Sunday, September 27, 1998

September, 1998-- Little Liam

            Baby number two. Second child. Having another one. These phrases, tossed around with great frequency just a few months ago, when I was pregnant with my second baby, scared me a little. They all seemed to imply that I was doing something again. Something I had done before. And in the midst of disappointingly familiar morning sickness and swollen ankles, I wondered if having a second baby would simply be a repeat of having the first, except without the overwhelming awe that accompanied each new milestone. Looking back on the babyhood of my first child, Jacob, it seemed to be a string of wonderful accomplishments. Though the childcare books had taught me that the average infant rolls over at four months and sits at five, there was nothing average about my feelings when my own son did these things. He was a genius for discovering he had fingers, an athlete for being able to stand. As he bridged the gap from babyhood to life as a toddler, his feats became more complex, and I marveled in his newfound language skills. Now, as I entered the final trimester of pregnancy, he was three and a half, and I was his biggest fan as he raced through little boyhood, learning to kick a soccer ball, jump off the porch, and spell his name. I watched him, though, with one hand on my ever-growing belly, wondering if I'd be able to tear my eyes from his race long enough to appreciate this new baby, who was still in the starting blocks. Though I didn't doubt that I'd love the baby, I wasn't sure if I could love him with the passion and the unbridled excitement with which I loved Jacob.
            I approached my due date warily, remembering all that a newborn demands. With Jacob, the late night feedings, the never-ending diaper changes, and the bouts of crying were buoyed by the thrill of every new accomplishment. I hoped I would rediscover the magic of those tiny milestones from so long ago, but feared that they might not hold the same excitement, the same suspense. I never watched reruns on t.v. because I didn't see the point of watching when you already knew the ending.  I feared baby two would be a rerun.
            Liam entered the world late one night, oblivious to all of my questions. Nursing on my breast minutes after being delivered, he assumed he would be loved and kept warm, and as I stroked his tiny cheek, some part of me emerged that had never before given birth, had never nursed, had never held a newborn. I was in awe.  Again.
            In the days and weeks which have followed Liam's birth, however, I am discovering that my awe is different the second time around. With Jacob, I had waited eagerly for each new developmental feat, each new sign of growth. I loved monthly doctor's appointments because I could see him getting longer and gaining weight. I grinned at him until my face hurt in an effort to coax out a first smile. With Liam, though, I know what is to come, and I don't feel the need to rush things. I love the smallness of him, the softness of his legs, the sheer newbornly feel of his head. When the doctor announced at his six-week check-up that his size was in the ninety-fifth percentile, just as Jacob's had been, I didn't feel victorious, I felt wistful. My little baby was slipping away already, turning into someone bigger.
            If Jacob's babyhood gave me an appreciation of the miracle of growing independence, Liam's is teaching me that dependence is equally miraculous. I nurse Liam without wondering when he'll be weaned, and rock him before bed without being concerned that he learn to fall asleep on his own. I look into his eyes, and think with amazement that he doesn't know how to talk, he can't even say one word, and that somehow, despite this glaring deficit, he can communicate all his needs. I put him on a blanket in the middle of our family room and he is happy to lie on his back, smiling at the ceiling fan. With Jacob, I might have whipped out a toy or a book so that he could learn something while he was lying there. With Liam, though, I find myself more apt to look up at the ceiling fan with him. And seeing the fan through the eyes of someone who has never seen one before, I recognize that it is mysterious and beautiful.             
            I find myself simply enjoying Liam for who he is; a two-month- old baby who smiles and flails his arms and looks around with limited neck control. In the next month, he will probably figure out that he can reach for the things he wants, but I'm in no hurry for that to happen, for there is a certain peace in holding a baby who is too young to do anything besides relax against my body. Liam is dependent on his father and me in a way he will never be again. And while I am happy when he lifts his head higher than he did the day before and makes eye-contact while cooing, I am just as happy when he sleeps in my arms like he did when he was only hours old.
            As I revel in the non-milestones of Liam's life, I am trying to teach myself to do the same for Jacob. I watch him ride his tricycle and strain not to think about the two-wheeler he might have next year. I pull my mind back from imagining his first day of kindergarten. I hold him as he cries, and swallow my words of "you're too big." And as I do these things, I give thanks for this second baby of mine, not a rerun at all, who is teaching me that childhood is not about milestones and accomplishments. It's about being a child.

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