Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I swear, she was here a minute ago.

This was originally posted on September 5, 2005.

When I was in college, I dated a very nice young man whose primary flaw was that he was almost as absent-minded as I was. The relationship ran its course before we were even close to being in danger of marrying and procreating, and I used to laugh that it was a good thing -- between the two of us, we would have misplaced kids right and left. "I haven't seen the girls in a while, have you?" "No ... not since we left the beach." "Oh dear."

I did eventually have my own children, and I worried about losing them as easily as I lost my keys. I've always been bad about keys. Some people lose their glasses -- that was never my problem, since I was so near-sighted that I only took my glasses off after I was in bed and had turned the light off, because I might not be able to FIND the bed without them. I've lost schoolbooks, fully completed Social Studies homework (that one lost me a straight A in 1987 and I've never forgotten it), purses, day planners, cars (but I always found them) -- pretty much anything you could possibly want the next day, I've lost it one time or another. But keys were the worst.

Losing my keys was the only one that sent me directly into a raging fury, automatically bypassing all the intervening steps of concern, frustration, renewed determination, exasperation, philosophizing, anger, and foot-stomping. If the keys were lost, I could pretty much guarantee that this was not going to be one of those calm, reasonable searches in which the lost item would turn out to be in the second-most-likely place, or perhaps in my jacket pocket. No, if it was my keys, they were equally likely to be in my laundry hamper, behind a stack of classical piano music, or in a soap dish in the bathroom. It wasn't all that effective to rampage through a room, crying and swearing and doing the full Insane Burglar treatment, but it sure felt good.

When I was pregnant and discovered that my new baby would weigh slightly less than my purse, I think you can understand my immediate concern. She was going to be so small! Smaller than the cat, and he hid from us all the time! I mean, I'd lost stuff WAY bigger than that without even trying. What if I put her in the laundry basket by accident, or set her on the counter and stacked papers on top of her? (Oh, you don't want to know. The stack on the counter involved regular cursing.) What if I put her in the closet with the clean towels? I had nightmares about this.

Well, not too surprisingly, it is very, very hard to lose a baby. For one thing, they're LOUD. For another, they don't balance on counters very well. For another, they smell bad at regular intervals, so even if you did set one down for a while, you'd find it again in a hurry. Mostly, though, it's because you love them so much. I discovered that I was no more likely to lose her than I was to lose my own self. At any given moment, even if she was napping, you could have spun me around with my eyes closed and I could have pointed unerringly to where Mary was. I may have wanted to get a full refund on her now and then, but I wasn't in any danger of losing her.

Then time happened. Six years' worth, actually. And I can't find the baby. I distinctly remember putting her to bed in her crib, and now the crib's dismantled in her little brother's room under the Mr. Incredible poster. She was wearing a little blue and white nightie with puppies on it, I can still see it, but it's down in the basement in a box labeled "3-6 months clothes -- KEEP." She liked to sleep with a stuffed plush dog, rather mundanely named "Doggie" -- he's still around, but he's not quite the same color now and his nose has been almost entirely worn off.

I looked in her room tonight, and there was no baby -- instead, there was a long-legged colt of a girl, dark blonde curls still damp from her bath, face buried in her new Tinkerbell comforter, wide awake with anticipation for tomorrow's adventure into the first grade. I kissed her forehead through the floppy tangle of growing-out bangs, and she sat bolt upright and gave me an update on the cat's most recent foray into her room. I smiled and told her to sleep, and closed the door as I have so many times, so many nights.

I'm excited, too. She's bright and funny and social, and her first year of all-day school will be a much-needed outlet for her quick mind and energetic friendliness. First grade is a good thing.

Every now and then, though, I still catch myself looking for the baby. I don't look behind cushions any more, but into the fine bones of her sweet face, memory overlaying her perfect nose and wide grin with the soft cheeks and tiny lips I spent so many hours admiring. I wouldn't want her to stay tiny forever, as some mothers claim to wish for ... but every once in a while, I miss the baby.


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