It’s 2:58 in the morning and I can’t believe I’m still awake. My mind wanders to the woman I met in the grocery store today. Her skinny body and olive skin queezed into a pair of gold lamé pants and her cart filled to the brim with frozen Cornish game hens. She wore thick blue eye makeup and rings on every finger. She didn’t look the type to me. I’ve come to expect it from grandmothers with curly gray hair and uneven hems, but this woman surprised me as she bent over to shake her long curly hair in my baby daughter’s face.
“Treasure every moment with them,” she said to me. “They’ll be 15 and too cool to come to the grocery store with you in no time.”
It’s a speech I’m used to hearing. Everywhere I go with my children, older women stop me and tell me some variation on that theme. I nod and smile. But this was different. This woman’s eyes teared up as she reached for Dorothea’s chubby fingers. Usually I hate it when strangers touch her fingers because I have enough trouble keeping viruses out of our house without strangers fingering my one-year-old’s hands, but this woman’s gold lamé pants and thick makeup couldn’t disguise her longing, and I wanted to share a moment of Dorothea’s babyhood with her. She held her palm out for Dorothea to pat, and then she smiled down at my four-year-old son who pushed the grocery cart back and forth into my heels. She nodded down at him. “This is the best time you’ll ever have.”
Now I’m lying here in my son’s twin bed, with a Spiderman toy lodged under the small of my back at 2:58 in the morning, and I wonder if she remembers this part.
Quinlan had a hacking cough and couldn’t sleep; so I brought him upstairs to our bed at about midnight. He fell asleep almost instantly under the crook of Ben’s arm. But I hadn’t thought about his teeth grinding. Every two or three minutes, I heard a thundering scrape or crunch or crack of his teeth. I propped myself on one elbow to look at him and wondered whether he’d have a tooth left in his head by morning.
“I’ve got to take him to the dentist.” I scold myself and put “Call dentist” on the huge invisible nighttime to-do list that never seems to translate into what I actually do in the morning.
After an hour of the teeth scraping, I tromp down the stairs and climb into his dinosaur bed where I stare at the ceiling. There’s a glow-in-the-dark Bob the Builder sticker up there. “How did that get there? What in the world did he climb on to get that sticker on the ceiling?” I turn over and tell myself to forget it. I’ve just got to get a little sleep before everyone is up again at 6:45.
That’s when I hear a low moan coming from the room across the hall. It’s not a full fledged cry; so I don’t move. Dorothea’s got this amazing radar that can sense when I’m awake, but don’t want to get out of bed. Almost every day, within seconds of opening my eyes, she begins to rustle and cry. “How does she know?” I wonder.
But then I hear it. A thud, clatter and rattle. I know that sound. It’s her pacifier on the wooden floor. I curse and sigh, but there’s no sense in putting it off anymore. I haul myself out of the dinosaur bed and go to her room.
She’s sitting up in the middle of her crib. Her tiny round face looks at me in the dark, and she smiles holding her arms out. I lift her from her crib. She wraps her baby arms around my neck so tight that I can’t bear to put her back to bed right away.
So, now she’s here with me in Quinlan’s dinosaur bed. Her cheek rests on my stomach. I feel the heavy weight of her fuzzy almost bald head and hear the sniffling breath whistling through her congested nose. Spiderman is wedged in an uncomfortable lump under my back, but I don’t want to jostle her too much, so I just leave it there.
I feel Dorothea’s eyelashes tickle the bare skin of my stomach as she sleeps. And even in the darkness at this ungodly hour, and even with my son sleeping upstairs with my husband grinding his baby teeth into dust, and even though I’ll still be up again before seven, I’m pretty sure that the woman does remember… and I’m pretty sure ten years from now I’ll be the one tearing up at the touch of a stranger’s baby in the grocery store.