It's nearly time for my baby to come. I know this, not from a date on the calendar nor the taut stretch of skin over my belly, nor even from the furious burst of nesting that has left the furniture rearranged in every single room of our house -- my husband now knows to say "No," preemptively, simply by the gleam in my eye. All of these are indicators, hints, but my certainty that it's almost time for the baby to be born comes from how I feel about my children. Especially my current baby, my son.
I remember this feeling from when I was pregnant with him, an unbelievable tenderness toward my daughter, my then-only child. It was a tenderness viewed through a magnifying glass, honed to a single point, so sharp it could almost cut. I remember watching her while she slept, my swollen hands reaching through the slats of the crib, just to touch her, be near her. In part I was terrified of what we might lose, as mother and daughter, by adding another sibling -- much as the sibling was dearly wanted. This time, as my pregnancy has progressed and I've watched my daughter and son together, I didn't expect to feel these feelings again. I know beyond all possible doubt that what we have gained is more than what we lost, if indeed we lost anything at all.
"I love you!" my son calls as he launches himself into my arms.
"I love you, too, little guy." My eyes swim and I shake my head. I'm a mess, helpless in the clutches of that murky hormonal cocktail that is the last trimester of pregnancy.
His head pops up. "Crash into your belly?"
"No," I say, "Remember the baby in Mama's belly? We need to be . . ."
"Gentle! We ride in a airplane today?"
"Well, not today, but . . ."
"I burped! Kiss my burp."
I am nonplussed at that one. "I don't think I kiss burps, honey . . ." But he is off, racing away for three seconds before his perimeter alarm goes off and he comes running back into my arms. Such is life with my son.
"He's very funny," my daughter observes dispassionately, watching him climb up on the table and dance around our plates at dinnertime. I have to agree. He's a bundle of energy and two-ish-ness, often drawing comments from complete strangers about how he's "such a boy." I like to think his energy and zest for life stem more from his intrinsic self than his gender, but I nod and smile all the same. I can see why people say that. He's constantly in motion, even when snuggling or reading or drawing, as if his body is channeling some unseen force. Then he falls asleep, and suddenly he is quiet and perfectly still -- the clichéd sleeping cherub. And my arms, the same arms that ache from picking him up and putting him down and picking him up and putting him down again and again throughout the day, ache to pick him up once more.
Every afternoon at naptime I nurse him to sleep, asking him first if he wants "ti-ti" or, with an eye toward eventual weaning, if he'd like to snuggle instead. He thinks about it seriously, his forehead wrinkling as if we haven't had this exact same exchange for longer than I can remember, and then his face lights up.
"'Nuggles and ti-ti!" he yells triumphantly, as if inventing this solution for the first time. I laugh and we nurse, I watch him as he drifts off to sleep. Then I move to put him down, but something stops me. His lashes -- my husband's -- are dark against his fair skin; his eyebrows -- mine -- the faintest sweep of golden red on his brows. I study his face as he sleeps.
Put him down, I tell myself. Even if I'm going to fall asleep as well, we both sleep better if he's down by himself. Put him down, I say again, remembering when he was born and my daughter could only fall asleep nursing, remembering the agony of naptime when an exhausted mama was trying to nurse -- and then hold -- a newborn and a toddler as they slept.
Do you remember how hard that was? I ask myself. Yes, I'll never forget. Then put him down. But something in me aches, something I cannot name, and I fall asleep with him in my arms.
I joke that it's a good thing I'm feeling so tender toward him, as he's been going through what we're understatedly calling a "clingy phase." If he's more than three feet away from me he falls apart. My husband and I have dubbed the three-foot square around my person my "yard," a space my son is loathe to leave. "Everybody out of my yard!" I will call when both of my children are stuck in my space and my husband, pulled by some invisible magnetic force, drifts over to my side as well. It's like I'm the nucleus of an atom, me and my belly, and everyone else in my family the electrons that orbit me wherever I move. I have a high tolerance for immediate family members living out their lives in my space, but when it gets to be too much my husband will pick up my son and walk a few steps away. My son howls as if he's being tortured, and more often than not I give up and let him come back and crawl all over me as if he hasn't seen me in days. Sometimes, in those nanoseconds of owning my own personal space, I miss him too.
I'm resting on the couch, watching my children act out a story of my husband's invention, "Curious George Sits on the Cactus." They hop and howl together, until George inexplicably morphs into Ballet Class.
"Do a grand jete, Buddy," my daughter instructs, demonstrating. My son flails around the room with fervor.
"And this is how we are butterflies," she continues, and they flutter together looking vaguely butterfly-esque.
"Now you be an octopus."
Octopus? I think, and I wonder if that one came from her ballet teacher, or if this is her own invention. My son is game, nevertheless, and they prance around being octopi until he suddenly realizes he is out of my yard.
"Mah-mee! I missed you!" he calls, hurtling through the few feet between us and landing in my lap. "'Nuggle with you!" He curls himself around my belly and sighs.
"Oh, I'm home," he breathes.
"You're home?" I question, unsure that I've heard him correctly.
"Yes," he says. "Mah-mee is home."
I wrap my arms around him as my daughter starts to climb on to my shrinking lap as well, and my husband begins slowly drifting over. Everyone is in my yard again, my yard that is expanding to hold one more. It's almost time for the baby to be born. I pull as much of my family as I can reach into my arms, and the baby inside kicks. Yes, I think, we're home. We're all home.