Last night I was looking at some pictures of Mia from over the summer, and I came across one of her lying placidly next to Suzanna the Dog on an afghan my friend Cheryl’s mother made. Mia was staring over at the dog with a look that held the perfect combination of wonder and oblivion; Suzanna was looking all, “I used to lie on blankets. I used to have my own blankets. Now I have to lie on carpet. Hmmmph.” I had put Mia down on the afghan and stepped out of the room for a moment, and Suzanna had jumped at the chance to lounge on the Forbidden Blanket. It’s a sweet picture, and looking at it caused a little pang of nostalgia to erupt in my chest. Before you go all misty-eyed and start nodding your head, thinking I am about to expound on the loss of infancy and how sad it makes me that my baby is growing up too fast, put away your Kleenex. That pang I felt was tied to the fact that I can’t just put her down in the floor for a few minutes anymore. Gone are the days when I can go pee whenever the urge strikes me. Now I have to plan trips to the bathroom carefully. I have to make sure the Bumbo is in the bathroom so she can sit at my feet and look at a book or lick her reflection in my hand mirror or bang on the wall with my hair brush, because now when I put her down on the floor, she crawls away at the speed of a shrill scream.
Other things have changed as well. There was a time in the not so distant past when Mia would sit in her high chair or the Bumbo and look at a book of my choice for 20 or 30 minutes straight. She will still sit and flip through a book—as far as she is concerned, the best invention since the printing press—but she wants to pick the book, and she doesn’t want to be stationary. Lest you think my child is a delicate flower who crawls deliberately over to the shelf and gazes at the spines, occasionally reaching up to stroke one, ultimately settling on a classic volume penned by A.A. Milne or Eric Carle, let me set the record straight. Picking a book requires unshelving every single volume, usually with some over the shoulder tossing action, like she is frantically saving them from some impending doom and she just doesn’t have time to explain. Sometimes the books in question actually belong to her. After all the books have been freed, she crawls around in them, finding a nice sturdy one to sit on, and then she handles all the ones she can reach. Some she opens and peers into, others she picks up and immediately tosses back into the pile, until she finds The One. Most of the time she chooses a book I received free in the mail called Baby Faces or a Todd Parr title, but I’m not going to lie to you: a lot of the time she picks a clothing catalogue. She prefers Land’s End over Eddie Bauer, and she is particularly fond of the shoe section.
And God forbid I try to remove a catalogue or one of my personal books from her vice-like grip. Oh, dear people, you should tremble in the face of her wrath! She has been perfecting her tantrum from an early age. I believe I photographed one when she was just shy of six months old, and I was laughing as I released the shutter. Now, almost six months later, the ability to stand while holding onto something has given her tantrum a whole new dimension. Now when she arches her back and flings herself into the space behind her, be it carpet or mattress or wall or water, I do not laugh. I attempt to keep her from cracking her skull or drowning, and I attempt to control my own irrational irritation with her random fury by saying things like, “WHAT is WRONG with you?” over and over through gritted teeth, or, on a good day, in a funny little voice, “What’s wrong little Pookie, why are you so mad?” I’ll tell you, little Pookie is not amused. And actually, these moments of fire and brimstone are not frequent. Not that she doesn’t have a temper all the time, but mostly she expresses it in different ways, different being the operative word. She has typical frustration reactions—throwing whatever innocent object has offended her, for example, or screaming, but her favorite expression of frustration is trilling. Rolling her tongue. You know, like you learn to do in Spanish class. She used to do it all the time, but now she only does it when she’s mad. She is like a cross between a little African tribeswoman and a tiny terrorist. If her first discernable word is “infidel” I am enrolling her in military preschool immediately.
I kid. Actually, she already has discernable words. When I was pregnant—in fact, I believe it was Christmas Day, the last day I was pregnant—my mom made the statement that she couldn’t wait to hear Mia’s voice. At the time I assumed she meant, literally, her very first utterance, which sounded a lot like a cross between the mew of a kitten and the staccato bleat of a goat. But in retrospect I think she meant speaking voice, a sound we hear a lot around here these days. Mia is a talker. For the past two months or so she has “talked” to herself or “read” aloud in this little under-the-breath mutter (imagine her eyes are narrowed and she is wringing her hands) that makes me think she is plotting my downfall. But in the past few weeks she has started talking. Conversationally. Like, with emotion and inflection and emphasis on certain words. Sometimes she will say something, and then after a moment of silence (presumably to allow someone else to respond), she will laugh and laugh, as if she just made the world’s most hilarious observation about Republicans or the absurdity of reality television. While I’m fairly certain she is speaking Portuguese or Swahili, I love the sound of her little voice, and when she says actual recognizable things, like Mama or Buh (book, ball, bath, take your pick), I swoon.
I could write all day about how rapidly she is growing and changing—how there was a time when she would willingly eat whatever I offered her, but now she has to touch it and inspect it, and sometimes she rolls it around in her mouth and then spits it out and looks at me like I just fed her cyanide disguised as a pear cube. Or how she dances whenever anything remotely like music drifts into earshot, and how, if I am singing to her in the early morning after she has finished her bottle and I make the mistake of stopping because I have drifted off, she will jerk her whole body and grunt so I will continue my random hum-a-thon of Christmas carols and gospel hymns. Or how that little four-key piano I bought her months ago has finally become interesting, and how she plays it with her feet while sitting or standing on it, a miniature Jerry Lee Lewis in footy pajamas. Or how she points at everything and murmurs, “dah?” like a question or a revelation, as if she is both questioning and acknowledging the existence of everything she sees. I could go on and on, but my point in the end would be the same: she isn’t a baby anymore, my Mia. And even though I thought I would get all weepy over this fact and pine over the early days and weeks and months of her life, I don’t.
Here’s the thing: we get very wrapped up in the idea of wanting a baby, and by “we” I mean us, the girls who, for months and even years, chart our cycles and take our morning temperature like some religious ritual and examine our bodily fluids like we’re reading the future; and by “baby” I mean pregnancy, because ultimately, it isn’t really a baby we want. We just don’t know it isn’t what we want, because for all the months it takes us to conceive one, it’s all we can think about. And for those of us lucky enough to actually knock ourselves up, we fixate on this being inside us and our preparation for its arrival. But for me, at least, the baby part lasted all of the two days I was in the hospital. I remember very clearly the day I brought her home: I am sitting in the chair in her room, holding her tiny swaddled form on my lap, and I am on the phone scheduling her first appointment with the pediatrician. I say aloud to the nurse, “I need to make an appointment for my daughter,” and when I hang up I am stunned and overwhelmed by what I just heard come out of my own mouth. I say it again to myself, over and over in my head, like a mantra. Daughter, daughter, daughter. Sure, at the time she was a baby, but even in the two days since her birth she had changed, and in that word I could already see the years stretched out before me, the worry and the frustration and the pure joy and the overwhelming love. She would be my baby for a few months, but she would always be my child, my daughter. It occurred to me in that moment that I had never actually wanted a baby. Ultimately I had been yearning for this more complicated and complex thing, this three-dimensional being with a personality and a mind of her own, and here she is, every single day, a person. I think about my mom and wonder if she misses the infant and toddler versions of my sisters and me, or does she, like me, look at us and think, Daughters, daughters, look at all my daughters!
Last night as I looked at the picture of my kid and my dog sharing a moment on the blanket, I glanced over at Mia, who loves examining my computer and was trying to catch a glimpse, and said, “Look at how little you were!” And then, frustrated because she couldn’t climb my leg, she let out an angry trill, and when I picked her up she wrapped her arms around my neck and said “MAma,” and her emphasis on that first syllable sounded a little like, “FINALLY!” and I thought, That’s my girl. That’s my daughter. She is every dream I’ve ever dreamed, and all the love I am capable of feeling, and all the joy in my life, and all the sorrow and all the fear, and I can say truthfully that I don’t have time to miss three or six or nine months ago, because every single day she grows in every sense of the word, and my dreams and love and joy and sorrow and fear grow right along with her. I am too busy marveling at who she is in this moment to miss who she used to be. She is like Midas, only the wealth she creates isn’t material, and yet, I am the richest woman in the world.