Monday, November 20, 2006

Ode to Eli

Nearly one year ago, in a perfect birth experience, baby Eli joined our family. The doctor, who had also welcomed Eleanor and Sylvia into the world, gently placed Eli—red, slimy, and scrunched up like a turtle who’d spent too long in its shell—onto my chest. “Welcome, Eli,” I said, “do you recognize my voice? I’m your Mama.” Eleanor was sitting right beside me in the hospital bed, and she joined in: “Hi Eli, I’m Eleanor, your biggest sister. Sylvia is the medium-est, and you are the littlest one in our family.”

Eleven months have passed.

Oh, how I love this baby, whose smile starts in his laughing eyes and ignites his entire being like a Fourth of July Sparkler. Words cannot adequately describe his happy, playful, brighten-up-the-room baby nature. I’ll tell you this without a hint of hyperbole: strangers—not one, but many, many—have literally stopped me on the street, Eli babbling away in the stroller, to tell me he’s the cutest baby they’ve ever seen. I’m not even embarrassed by their gushing. I can’t even feign modesty. I smile, and say happily, “I know! I am constantly amazed by his cuteness! Thank you!”

Each morning when I unzip Eli’s pajama sack—the coziness radiating from his body like the aroma from a cartoon pie—I inhale the sweet scent of baby sleep, and thank God for giving him to our family. Judging from the generosity of his smiles, and his eagerness to please, I think the feeling is mutual. In his best Harpo Marx impersonation, he puts his pacifier in his mouth backward—handle first and plug-side-out—and laughs and laughs at his own joke.

Because Eli is my third baby, I’ve had a lot of breastfeeding practice (by my calculation I’ve racked up 29 months or 52,200 minutes of breastfeeding, and I know that’s a conservative estimate). But it helps that Eli is to breastfeeding as Tiger Woods is to golf: he’s done it well since birth. When he was tiny, he kneaded my chest with his stubby little baby fingers, reminding me of a dream I had when I was pregnant with Eleanor, in which I gave birth to a kitten. (Eleanor displayed modesty in utero not seen since her birth: you’d never know that the 5-year-old-girl who strips down to her underwear at every opportunity was once so shy she wouldn’t reveal her gender during the ultrasound. The Great Unknown of her gender inspired a myriad of crazy gender-guessing dreams, including two where her Private Area was blurred out—as in censored—and one where, after lifting my furry, fang-toothed baby to my breast, thinking, “hmm, something is different about this baby, I realized she was, well, a kitten. “Don’t worry, I’ll still love you and take good care of you,” I remember promising the kitten.)

As Eli grew, and learned about object permanence (“Whoa! Mama still exists, even when I’m not looking at her!”), he took little breaks during nursing—the warm milk running out the side of his mouth as he turned his head upward—to smile at me. “It’s you,” his smile seemed to say, “I knew it was you all along!” Sharing those smiles, communicating “I know you,” and “you are mine,” I bid adieu to the previously uncharted territories of my heart.

These days, as Eli approaches his first birthday, he nurses with one hand tugging my necklace, his fingers worrying the beads like the faithful praying the rosary. Always multitasking, his top leg flops up and down like a happy puppy wagging its tail. He pauses, almost involuntarily, to practice his new clapping skills (“hooray for milk!”), and then nurses again, while his hand explores the contours of my face, charting each bump like a blind-man reading Braille.

I love Eli’s predictability, which rivals Greenwich Mean Time in its consistency. He is tired exactly two hours after he wakes up in the morning, and he hints to me with a vigorous eye-rubbing that he’s ready for nap. Eli wakes up happy, reaching his arms up and rewarding me with smiles and babbling. He buries his head into my shoulder and wriggles his bottom as if trying to dig a snuggle burrow. He compulsively signs “change” when we’re changing his diaper, his chubby little fists sliding back and forth on each other in a half-circular pattern. Each bath-time, Eli puts his face into the water and coughs on it; he just has to be sure of its level. After his final nursing at night, he burps twice. Never once; never thrice. He’s as predictable as the treasury debt, but a whole lot more fun.

Nothing about Eli is ordinary, and his crawl is no exception. Three out of four appendages work cooperatively in a traditional hand-hand-knee configuration. But his left leg is rebellious; impatient, it refuses to touch knee to floor and instead stays up in bear-crawl position, providing a kick start to propel him forward at a more satisfying pace. When he sees something he wants, he sniffs and snuffs as if he’ll get it faster with the assistance of nose-power.

Recently Eleanor said, “Hey Mama, Eli looks like we’re going to tie-dye him.” I had no idea what she was talking about, so I didn’t respond right away. Then I got it: “Do you mean it looks like he has rubber bands in the creases of his chubby parts?” I asked. Eleanor is right. And I'm proud of it. Eli’s soft-as-silk chubby sausage appendages represent hours of breast-feeding and patient baby food spooning. His chubbiness calls out to be nibbled and rooted, and draws me in like an open dishwasher attracts a crawling baby.

Next month we’ll celebrate Eli’s birthday with little Teddy Bear cakes, made from a tin that Eli loves to pull out of the kitchen cupboard (we might even wash it first). We’ll sing Happy Birthday and watch as Eli gets a taste of sugar. And when it is quiet, I will lean down and whisper in Eli’s ear: “We’re so glad you’re here, Littlest One.”


Anonymous said...

My dear, dear friend, this brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful piece, you are such a gifted writer (not a surprise to me, at all...). I miss you so. Nuzzle that little cutie for me,and your two sweet girls. Please print a copy of this an put it in an envelope for Eli to enjoy years down the road when he himself is a daddy, if that's the path he chooses. Your legacy is a true gift.

Love you,


bgirl said...

truly touched my heart and evoked the precious and fleeting memories of that first year. the little stranger we bring home, who immediately transforms us.

i'm with fran...print it, mail it. what a gift indeed.