In the Beginning
Is it her mouth or mine that languishes warmly at the rosey breast as she falls asleep in the crook of my arm? I can feel the warmth of the few drops of milk that pool along the edges of her parted lips. Her fat cheek is warm against my breast. She has nursed too long on one side and I’ll have to try and remember to switch over when she wakes up. One book says to attach safety pins on either side of your shirt as a reminder; but you have to remember the safety pins and then you have to remember what the pinned side means. It’s easier to feel the fullness of the breast with my own hand, the way the warm milk bursts from the taut nipple as soon as she latches on, too much for her to suck all at once, it drips down my still-distended belly into the stretched waistband of the baggy pants I wear everyday.
Shifting position gingerly in the tousled bed, I lay her next to me and turn on my side, facing her warm sleeping body. I glance up at the clock; it’s 10:30 in the morning. If I sleep for half the time she naps, I’ll have a chance to take a quick shower, the door open to hear her slightest rustling, coming in wrapped in a towel with wet hair to change her diaper so she can comfortably nurse again, her chubby legs dancing in my arms as I kiss her little piggies one by one. Our eyes, blue-gray and blue, a magnetic field. This is our lunchtime reverie, with plans of dressing up in a bright purple jump suit, propped in the stroller with its jaunty umbrella for a walk through the neighborhood.
The National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Botanic Gardens, the long sandy trail of the Mall and back up the hill again and again, our territory. Lincoln Park early afternoon when all the other toddlers are at home asleep, there we are, lone mother and daughter as she surveys the landscape of her world with the cautious, curious eye of the artist, the collector she will become. Yearning for an afternoon nap, I follow her lead as she climbs to the top of the sliding board and zooms into my arms, her pink-sneakered feet glancing the leafy ground, her tiny hands grasping my shoulders. She knows I’ll be there to catch her and thrills at the moment of danger when it seems she’s flying through the air. We collect leaves, rocks and bits of shiny metal that could be gems if seen in the right light. I find a bench where we can nurse, her face buried in the bundle of my outdoor clothing, the secret tug of her lips hidden from view, the sweet sensation of the milk streaming towards her hungry insistence, a moment of respite.
The only way to wrestle free of this cocoon is to do so forcibly, withdrawing the weary breast in her second year as she talks up a storm of protest. We both know we are ready but why give up willingly the warm embrace of flesh against flesh, the unspoken dialogue of mind, body and spirit with no visible boundary separating us? At the gate of her preschool she turns and cries, her nimble body in Oshkosh overalls, her blonde hair curling over the cuff of her turtle-neck; her wise blue-gray eyes catch sight of something in the play-yard; she hears the voices of her new friends, someone else’s cry. When I return in the afternoon, she looks up from the puzzle she is studiously working. She wants to show me what she has done while we’ve been apart.