Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Still life: the known (vs. the unknown)

Someone asked if we've told L yet about the baby. Well, of course we have. He's part of regular conversation around here. But that doesn't mean she understands.

I'm lying on the floor, as I'm wont to do. E drapes herself across my legs and leans her head on my belly. She taps around my girth. Is baby brother hugging me like I'm hugging him? Is he high-fiving me back? L watches her sister and drapes herself across my face and neck, as she is wont to do. She slaps my torso. Baby brodher! she yells happily. She looks at E, and at me. She is smiling and laughing as she does it, but she seeks approval for her actions. I nod at her, signalling her authentic reenactment. She loves to be like her sister.

In her classroom at school there is a toy cradle. It holds a dozen baby dolls, maybe more, in every shade of the peach-yellow-brown faux-skin rainbow. For as long as we've been at the daycare they've all been naked, all brown plastic legs and painted-on hair and white (now gray) cotton neck-to-knee bodies. The kids love these dolls. They hug them and dress them up in the kid-sized dress-up clothes and when a kid has trouble sleeping on her cot, a teacher will often hand the kid a doll and sit beside, and the teacher will pat the kid on the back while the kid pats the doll until only the teacher is still awake.

For a few weeks until we went to New York we had the infant carseat base installed in the backseat of my car between the girls' two carseats. We had installed it to make sure it fits, and didn't right away de-install it. The girls would set their dolls in the base. If you asked E whose chair that base is, she would say simply, my baby brother's! If you asked L, she would say, my babies sit there! as she slammed another molded-plastic doll into the molded-plastic seat base.

Does she know her baby brother is coming? Of course. Does she know what that means? Of course not - how could she?

But when you speak with her of babies, she will puff her chest with maternal pride. She will grab the nearest doll at school or one of the half-dozen or so human baby dolls we have at home, or in a pinch, a plush dog or piggie will do, and she'll thrust at you: here my baby! This is MY baby! And just to show you the depth of her love, she'll slam its body against you or against her or maybe slam it to the ground. Her babies, they're all naked, just like at school, just like real babies come. And in our household hierarchy and in her new school classroom, too, where she is the youngest, the littlest, at everything, she loves all her babies, fiercely, physically, assertively. She loves them like the big creature in a dependent relationship, and if it's not quite mama:baby but maybe more mama bear:cub, all licking fur and carrying by the scruff and throwing to the ground so you learn to roll out claws up and fighting, well, our little girl. There's nothing mild-mannered about her, nor her love.

Does she understand her baby brother is coming? Of course not. But her capacity for loving a smaller being is vibrantly there. We'll just have to help her tame her exuberant gestures, teach her that some babies really like to be clothed, remind her that little human skulls are just not as invincible as those made in China. She is going to be a great big sister, and she's so lucky, because she has her own wonderful example of Big Sister to keep on, keep on imitating.

November 18, 2009
Still life with babies that are just fine with being strip-searched and abandoned in the food-crumby back well of a car.

This is not a crime scene. This is love in training. Pin It