My son notices me in such intimate detail that it terrifies me at times.
J smells a new soap on my skin, whether I’ve eaten a cinnamon candy or a mint, or if there is a bit too much makeup on and my face has that slightly powdery smell that too much makeup can have. He smells that, and asks me about it. He’ll tell me if it smells good, or bad, or he doesn’t care at all but was just noticing it anyways.
It’s been an uncomfortable adjustment to motherhood, this reality that not even if I wanted to, and don’t we all want to, sometimes, I can’t hide myself from him. Growing a person inside you, birthing them out into the world, it was heavy stuff for me. I wanted it, without a doubt, but I had no idea how much I’d crave being alone.
J likes my hair down, not in a ponytail or clip. In part this is just his preference, but in part it’s that I put my hair up when I run or play tennis, and while he doesn’t mind me leaving, of course he does. He covets my closeness, the security of me always being right there even when my skin is crawling with the nearness of people wanting me, needing me, talking to me, loving me.
With a partner, a spouse, a romantic love, we always have space, distance, and a whisper of breath between the two. We’re able to communicate our boundaries, our needs for bodies and minds. But with a baby, well, we have no control, not at first anyways. They start inside of us, actually physically almost touching our hearts. When they roll, we roll. When they hiccup, we hiccup. We are entirely separate, mother and child, but we share a body. Then they’re born of us, eat and sleep at our breast, explore in our arms, attached. As J crawled then walked then ran then climbed then explored I was so happy, every time, for that space between us. And yet no matter how far I travel, miles or overnights or weekends away, we’re always connected. I feel his presence inside me, as if he is still rolling in my belly, as if his tiny kicks are still fluttering in my chest. And I love that intimate bond, but I hate it. I love the closeness of mother and child, but I despise it, I’m freaked out by it, I’m panicked, almost, by how much I need to keep parts of myself for me, just only for me, secret to everyone but myself.
J comments when I put the sapphire studs in my ears instead of the pearls. He’ll say that he likes the pearls better, and why am I wearing earrings all of a sudden anyways. When summer came after our long, grey winter and I put on a sundress for the first time all year he said, “I love that dress mom, I love it! You look pretty!” And I knew that I was.
That’s the beautiful part of intimacy, to be seen by another exactly as we see ourselves. I sometimes think that having a son (or, I’m sure, a daughter) is like getting to re-live those first years of love with your partner, those years where everything you do is perfection, everything you say is poetry.
J notices when I’m brooding, or moody, or feeling low. He never asks how I am, but always comes over and says, “Mom, hey mom, look at me, what is one word I could say right now that will make you smile, like this?” And he smiles a very big Cheshire cat grin, and if that doesn’t make me smile, we say “penis” and that makes us both laugh and restores the order of things.
I’m scared that one day I’ll disappoint him with my imperfections, my secrets, my realities. I’m scared of the day when he no longer sees me with those beautiful baby eyes that tell me I’m the moon and the sun and the sea and the fairy princess. But I’m also scared to never have myself back again, to never be alone with my thoughts, alone in my body, alone in my mind. We are of flesh and blood, tied together, after all. It’s a delicate balance between affection and autonomy, devotion and freedom. The intimacy of this mothering life gives me strength, it fulfills me, but it drains me in equal part.