he is subconsciously making amends for the naughty disappearing act he pulled at six weeks gestation, when the OB looked at me in the ultrasound room and informed me gently that there was no heartbeat, indeed, no detectable bits of humanity left at all, and that I should prepare for another miscarriage. I was distraught, angry, hopeless, miserable, and inconsolable. For a week I railed at God and anyone else who would listen. At the end of seven days I dragged myself back for a follow-up to talk about D&Cs, since nothing physical beyond some spotting was happening. The moment the wand of goo was inserted, the OB said, with a slight raise of his eyebrows: “Oh. Well. Never mind. There’s a baby in there after all. Looks perfect.”
And then I kicked him squarely in the gonads.
Since then, this child has never left any doubt as to his presence. From the time he was born, he breastfed only enough to slake his hunger and not a second more. Never for comfort. It was almost as though he was embarrassed by his needs. When he was ten months old he launched a nursing strike that I was too weary to combat, so bottles he got, and bottles he loved. He is to this day demanding, opinionated, determined, and insightful beyond his years. He calls me out when I do things like throw a wad of gum from the car window (MOMMY THAT’S LITTERING), eschews hugs and kisses with a vengeance, fights with his nearest brother incessantly (they have one another’s buttons memorized), and insists loudly that he is not, nor will he ever be, the baby of the family (I AM NOT A BABY).
And yet, there are moments when he is ill or exceptionally tired that he will crawl into my lap and deign to be rocked for a while. This makes those times all the sweeter for their scarcity.
All his firsts are lasts for me; no one is up and coming behind him, no one will follow in his footsteps or wear his cast-off clothing. He is a solitary, curious little man, this baby of the family, and fiercely independent. I am proud of him, and melancholy, at the same time. But what is there to do? Time marches on, that magnificent, terrible bastard, with no regard for me and my little motherly longings. It will not turn back so I can nurse him once more, nor will it give me another chance to smother his chubby toddler cheeks with kisses. It will not tarry, nor will it dawdle so I can remind myself to enjoy these days of firsts and lasts. If I don’t remember, the grief is mine alone to bear, and bear it I will, for I am not sentimental under most circumstances.
Today the baby graduated from Pre-K. He has a long road to trod before he wears a mortarboard at the close of twelfth grade, and yet the shadow of things to come lies just there, beneath the black nylon, in his grey-green eyes that see, and absorb all. I write, and weep, because I am wise enough to know by now that it matters not how slowly the days pass, they do pass, and the only chance we stand of fighting it is to record it. And so I do. Goodbye preschool; you were full of fun and educational pursuits. Hello, future. Please be kind.