About a year ago, our friend, Barbara, called to say she was headed to the ER and asked if we would watch baby Brandon, in case she needed to stay the night. I told her of course, Brad and I would do anything to help out.
Barbara and her husband, Dave, were like family. Dave was Brad’s friend from cardiology training, and for more than 10 years, a partner in his practice. He was my go-to-person in medical crises when Brad was out of town, rushing over when my daughter, Arielle, developed a wound infection three weeks after a surgery, and when my other daughter, Leah, dislocated her arm. When Dave and Barbara married, the girls were in their wedding. When Brandon was born, we were among the family members crowded into Barb’s hospital room to hold him. During his first few weeks at home, we made it a habit to stop by with food or offer to walk the dog, just to get a glimpse of his sweet, round face with a tiny button nose and rosebuds lips.
So, when Barbara was admitted to the hospital for what turned out to be kidney stones, Brad and I, 45-year-old parents of a college sophomore and high-school junior, rushed to set up a port-a-crib in our bedroom and hauled a rocking chair up from the basement. Leah, our 16-year-old and the only child in the house while Arielle was away at college, made room for Brandon too. She placed his bouncy seat in the middle of the kitchen table where she did her homework, and when he fussed, cradled him in one arm, while taking notes with her free hand.
Leah wasn’t the only one in baby heaven. Brad, who was home between MBA classes, which he was taking to launch a second career, premeasured formula and sterilized and lined up a half dozen nipple and ring sets for the day’s bottles like he was preparing his operating room. Throughout the day and evening, we took turns feeding Brandon. “I’ll get him,” I’d say, when he’d wake from a nap.
“No, I got him,” Brad would say, already out of his seat.
I’d be folding laundry or doing dishes and glance over at my husband giving the baby a bottle. It was warming to see Brad lean in close and kiss the top of his head or gently brush his cheek with his hand.
“Is it terrible that I don’t remember any of this?” he asked one night.
“No, it’s understandable,” I answered. “You were in training when they were babies. You worked ungodly hours. But, you did help when you were home.”
“Honestly, it’s all a blur,” he said, sounding unconvinced.
For me, the pictures were clear. Feeling the weight of Brandon in his car seat as I carried him through the hospital to visit his mom, smelling Johnson’s Baby Shampoo on his head after a bath, and hearing the plastic covered mattress crinkle under his body at night started a continuous loop of baby images in my head. I could recall my babies sleeping, one on her stomach with her bottom up in the air, the other on her back with one arm stretched up over her head. I could see them in the tub, shiny, slippery bodies tight in my grip, or smiling up at me when I rubbed my nose against each of their faces.
Feeding Brandon produced the strongest feelings of all. One night, propped up against my headboard, I watched him while he sucked his bottle down, his cheeks moving and tongue clicking against the rubber nipple. Suddenly, I felt the sensation of let-down in my breast – that warm, tingling feeling that proceeds the milk being released. I shook my head brusquely, re-entering reality. I felt a different kind of letdown – an aching feeling of knowing that I’d never have those moments of early motherhood again. I would never have my babies’ soft, warm heads against my skin or tiny fingers wrapped around my pinky.
“When was the last time one of my daughters held my hand?,” I thought. These days, I can get away with a hug or a kiss, but anything more than that seems to be reserved for when they are sick or upset. Pain after shoulder surgery, a breakup, a rejection letter from a college — those are times I’ve been permitted to hold them tight, rub their backs and stroke their hair. With each touch and soothing word, I’ve attempted to repair a broken heart or ease a worried mind, often to no avail. Perhaps that’s why I felt such bliss taking care of my friend's baby, even when being woken in the middle of the night.
Baby Brandon ended up staying with us for a week. During that time, Brad and I joked that we felt like stand-in grandparents. “Pop-pop, are you gonna take a nap while the baby sleeps?” I’d ask him.
“Very funny,” he’d say. He and I both knew he didn’t need an excuse to sleep during the day.
Half joking, we considered that if our daughters married young and started a family at 25, as we had, we could be grandparents in just a few years. Suddenly, we were feeling nostalgic for the future, for things yet to come. I asked Brad if he thought the girls would look to me for advice when they have children of their own. He asked if I’d have the energy to host grandchildren for an entire week. I interrupted the discussion and said, “That’s enough!”
It was then that I realized I wasn’t looking to turn the clock back, just slow it down.