Folks I’m telling you,
birthing is hard
and dying is mean —
so get yourself
a little loving
— Langston Hughes
What does it mean to come head first into the world?
As a child, I played in water: the murky cold of a northern lake, the warmth of the sea where my grandparents lived. I learned early and practiced often what was taught to me as the “sailor’s dive”: hands held fast behind my back, a launch head first into the deep. I did it over and over again: the rush of the water as my head broke the surface and the whoosh of plunging in.
I am at the beginning: at the trail head before I’ve traversed the trail, the trail I’ve traveled already stretched out behind me like a ribbon that put me where I am but that I cannot cross back to touch again. Blindness here: I can’t see what’s coming but I feel it. Every day brings me closer to growing into the generation above mine: my mother’s generation, the one that––if all goes as it should––we will replace.
4:11am and he cries awake––a good sign.
When he gurgles and coos at this hour, it’s his way of telling us his sleep is done and the day begins. He’s sitting in his crib and I take him from his tears and bring him to me, close. Love this wake up in my heart even as my body lags, mind worries calamity will come with all this no-sleep.
No-sleep I have in abundance, I am rich in it.
But holding his body in to me as he draws my tit into his mouth, eyes closed––he knows this action far better than I do. For me it is a strange and foreign gift, a repurposing of flesh I thought I knew, a new kind of erotics that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with transformation. He has been doing it all his life. I have been doing it for the smallest fraction of mine. And still, somehow, we learn together.
I worry his hair, brush his baby bangs off his forehead. His head is full of the strangest, tawny, flax-colored hair...while the other babes in the midwife’s play group are mostly bald still. He brushes my hand away decidedly, forceful. Don’t bother me. I’m doing something. So I hold his back with my forearm, and let him do.
When we are done, in the dark, I pass him to his papi––this is what we are calling Jess, although this morning I told him: “you’re going on a junket with your daddy” out of nowhere. She said she didn’t mind, instructed “daddy, not dad,” “papi, not papa.”
She is the sleep trainer, the boundary setter, the “It’s time for sleeping now, Osa” so stern I want to tell her to remind him that she loves him. But I hold my tongue. Because I know he knows. He feels it in the boundary. There is safety in her boundary setting, staying clear and firm no matter how he pushes at her edge. No change. No waiver. And he relaxes into sleep.
I notice outside in the small shed behind the bedroom windows where Jess has built a studio like the berths inside a ship: everything compact and only what is necessary. My mother is there sleeping, staying with us for the week. I notice––4:25am––her light is on.
I slip outside, close the back door behind me, air cold, Los Angeles in winter (a cold that promises heat at noontime, something about the smell at the edge of the air). But right now, chill and I push the windows in above my mother’s head, whisper “mom? what are you doing?”
She chuckles, she is playing words with friends on her ipad with the red plastic cover and explains, “Oh you know me: it’s a travel day.”
She is an Aries like my son and me but she comes later in the season and although I’ll never know her birth time and so cannot know her chart, there must be heavy Taurus in it, because transition is always hard for her. And later on this same morning, she will be leaving us, traveling north again to stay with her younger sister. Jess tried to convince her to stay with us for longer and she snapped it shut, the whole conversation.
Only one person could change her from her course without days of weighing and considering: her best friend. And he died years ago. So she is leaving us this morning and is up before the dawn because her body won’t let go and trust enough that she will wake, to now just let her sleep.
I climb over her and onto the bed beside the wall, she opens the duvee with the putty colored cover I love so much––like desert sand or rock and sometimes sky––and urges me get in beside her. I snuggle in, her smell taking hold of us both like no other thing in the world can comfort me. I don’t remember what we spoke of out there in the chill of the studio in this house that is now my home, my mother’s soft familiar body lying laughing next to mine, the plastic pipe of her C-pap machine a new addition for us, resting on the pillow above our heads.
I slept with my mother until I was 16 years old and fell in love for the first time. She tried hard to prevent this––sometimes. And now we both climb in any chance we get.
“Sleep here,” she tells me, “you’ll sleep this way.”
I can’t: my child and my lover are inside the house. I’ve left Jess to quiet the baby and I don’t know how it’s going or how hard it’s been.
She says it a few times, “Sleep here.”
This woman whose full shape I think I better understand now that my body is holding actively to all the weight and flesh and blood I expanded into in order to make the gorgeous boy that lies just two thin walls away...
This woman who I have teased my whole life long when I am in the middle of a funny story and she is laughing so hard she begs me to pause so she won’t pee her pants–– only now I sneeze and piss my own I understand this thing I’ve teased her for she has because of me...
This lovely woman, my mother, who holds my boy and counts the seconds he stands balanced on his feet and learns him so much in the one week we are together... My mother who hands me back my child and gives me the gift of the most tender smell I’ve ever smelled: her smell at the cheek of him mixed with his smell in the smooth of her. “
Sleep here,” she says.
And still I explain my way out of it.
Guilt over leaving Jess alone, fear and worry of my babe without his mami nearby––and so I kiss my mother’s face, scramble over her as she picks the ipad up again, pull the covers up around her, tell her I love her and then I shut the door. Pass into the cool night before the dawn of the morning, back from where I came.
Tip-toe back inside to the warm anxious of our room: Jess on the bouncing ball, baby fussing against sleep. Tired, all. I climb into the bed and pull the covers up, knowing now that I’m here, my son will smell me, my lover will relax, and we will all fall into sleep again.
And they do.
And the room darkens.
And I peek outside the window and see that her light is still on: my mother, this beautiful, open woman who has lived a righteous life and loved me so hard in it. Anxious in her body because she is leaving us today. And something tight takes hold my heart this morning, a tight-heart feeling I’ve known for decades, only tighter now that it is closer to us both––this woman who I will somehow learn to live without. This woman who gave me to the world and holds me steadfast in it.
And I weep silently in bed as my lover sleeps beside me and our boy sleeps beside her, because I am not outside with my mom, who also needed me, to sleep.