I am eroding — my goddess body of motherhood — my thick mane of pregnancy, is wearing away in chinks and pieces. I lost just one hair at first: I held it, wondering at the layered sediments of pregnancy sloughing off. Now my hair comes out in long fistfuls, the strands wrapping around my hand and fingers. It sticks to the shower curtain in variegated shades of blonde and brown, strawberry and black. It threads its way through my husband’s underwear. I find it as I fold the laundry and pull and pull the piece of hair until it comes loose and floats away. It turns up in the bread dough, the cracks in the keyboard, the toes of my socks, the crevices of my son’s neck. I find it underneath my pillow, long wisps curled and waiting for who knows what — perhaps the Tooth Fairy — or a tiny, winged postpartum godmother.
I have to quell the urge to collect the hair, coax it from between my toes and underneath the couch cushions, into my lap. To keep a reminder of the way my body became two, the way it stretched to hold the universe: a relic of the moment I felt my son’s first leap, somewhere between my navel and my hip, before its warmth is buried in my own strata of memory.
When I want to remember my son’s swollen cheeks and dark gray eyes just after birth, I have to pull out the photograph. His pink flapping gums of babyhood are already gone: first one tooth burrowed its way out, then another. He rolls onto his belly and moves without me, using his flailing arms to scoot backward, gathering an armful of carpet and then pushing it away. He gulps pureed sweet potatoes, bits of tomato covered in cilantro, and smashed avocado. He reaches for things with stick straight arms, equally excited for thick Russian novels, stalks of lemon thyme, and piles of rocks, babbling and shrieking tiny baby words I can’t understand.
I envy women with the heat of babies swelling in their bellies–I want this empty flesh that hangs loose and slides across me to hold something again. The importance was so obvious then, my whole being ripe and splitting with life. I didn’t have to question myself; I was creating. Old men, young women, mothers with babies, and old, bent, blue-haired women would stop me in delis and libraries to grab my hand, pat my protruding navel: strangers reverencing life.
But now the quiet to contemplate a body in progress is gone. My son is here, all elbows and knees, eyes and hands reaching for me. I help him stand and grab the chain link fence, and page through picture books, and roll across the floor, turning his laughing apple cheeks over and over.
I laugh when he laughs: when the ivy hanging over the window rustles, when the fish in the aquarium arabesque, when the eensy weensy spider climbs a filament of air, when the pages of a novel crinkle in his hands. But between these gasps of joy for his joy, I hide tears of exhaustion, wiping the yellow squash from the wall, the table, my hair. After tucking his blankets around him again and again and again across the hours of the night, I pull my own blankets over my head and cry.
If I am too tired and let my eyes half-close he will walk away from me, toddling out to the place where I can’t even touch his fingertips, maybe pause to wave. I’ll turn around; he’ll be gone. And I, his mother, his great swelling earth, his milk, his breath, his blood, will be left with a pile of hair. A loose bit of skin. A wrinkle, a sag. An exposed and gaping space.