The mothering. It’s not always there. I mean, things are better than they were in the beginning when I couldn’t even prepare a bottle of NAN right. I couldn’t bathe her without caking her eyes with Johnson’s baby soap. She’s got my eyes, by the way. Downward sloping and large-ish.
I thought I loved babies before I had to really live with one. I am the first of six children, so I’ve shared space with many of those, but never before now had I wore the title of commander in chief, mother figure, responsible party.
A memory comes to mind. Daniella is 5 days old. Mom is sitting on her queen size bed with the net spread over the four posts that jut from each corner. The light is on, which irritates me because there’s still daylight streaming through the open window. I am home early for some reason. I walk into the room and immediately notice a strange smell. Mom doesn’t look up when I greet her, looks exhausted.
Daniella is in her arms and there are a couple of soiled sheets next to them. Mom is eating. If there’s one thing her passing has given me, its empathy. I am such an asshole in this moment. I scrunch my face up and ask how she can bear to eat with that mess so close. She shrugs and continues to balance the baby in one hand and her food in the other. I leave the room.
The thing in mom’s eyes when she looks at the baby fills me up with jealousy and curiosity in equal measure. She’s just “the baby” at this point and I resent her a little. Not yet the love of my life. Just skinny limbs and loud voice.
Daniella is mine now. She’s blessed with an appetite, thank heaven, because I’m sure I’d cry at every meal time if she was difficult about feeding. She can play on her own, something the maids taught her by ignoring her, I bet. This means I don’t have to hate her when I have a pressing assignment. I set up on the sofa, scatter toys around her and we’re good to go.
She’s taught me how to be still-physically (because she’s such a tetchy sleeper) and emotionally (tending to babies requires you to shut off all other needs: to facebook, to wander off into your room, to watch stuff. They demand your full attention and then do absolutely nothing with it. To enjoy this kind of thing, you need to know how to be still).
I’ve learnt to love which is worlds different from making declarations, from staring down at a bundle and contorting your face into some approximation of love.
To love means to defend, or so mommy taught me. We were careful with Daniella from the start: not allowing dairy products to pass her lips, not rushing her into anything, keeping her bones padded- we were very careful. This resulted in her crawling late (later than the baby next door) walking late (later than the baby next door). The baby next door is my cousin Ashley by the way. I love her, but this competitiveness refuses to dissolve within that love.
Daniella can walk, but not on her own. Because Ashley can run (weirdo), some of my relatives say very annoying things especially when my uncle comes around. Things about Adanny’s weight, theories on why she can’t walk “properly” as if the child is going to get to 5 without finding her balance. I get so angry. I sneer, say cutting things…my baby is perfect. She’s on a race with only one person- herself. Everybody who has anything else to say can just shut up and diarrheate.
Last Saturday as we were walking back from one of our rare trips to Ashley’s house (we’d had a little ice cream, hee hee), I slid and fell. This wouldn’t have been so terrible if she hadn’t popped out of my arms. She fell, my god. She fell and bruised her forehead and cheek on the left side of her face. I could have died. I could have killed myself and burrowed my dead stupidity into that mud if it weren’t for her bruises that needed tending. We bathed,disinfected, and waited. She was fine. She is fine.
I left home for a bit- to be dramatic about everything. Walked into Iguana, ordered a drink, considered writing a story about being the only patron in the bar and waited for my boyfriend to come and comfort me.
She is my life now. Not all the time, but most times. She means everything to me, to us because without her, we wouldn’t have survived.
She’s asleep right now, on my bed. I hope she’ll stay asleep when I attempt to take her back to hers.
I believe in souls, so I know that mom watches. I believe in God, so I thank him and pray for patience (I should be able to do this. Mom was younger when she had me).
Happy first birthday to you, Daniella Kuch Opwonya. You’ve grown me. I hope I’ll grow you well.