Monday, February 1, 1999

February, 1999: Big babies

Sometimes I want a little baby. A tiny little baby to cradle in one arm and dress in newborn outfits. I want to marvel at itsy-bitsy fingers and teensy toes. I want strangers to come up to me and ooooh and ahhhh because it is not every day that you see someone so small. It’s not that I’m still waiting for my first baby. I have two young boys. The thing is, though, they were only tiny for a week. Jacob was 8 pounds when he was born and Liam was 9 pounds. With each of them, I reveled in their sheer smallness at the time of their births. I remember holding Jacob’s newborn foot up to my husband’s size-13 shoe and feeling like it was almost impossible that a person could be so small and still have all the necessary parts for life. When Liam was born, I cupped his head in my hand.
Neither boy was content to stay in the single digits of weight for long, though, and by their first pediatric visits, only a week or so after birth, both were a solid ten pounds. By the time they were two weeks old, newborn-size clothes fit like sausage casings. Some babies have trouble learning to nurse. Not my boys. Both latched on efficiently in the hospital and sucked their way to the top of the size range for babies their age. When I took Jacob in for his six-week check up, I undressed him and put him on the scale. His chubby arms and legs kicked furiously and his belly quivered.
“What a giant baby,” the nurse said as she tapped the scale to fourteen pounds. “What kind of formula is he on?”
“No formula. Just breast milk,” I said.
“This is all breast milk?” She sat Jacob up and rolls of baby fat settled above his diaper as she fastened it. “Usually breast fed babies are a little smaller than average. He’s in the 99th percentile for both length and weight.”
Jacob kept growing at this clip and was toddler-sized long before he could toddle. Since he didn’t take his first steps until he was almost 15 months old, and didn’t grow a full head of hair until even later, he had an unusual look.
“It looks like he’s pretending to be a baby,” a friend said to me as we sipped coffee at a mothers’ group one day. The other just-turned-one-year-olds, all smaller than Jacob, were cruising around the room, holding on to furniture or taking a few running steps and falling. Jacob was crawling after them in delight.
“He is a baby,” I said.
It was conversations like this which have made me want to slow down the growth of my husky boys. Inside those big bodies are two little kids, and I don’t want anyone to forget that. I am afraid that because Jacob, now 4, is taller than other kids his age, he will be expected to act older, too. Sheila, a friend of mine with a 5-year-old who’s a little shorter than Jacob confessed that she was surprised to see Jacob crying when his block tower fell down. It took her a moment to remember that Jacob was a year younger than her child, and that tears of frustration aren’t too unusual for the pre-kindergarten set.
It’s not just the expectations that others might place on my boys which causes me to be wistful, though. Some of it is simply about size. A couple down the street have a 17-month-old girl, Tyra, who is smaller than our 7-month-old Liam. Little Tyra stretched out her time as an infant; it seemed to me that her parents had a newborn for five or six months, rather than a week or two like we did. Even now, she seems more like a baby than a little girl. A couple times a week, I see the family taking a walk together, Tyra snug in a pack on her father’s back. By the time Liam is Tyra’s age, the baby backpack will be a distant memory. He’s already almost too heavy for it now. And while I am, of course, thankful that Jacob and Liam are growing into robust, healthy boys, I cannot erase that tinge of sadness that my husband and I are only getting a glimpse of their tiny selves while Tyra’s parents receive a long gaze.
Despite the constant predictions from relatives and friends about pro-football in our family’s future, I am trying to remember that my boys, big as they are, are the smallest they will ever be. And knowing this, I am taking the smallness where I can find it. I kiss Liam’s chubby cheeks and marvel at his nose, still no bigger than my thumbnail. I lift Jacob up and hold him, just to prove I still can. I buy clothes in primary colors, trimmed with animals and ABC’s and anything else which says “I’m still little.”
The other night, after I finished nursing Liam, Jacob climbed on my lap, and for a few minutes, they were both quiet and relaxed against my body. As I closed my eyes and rocked them, Jacob whispered in my ear, “You’re not going to stop doing this are you?”
I shook my head no and hugged them tighter. Because on my lap, rocking in the darkness, smelling like talcum powder and baby shampoo, they didn’t seem so big at all. 

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