Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Ah, There's the Epiphany

Something amazing happened last week. It began as an ordinary Tuesday. I decided to take Ben to our usual weekly movie. I put him in a cute outfit and went easy on the Vaseline (for his dry skin) so his head wouldn’t shine like a cue ball.

The cat was moping around the house, emerging only to yowl pitifully or shred newspapers in an orgy of frustration. She was starved for attention. Hell, I was starved for attention. Ron was exhausted and I was having trouble connecting to others on more than a superficial level. I tried to sound upbeat, but it was all I could do not to bawl into the phone.

On some level, I was just going through the motions, functioning by rote, doing what I was supposed to do. I changed him, made bottles, rocked him, fussed over his little red face. I smiled and talked to him because that was good for babies. But sometimes I concentrated on just making it through until I could hand him off to Ron.

And so it went until last Tuesday. Going places with Ben has been very stressful for me. I was always doing something boneheaded, like losing his pacifier or propping him up weirdly in a cart or trudging through miles of mall with his carrier jolting against my leg. The simplest tasks like picking up film, getting groceries, filling a pescription seemed overwhelming. I was always overdressing him for winter weather, and the poor little thing would sweat copiously under all those layers.

But I decided to go to the movie after all. This meant I had to get myself presentable -- no easy feat as Ben cried and whimpered. Then he quieted long enough for me to eat a toasted bagel. A small thing, but important. It kept my blood sugar from dropping, strengthened a link with my past life and settled my nerves. As I dusted the bagel crumbs off my hands, that’s when my Tuesday really began. I couldn’t be a complete screwup if I was able to locate, toast and eat a bagel.

The stroller worked beautifully. I wheeled Ben into the mall and joined the line of strollers outside the movie theater. I was even able to have a little popcorn and Coke. I managed to feed Ben with a minimum of drama, although I did squirt formula all over the seats and drop his pacifier on the filthy floor.

Giddy with success, I decided we would shop after the movie. Ben just stared at me like the angel he was while I tried on 10 pairs of pants and a half-dozen tops. As a reward, I bought him booties and a funny hat.

Elated, I called Ron, thinking of stopping by the office. But his harried hello reminded me that it was deadline day, so I made up another excuse and got off the phone. I then called Caroline, who’s laid up from knee surgery. I got directions, bundled Ben and stroller back into the car and headed to her house.

Ben was his lovable, charming self and cheered her up. But soon it approached 3 o’clock. Ben was hungry again and I was fading fast. He cried most of the way home and I was hungry too. I set up his bottle while he howled and a sandwich for myself. I managed to feed him while wolfing down the sandwich and afterwards we just sat on the couch, worn out.

I didn’t have the energy to rock him to sleep, so I just wrapped him in a blanket and took him into my darkened bedroom. I tucked him in and ay beside him, holding his pacifier until we fell asleep. We slept for three hours. Ron found us there when he got home at seven.

A typical day, almost mundane. But a miracle happened that day. That was the day I stopped seeing Ben as a fussy little being who made everything difficult. He was my little buddy. We’d spent the day together in a real sense for the first time. We went to the movies and shopped and visited and took a nap. It wasn’t just me doing these things while dragging a heavy appendage along. I’d spent the day with my son and without him, the day would not have been so good.

Books, articles and websites make much of bonding. A lot of it is hooey. But it is important to forge a bond with your baby, to go beyond caregiver and infant. It’s important that the woman sees this being as her child and the baby to see this big person as his mother. That you belong to each other.

For some people, this emotion happens at birth. Hell, some people feel this connection when the line on the pregnancy test is barely pink, naming the baby and reading to it and later playing videotapes of the ultrasound. But for me, there was a gap between how I was supposed to feel and what I actually felt.

Well, now Ben is crying. He’s not trying to interrupt my writing, he’s just hungry. He’s a good boy and and I look forward to spending the day with him. For many mothers, such feelings are a matter of course. For me, it’s a miracle.


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