He is tucked into her, the baby–almost two now and on the cusp of boyhood. She contemplates the time they have spent together in near disbelief as she rocks him gently back and forth, her belly rising and falling in tempo with the rising and falling of his chest. His tiny toes twitch in fits and starts as he gives himself over to drowsiness. His arms flail. He bats her chin and collar bone with the back of his hand. She calls awareness to her own body, to what she is holding there, to her arms like two-by-fours, her sinewy aching neck, her belly pulling her diaphragm tight to her ribs. She accepts all of it, invites in the heaviness of the drift to nowhere, the forgiveness of a day’s work. She offers reprieve to everything that belongs to her except for the small hardening of her left thigh where she flexes and releases in rhythm like a pendulum, forward and back, forward and back. In one final effort of consciousness, the baby pulls his love-worn blanket over his eyes, his body falling limp with hers. She leans her head back to doze, jaw dropping as slobber pools behind her lower lip.
She is tucked into her mother now at three years old, calm as a sleeping baby but with eyes wide open. Her mother’s breath rises and falls in heavy turns, head tilted backward, jaw drooping, the rough texture of her aging skin brought into relief as streaks of light pour through the crack in the curtains. She can’t curb her desire to touch the face she knows so well by sight. She refrains for what feels like eternity, staring, studying, until unable to restrain herself any longer, she places the tips of her small fingers gently where her mother’s cheek collapses into a dimple, takes in the comfort of its powdery softness. She would run her fingers over every contour of that face, but her arm tires and lurches to her side, causing her mother to startle to wakefulness. The girl pulls herself in tighter, taking in the scent of Tide on oxford cloth as she is scooped down to the floor. “I fell asleep,” her mother sweetly observes as she glides toward the kitchen to start dinner.
Drool runs down her chin. She is a mother now, waking to find her baby sleeping, his toddler limbs dangling from the edges of the pillow on her lap. His eyelashes are gold-tinged, his cheeks pink from heat. She marvels at the impossibility of him, the impossibility of any whole complicated organism with beliefs and desires looking up at her, looking up to her, breathing life. She allows herself to feel a pang of animal loss. It reminds her to stay present, to relish the moment. He is here now, and she is here now. She can only hope he will one day reflect on the cradle of her heartbeat and know her love as she knows the love of her own mother. She reflects on her own thoughts. They strike her as misdirected, the focus on his future somehow wrong. She looks down at her belly still rounded from pregnancy and places a hand there. So much will happen, all in a string of moments like this, and there is nothing to do but breathe through it all. She stands and lowers him into his crib, runs her fingers over his plump cheek. His head jolts reflexively, as if a fly had landed there. She glides to the kitchen, places the kettle on the burner, and wraps her hands around a cold empty teacup, waiting for his cries to signal it’s time for cheese toast.