Dear Rachel Marie,
On Friday night, we were alone – a rare occurrence for the two of us (aside from middle-of-the-night feedings). Your daddy had to work late and your big sister was having a sleepover at Nana and Pop’s. I took advantage of our solitary pairing and brought you into the bath with me. I cherished this intimate moment together and want to remember this special bath time - the way you looked at me, the way you felt, slippery with soap, the way a simple, everyday grooming ritual passed into a pensive study in motherhood. Thus, I write this letter to you.
I fill the tub with warm water and plop you down, using my legs as a protective border. Your hands slap the water and then slide across my legs slick with bathwater.
You watch me pour water over my head – you notice everything now. Your face breaks into a smile. I must look silly to you, sopping wet. When my hair is drenched and hanging limply in front of my face, you stare at me, slightly bewildered. For a moment, you seem unsure. Who is this sodden thing? But then I speak and your expression shifts to one of recognition. That’s my mommy. You’ve known my voice for a long, long time. By the 25th week of pregnancy, we believe babies can begin to recognize their mother’s voice.
I slather shampoo in my hair and rinse it and then I do the same for you, pouring the warm water slowly over your head that’s covered with soft, blondish hair. You swallow some of the bath water and begin to cough. Red rings form around your eyes. I gently pat your back and the coughing ceases. Then I bathe your body – your soft arms, your round belly, your chunky legs, your dimply butt, your perfect face with your rosebud lips, button nose, and elliptical eyes, which are still a nebulous color – something between a brown and a green.
After I rinse off the soap, I take your bare, squirmy and delicious, little body and put you on my own naked form as I slip beneath the blanket of warm water. We’re chest to chest. You look like a descending skydiver as you balance on your belly with your arms and legs flailing. As you kick, water laps against the sides of the bathtub and splashes onto our bodies. Your eyes gaze into my own until Madeline’s collection of bath toys bobbing around us diverts your attention. You reach for a foam letter and put it to your mouth.
I watch you interacting with your environment, trying to reach a plastic cow that’s floating by, splashing the water, putting everything into your mouth. I marvel at how, on one hand, you seem so old to me, no longer a mewing newborn, but at the same time how feeling your slippery body against my own brings me back full circle to the day you were born and that moment I first held you – my second baby but no less of a miracle.
I speak again and you look at me. You smile. Then your eyes widen with inquisitiveness as you seek out another fascinating object – a blue foam “B.” I stare at your wet hair molded on your head. I caress your wet body, wishing to memorize how your skin feels soft and pudgy, reminding me of flour when it gets wet. And then I become wistful. I know all too well – I’ve had your big sister to show me – how quickly you’re going to grow up.
The sloshing sound the water makes as your arms and legs splash conjures up an image of you floating in my womb. It wasn’t so long ago that my arms were aching to hold you, my eyes burning to see you for the first time. And now here you are, a baby on the cusp of being a toddler (they say the “golden age” of infancy is from 6 to 9 months and you are nearly 8 months old; I suppose that means your reaching your baby mid-life crisis). I know you’ll soon be too big to rest on my chest and maybe even too modest for us to bathe together. You’re frequently sleeping through the night (unlike your restive big sister who still wakes up a few times ) and while I crave sleep, I miss nursing you in the stillness of the night, your body curled into me. You're sitting up, playing with colorful baby toys. You’re on the verge of crawling away from me and toward alluring things. You’re as slippery to me as your wet body in the bath; I can’t hold onto you, not well enough.
So I savor this ritual. A mother and her baby, alone, skin to skin, swathed in warm bathwater. My love for you almost primal. I am made to love you. I think. God designed me to love you.
Another stray bath toy captivates you. You try to grab it. You’re determined, but you’re grasping for something beyond your reach. Frustrated, you cry out. I want to hand you the toy, but I hesitate. I let you struggle. I know you won’t be so helpless for long. I want you to need me.
I wrap my arms around you. You momentarily forget about your pursuit and you reach both of your starburst hands to my face. This time, I willingly let you touch the object of your desire.