He pushes up on all fours to look at the closet doors, the ironing board left at the foot of the bed, the stitching on the comforter. His mouth forms a tiny O, the expression he wears in moments of discovery. Brows knitted in concentration, he crawls toward the edge of the mattress and is ready to plunge headlong to the floor, but I scoop him up first, carrying him back to his room across the more gently lit hall. "Huh," he says in a tone that mixes surprise and disappointment. He's over it in seconds, looking to see what new territory he might investigate.
I return to the easy chair, which, of late, has been growing too small for the two of us. O. is a long baby -- all torso, with powerful legs that love to kick the back of the seat or its arms, no matter which way I turn. Nursing when he's not already sleepy is sometimes an athletic exercise. I've managed to stop him from biting since his first teeth started coming in, but kicking? We'll work on curbing this -- teaching nursing manners, some call it -- but the day's been long enough with a dead fridge and a repair man who's missed his appointment here for the second time in two weeks that I haven't been inclined to interrupt each feeding repeatedly to get the message across.
Tomorrow, I tell myself. It's just another boundary O.'s revealed that we need to enforce. Not that he understands limits yet -- that won't come for another few months. For now, we're just doing impulse management. Last week, O. figured out how to flip over mid-diaper-change on the bureau by raising his arms and grabbing the edge of the changing pad above his head for leverage. It took several days' consistent interference to discourage him from making it a habit.
Now, O. is wide awake, but I hope that in the dark, in my arms, he'll settle down and begin to drift off as he usually does when I nurse him here at bedtime. But he presses the soles of his feet into my lap, bouncing like a jumping jack. So I let him stand, holding his sturdy form close, and wait. I press my cheek to his and breathe in his babyness, knowing these opportunities are numbered.
It is the first time we've sat together this way, in his room completely unlit. Normally, when he needs to be put down, I walk the floor with his head resting on my shoulder -- if he will rest it there. He is all energy these days, eager to stand with help from any piece of furniture and itching to take his first steps alone. It's all too soon for me. O. is barely seven months old, but like D., who walked at eight, he's been early to seek ambulatory independence. I'm not ready to relinquish the baby who was once content to be cuddled for this new wiggle-worm who protests being asked to lie still, even to eat.
As our vision adjusts, I watch O.'s gaze, dark eyes searching as they do when he wants my attention. Can he see me? I wonder. He must be able to -- I notice his mouth is no longer rounded in wonder but neutral. I am not something newly discovered, or at least his perception of me, indistinct as I may be in deep shadow, is familiar. It is no accident that he reaches for my face with both hands, fingers closing with purpose, and grabs at my cheeks, my nose. I gently move his hands aside, but not before he gets in a good pinch, legs still flexing all the while.
And then his bouncing stops. His eyes have found mine. I give him a smile, which he normally returns readily, but tonight he just gazes back with a look that seems serious and penetrating. Or is it that he really can't make out much in the dark? I can't be sure. In that moment, I see wisdom in those soft, liquid stars reflecting their light at me, a peaceable security in O.'s understanding of the world as he knows it even in this shadowed state.
I'm tempted to ask him what he's thinking. I know he can't answer, but lately, he's been babbling to us as if we are fluent in his language. His unusual silence, then, feels suddenly powerful, almost uncomfortably so -- I'm catching a glimpse of an old soul, one I didn't know existed within O.'s wiggly exterior. To speak -- and elicit O.'s coos in response -- would be to scare this other presence away that lightlessness has revealed. I don't want that, as much as I also yearn for the sounds that reassure me that O. is still no more than a baby.
So I stay silent. After a minute or two, O. reaches once more for my face and brushes his fingers softly over my skin, then plunges his head into my shoulder. He's ready to sleep, even if he isn't falling asleep. We rise together from the chair, his limbs tightening ever so slightly around me against gravity until the familiar firmness of his crib mattress replaces the security of my arms. Without protest, he curls up roly-poly-style, as if nothing unusual has transpired, and I step out of his room into the light.
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