I am stopped at a light with Eliza and Zoe in the backseat. A man, maybe 50 years old, starts to cross the street in front of us, carrying several bags. His clothing and hair and skin are varying shades of greasy gray and dirt brown. He mutters to himself.

I immediately imagine him as an floppy infant, trusting, in his mother's arms. I paint a whole picture for myself, his mother smiling, his skin porcelain smooth, his mouth and eyes open, searching.

What did he find when he entered this world? What lead him here, now? Whose perfect baby was he?

I pull over to cry for a minute, telling Zoe that I have something in my eye.


There is an article in the paper about a young girl with schizophrenia.

There is a pivotal moment in the book I'm reading when a boy loses his father.

I am drawn to these stories. I am terrified of these stories. (F YOU VERY MUCH "My Sister's Keeper" kid-with-cancer movie. No, I will not be seeing you EVER.)

I can barely read these stories without breaking down. I focus on the words, avoid extrapolations, try not to think about all the possible demons and dragons that lurk in the shadows of every child's life.


Zoe's Nana and Papa are visiting, excited to see the baby. Zoe wanders over to where I sit with Eliza who is propped up on the boppy on the floor. She kisses her feet, squeezes her hands, smiling. We all remark on what a kind big sister she is.

She starts to try to climb on top of her and I stop her. "I just want to crawl over her" Zoe says and I tell her it's not safe to crawl over little babies, she can show us her crawl NEXT to the baby and she protests loudly. Next, she wants to sit on the boppy, too close and too rambunctious for my comfort and I stop her. A full blown tantrum greets me this time.

In Zoe's eyes I see a storm of conflicting emotions, especially when we have company: she loves Eliza, she wants to squash her, she wants to kiss her, she wants to bite her, she wants to sit with her, she wants to sit ON her.

The affection and aggression sometimes mix together in ways that confuse us all.


I peel Eliza's face off my chest and glance at her face where the red welting line of my bra strap is emblazoned on her cheek. The mark takes my breath away even as it quickly disappears.

By tomorrow, the angry streak of pimples, now a major constellation on her forehead, will be entirely rearranged or will have exploded to cover her whole face or will disappear entirely.

Her eyes flutter open and struggle to focus on my face. Her smile appears out of nowhere and consumes her whole body and as she wriggles her greeting, I cannot help but do the same.

Within minutes the storm clouds gather and her wriggling takes a new form, knees up to her chest, her belly contorting in digestive discomfort, her forehead wrinkling in consternation. A fussy "ehhnnn. EHHHNNNN." progresses to outright crying.

I put her to my chest again for another round of pats and shushes and indentations on her soft cheek.


Marie Green said...

Oh, how I've loved hearing about your early days with baby Eliza. Your girls are look so much like I always imagined my own kids would look... dark hair/eyes, chubby cheeks etc... Instead I birthed these little blonde baldies.

and YES your daughters WILL get big. But by then, my girls will be BIGGER which: EEEKKKK!

I always picture people down on their luck as someone's baby too. It really helps me feel compasionate and soft towards them.

artemisia said...

I do the same thing when I see people in unfortunate or desperate situations. I create back stories for them and end up crying. A lot.

Gina said...

Since I became a mother I imagine every single homeless person I see as an infant and wonder what happened. Every single time. And I think how badly I want my children to know that they are loved.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to comment here anonymously just because I don't write about this on my own blog.

But your beginning paragraphs just about made my heart seize up. Both my mother and sister have schizophrenia. My mother (my biological mother) died 10 years ago, and my sister goes through awful, unimaginable stretches inter-spaced with remarkably normal times that are hard too, just because you feel like WOW, this is HER. Only it's not all of her, and then her brain collapses on itself and she has no grasp on reality versus fantasy. It's terrifying. It's horribly sad. It's perhaps the most painful fact of my life.

But your comment, about imagining that man as a baby, seeing him as a PERSON. Thank you for that. To me, it means the world that you would share that automatic perspective toward a mad stranger.

parkingathome said...

I feel the same way about that movie when i saw the preview. My brother called me his "bone marrow buddy," but I never got to give him my marrow, he died to quickly for me to help.

Swistle said...

Oh I know. The post title is PERFECT.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Anonymous- I will say this (can I be anonymous on my own blog?), knowing and loving someone with serious, debilitating mental illness makes the world a very different place.

Astarte said...

I think that exact same thing when I see homeless people. Once upon a time, they were just cuddly lumps of baby, and someone (hopefully) loved and cared for them.

Hang in there, PostPartum Woman. :)

Stef said...

You'd make a great psychologist with such a great capacity for empathy...

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