Sunday, August 31, 2008

September

This morning, we loaded the following into two canvas totes -

1 large beach towel
1 small absorbent towel
2 sarongs
1 baby blanket
5 clean diapers
5 clean wipes
1 spare diaper cover
1 dirty diaper bag
1 bottle of water
1 bag of toys - teething ring, jingletoy, squeaky giraffe, plastic cups
5 books (two for baby, three for us)
1 magazine
1 sun hat
1 I-pod
1 baby bathing suit
1 coverup
1 change of clothing for each family member
2 bottles of sunblock (1 toxic but easy to use, 1 nontoxic but thick as toothpaste)
1 tube of sunblock lip balm
1 tube of hand lotion

- and got on the Long Island Rail Road to Long Beach to visit my husband's friend L and go to the beach. On the beach, we squinted in the bright, hot midday sun and wrestled with the sunblock while the baby lay on his tummy on a sarong eating sand. After a walk down to water's edge and a little more sand-eating, I nursed the baby for a long, long time, lying next to him on the sarong, shielding both of us from the sun with the baby blanket. I watched him as he nursed, his eyes shut, sweat beading along his brow. In the moment, I was hot and sandy and a little uncomfortable, lying on my side on the gritty sarong, trying to hold the blanket over us in a non-asphyxiating manner. Already, though, I have almost forgotten this discomfort, looking back on the moment as unending and sweet, remembering his little face working at my breast in the light shade of the fine muslin blanket that covered us, sealing us off from our surroundings, creating a little world of only baby, mama, and milk.

Later, after the baby had napped and awoken, my husband said that he wanted to take the baby into the water. I have taken the baby "swimming" a few times this summer without my husband - to Jones Beach, a pond near my friend M's family's house in Connecticut, and a splashy wading fountain near my parents' house in Virginia. Back while I was still pregnant, I had imagined walking into the ocean with the baby in my arms, laughing with him as the waves splashed around us. However, I had found that the baby didn't much like being carried into the water, instead preferring to be held by the hands and "walked" in; once the water got deeper, he liked being swished back and forth by his arms like a monkey. I told my husband this, but he was absolutely determined that he wanted to be in the ocean holding the baby against his chest. So in we went, all three of us, the baby looking a little alarmed as the cold water started to splash against his feet. We went in deeper, until the waves wet his back, and then my husband knelt in the water so they were both neck-deep. The baby's face was quiet and wary, but he did not cry, not even when a sudden, large wave took all of us by surprise. He clutched at my husband's shoulder and arm for dear life, blinking drops of seawater out of his eyes, and we kissed him and told him he was brave. He continued to hold tightly to my husband as we walked out of the water and back up the beach, and I wrapped the big beach towel around both of them to dry them off.

We went back to my husband's friend L's place, a little beach-shacky house that he shares with two surfer roommates. We sat, with a few other friends, on the wooden deck, which houses a hammock, an umbrella table with a lot of chairs, a propane grill, and one of the surfers' garden of lettuce and basil and baby watermelon and tomatoes. We listened to Lou Reed and Bob Dylan and Television and the Kinks, drinking beer and watching L cook us dinner on the grill. I danced with the baby to "Maggie's Farm," swung with him on the hammock, and put him down to chase his jingletoy and an empty Coke bottle around the deck, smearing the front of his shirt with deck dirt. Dinner began to come off the grill - shrimp, burgers, ribs, scallops, and corn. We ate as it got darker, and we listened to Caetano Veloso and Neil Young and talked about politics and teased each other and told dirty jokes. We took the umbrella down and sat at the table looking up at the stars.

As someone who has never been anything except a student or a teacher, I think it's hard not to feel melancholy on Labor Day weekend, the end of the summer, and I felt my eyes fill with tears as I held the baby against me and looked out into the night. September always changes everything, and this September will be no different. The baby will be going to daycare three days a week, and I will be returning to work two or three days a week - for real this time, not the slinking-around-under-the-radar act I did when I "returned to work" in May and June. I will be back in the classroom after a nine-month hiatus, after telling myself that I would never have to go back to the classroom again, at least not soon. I will also be beginning my doula work in earnest; on TuesdayI am meeting with my first two clients, both of whom will be giving birth in September, and I am meeting with more potential clients on Wednesday. On top of that, I am challenging myself to return with seriousness to my writing, which has fallen by the wayside somewhat, and to pursue the writing opportunities that I caught a glimpse of in June. I feel a little as though I have been in some sort of suspended animation since the baby was born, a strange postpartum gestation, and now September is forcing me to suddenly snap out of it and begin moving, to be born, like it or not, as a new self.

And even more terrifying (or less? the same? I don't know) are the gigantic developmental strides the baby seems to be taking every 17 seconds. He is swiftly leaving infancy behind. He moves around and pulls himself up to stand; he says "Mama"; he plays a game where you stick your tongue out at him and he sticks his tongue out at you. I have barely wrapped my mind (and my life) around his infancy, and September will see me having to put it aside altogether. I don't feel ready to do that, but my readiness is irrelevant; it will happen anyway.

"What's up?" My husband whispered, wrapping both me and the baby in a hug.

"Everything is changing so fast," I whispered back, feeling confused and inarticulate.

"I know it's changing," he said, "but that's OK."

When it was time to go, I packed everything back into our canvas totes, and we took the Long Island Rail Road back to the city, sleepy from the food and sun and ocean and beer. The baby fell asleep on the train, and we treated ourselves to a cab home from Penn Station. At home, we found that the dog had peed on the floor but not pooped, which is about all we could have hoped for, given the fact that we had left him alone for close to twelve hours. My husband took the dog out to walk as I eased the baby into bed, his shirt still streaked with dirt. Today, August 31st, was the baby's eighth-month birthday. Tomorrow, it will be September.

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