- Early Days
I stick your tiny fist inside my mouth and cry. It’s the size of a plum. We have no regard for time, or the falling from day into night into day. Together, we defy the clock. You nurse with terrifying instance as though maybe, maybe, you can crawl back inside of me—the closest we will ever be, the most we will ever inhabit the same space. We do not understand that everything will forever be in effort to recreate this impossibility.
These are the things nobody tells you:
Spit-up crusts my hair for days.
Sticky ointment caked on my raw nipples stains the sheets.
I go to a chiropractor, though there’s nothing wrong with my back. She touches my head lightly, then lets me blackout on the narrow wood alignment board. It’s the kindest gesture anyone has ever done. When I wake up, the let-down burns like acid. I schedule another appointment.
These other mothers have done this a million times before, raised hundreds of perfectly formed babies, know how to swaddle and soothe. They carry diaper bags designed with bold colorful flowers, bright geometric shapes, foldable pads, spare onesies, organic wipes. I panic. You lay on your back, pumping your bare limbs in protest, your face ripening into a deep purple fury. Help! I cry, before locking eyes with you, silently collapsing from your trust.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
A thin line of drool spills from your mouth, and it’s the most beautiful thing, the way it catches the light, makes your bottom lip shine.
Everybody has a theory. Books. Entire sections. Rows and rows of How to Be the Perfect Parent.
You writhe and tantrum on our apartment’s hardwood floor until your face turns a concerning shade of blue. You want something you cannot have: you want to crawl inside the TV and touch the Teletubbies through the screen. There’s nothing about this in any of the books. I turn page after page. Scan the indexes for What to do when your toddler wants to crawl inside the TV and touch a Teletubbie.
Neanderthals, it calls you, Little Cavemen, and me, your ambassador. I lie on the floor beside you, rest my hand on your tiny heaving chest. Hoping to transport us both to that other world, to disappear among those strange, happy creatures on the screen.
We keep a “Book of Questions” in the car—a tiny notebook filled with all your endless questions. How do people make balls? Do wolves have black veins? Why do we have two ears instead of two noses? How does air float?
The notebook rests beside Tic Tacs, broken sunglasses, spare change.
What happens when you die?
We ride for three quiet minutes after I hand you the pen and you sound out the words.
Who discovered shapes?
This aching wonder pulses through you. I savor the power of your inquiry.
One night, the moon is so full it looks like it’s going to explode.
If the sun is bigger than the moon, why can’t I see it?
But we are no longer in the car.
As we head inside, your small voice whispers, when are we going to find out all the answers?
Nothing is fair. The rules press against you like a current, keeping you from breaking out. You fight its pressure holding you upright. The books that line the shelves, the books with Theories, they call this “Boundaries.”
One day, we crash the ocean waves together, dive over whitecaps, we are fish, but even under water, the current pulls us back to shore where we sprawl like seaweed. Everything wet and worn, but dense with life.
A pimple rises on your chin. You thrash and flail and fight. It’s my fault when it rains. When the milk expires, when your sock tears a hole.
The Teletubbies keep on laughing. The sun blinds you with its glare. Nothing about this is fair. But nobody’s keeping score. I press my palm to your back, just enough for you to know I’m there.
A new buzzcut shows your scalp where flakes of cradle cap give you away. Your bottom lip shines when it catches one of your tears, and it’s still the most beautiful thing in the world.
You hold your palm upright with mine to measure. Look, you laugh, proud and amazed at how you’re ready to surpass me. We stand eye to eye.
You keep growing. I look up.
I curl your fingers into an orange-sized fist, a grapefruit. It no longer fits in my mouth. You unfurl your hands like wings.
I watch you growing smaller in the distance as you fly and fly. Holding my breath to hold steady, steadfast, squinting toward the horizon as I watch you dip and spin and soar. I clasp my hands, left palm in right, one tightening the other, holding on, as though I can still lift you from afar if you fall.
Melanie Faranello’s writing has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in StoryQuarterly, Blackbird, Huffington Post Personal, Vestal Review, StorySouth and elsewhere. Her novel-in-progress won the Marianne Russo Award and was short-listed for Mary McCarthy Prize in Fiction, The Dana Awards, and William Faulkner Wisdom Competition. She works as a teaching artist in CT and is the founder of Poetry on the Streets, LLC. Read more of her work at www.melaniefaranello.com