Today I said goodbye to you while “papa” held you atop the front porch, me below, blowing kisses and waiting for you to mimic my movements of palmed stretched hands from lips to air in your direction. Sometimes this works. “Bye bye baby,” I’ll say, then blow a kiss, wave. You’ll pucker at your palm and leave your flesh there to suck, smiling, forgetting to release the hand forward. Or with the hand that is wrapped around papa, you enclose your fist but very loosely, gathering the fingers in a ball, releasing again and again, so that you are massaging her back, and no one knows that you are waving.
Most mornings we do this at the glass paned single-panel french door. This morning, I still feel the burning glance of your squinty eyes as I walked off. You didn’t smile or giggle or wave (unless it was unseen) or kiss your palm. You just stared me direct as I pulled away, closing the gate that strengthened the distance between us.
Your eyes became horizontal lines atop your chubby brown cheeks making your face sharp and unforgiving. The cloudy morning meant that the sun wasn’t an imposition. I could only hope that papa would sing you a song, or point to the stray kittens, anything, so that in moments you’d forgive my descent down the hill to the overhead subway.
Each departure feels like a ripping. Partially, I didn’t realize how much I needed your smile to catapult my entrance into the city and away from our dimly lit mostly silent exchanges that tend to replicate the womb. Alternately, I wonder if the distance would hurt less if I weren’t a nursing mother.
How would you see me if I weren’t the single source of nourishment for most of your one year of life? Your papa’s girlfriend moved in with us. You call her Ti-ti and you two are starting to look more and more like family. She helps papa manage you when I go to work. Even with three women-identified-women in the house, you still reach and yearn for me: the one with the milk who must also leave you every day. I wonder how this consistent performance of reaching, this constant detachment, will form you.
Especially since it is a phase.
Phase 1: Latching. It was something of a conundrum to get you to latch. When looking down at you as a newborn, no longer attached to me, your mouth required my nipple for sustenance. Nature created this foreign post-birth attachment. The best part of this moment for me, the extent of it, was when you unlatched your mouth and used my breast as a cushioned pillow along your chubby cheek, curling deeper into a state of resolution, whilst all I could do was rummage through a million thoughts that all amounted to the calm that meant I was absolutely ready to receive you, feed you, care for you, love you, and tell you that you were safe.
Phase 2: Feeding. An act of suspension. When in the feeding position, I was unable to do anything other than remove dried mucus from your eye corners or survey the bumps that changed constellations along your forehead. I learned quickly that breastfeeding was a very distinct ritual because when I fed you with a bottle, you were faster, and I, less present, yet able-bodied or could pass you along to your papa. Best to explain this nursing state, this country of feeding, is that I could only sneak in a shit or a shower (if I was lucky) between feedings, otherwise I was bound to your absolute beck and call. Envious of papa for her mobility, and still concerned for my returning to work in a few weeks, leaving you breastless, I was only your food.
Phase 3: Weaning. After your first birthday, onlookers snarled at your size and my open breast, asking when I plan to end the ritual. How are we to disrupt this process naturally, without the supposition of pain? I look to you, my perfect crying reflection, with your wanting and your little hands and your suckling and your big eyes at the center.
Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz is one of two proud lesbian moms of Paige-Joey Deshawn Cruz, born from a tumultuous pregnancy and cesarean-section delivery in May 2017. Shawn is an Assistant Professor at the Graduate Center Library of CUNY. Her MLS (Archives) and MFA (Fiction) are from Queens College.