Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

April 09, 2001

I love Lucy and she loves me

All mothers have grand plans for their babies. The ones who name their children Keanu, for example, are planning to raise stiff little boys who will become major action stars with excellent teeth. The ones who buy the Baby Einstein video are hoping to raise physicists. It’s one way to make sure your kids never run with a wild crowd, I guess.

My aspiration was more humble, sort of: I hoped to teach Lucy to swim before she was six months old.

I have reasons for this, and at least one of them is good. My parents live on the water, and so it’s a matter of safety. Also, Lucy’s aunts and uncles were excellent swimmers, so she might have some talent. And even if she isn’t Olympic caliber, her feet resemble flippers. It would be a shame not to at least try them in the water.

And for the good reason: I bought her a really cute little pink tankini in the 3-6 month size.

With this in mind, I found a book about teaching infants to swim. We practiced in the tub. Then, when she was two months old (Alas! Too small for the tankini!), I slipped her into a swimming diaper and took her to a really warm pool.

She seemed to enjoy herself. Though she was not an experienced smiler back then, she definitely beamed as I tugged her chubby body through the water. At the time, Lucy was mostly head and stomach — two parts that float great. What that says about her head, I do not know. But she was pretty much a cork, bobbing away in my hands.

That was all well enough until I had to change her out of her swimming diaper and back into her street clothes. I understand the economics of why locker rooms are made out of concrete. But it makes for a terrible changing surface, even covered in towels. Lucy let me know she hated it, and her screams bounced off the walls and floor like a cloud of frenzied mosquitoes.

We did not swim again for five months.

This means I will never know how the tankini looked. Lucy is now too large to wear it. She has also outgrown the first pack of swimming diapers, which cost about 80 cents each, the little buggers. But I’m trying not to think of that. I can always sell them on eBay, along with the Baby Einstein video. She’s just not getting relativity.

Nor did she enjoy our recent swim. As soon as we got on the pool deck, she went monkey on me, grabbing me with her hands and her mighty feet. She clamped down harder once we were in the water. Every part that could grip was doing its best to hang on; I have the cuts to prove it.

I tried half-heartedly to float her, but babies do not float when they’re in the fetal position. Instead, we just swished around in the water, pretending like it was a giant bathtub. We hugged and chatted. Every once in awhile, she smiled, but I think that’s because the lifeguard was foxy, and Lucy was topless. Even at seven and a half months, she’s well aware of her charms.

The lifeguard just wasn’t enough to make for a really fun outing, though. And the whole experience was a reminder of something I’ve noticed more and more lately: Lucy needs me, like un needs couth, like gruntled needs dis.

It’s a different kind of need than the one she had when she was a newborn. Then, I got the feeling that she viewed me as her own personal Dairy Queen franchise. Lucy ate and ate and ate and ate, and for weeks, didn’t so much as smile in gratitude. Later, she got liberal with the smiles. Maybe I got a few more than everyone else, but not many. Pretty much anyone could hold her, and that was fine with Lucy. It was fine with me, too. A friendly baby is something to be proud of.

Lately, though, she’s let me know I am her A-No.-1 Super Friend. If someone else is holding her and I walk by, she whines, sticks out her arms, and leans toward me. Her eyes bulge, and she makes a noise that sounds like a sewing machine engine in high gear. If she is in her crib, fighting her mortal enemy Mister Sandman, I can’t get anywhere within eyeshot. She takes it personally if we look at each other and I don’t rescue her.

But I love it. I love making this baby feel happy and secure, even if it means my spine literally goes numb several times a day.

The main reason I put up with the freakiness of a tingly back is that I know Lucy won’t always feel this way about me. Babies fall in love with their mothers. Part of growing up is claiming independence. And sometimes, this feels like the opposite of love.

I know I created separation from my own mom in all sorts of ways. And this wasn’t always easy. Every time we went somewhere together, people would say, “Oh! You look JUST like your mother.”

No one wants to hear this, especially during the ‘70s, when your mom is wearing thick, black glasses and plaid pants shaped like trumpet mouths. Even then, I knew those pants were a bad idea, although they were how I used to keep track of Mom in a crowd. Follow the big green pants. Follow the big green pants...

It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with how my mom looked, by the way. She was decade appropriate. And even though I’m shorter, I weigh a good 15 pounds more than she did at my age. She looks way better in pants (still!), and she has the naturally curly hair I deserve but, for some reason, did not get.

The simple fact is that I just wanted to be me. That’s the other side effect of growing up as part of the “Free to Be You and Me” generation. You feel it is your right to be you, and when your mother has the gall to look like you, sound like you and act like you, she’s being a real jerk.

If Lucy is anything like me, she’ll find lots of ways to assert her independence. And yes, I am aware of the irony there.

I’m just hoping she doesn’t do anything permanent, like a face tattoo. Or any tattoo, for that matter. (This is my future speech to her, which I will regret because it will be the very sermon that drives her to the tattoo parlor. Lucy, for crying out loud! They stretch and fade. That heart may look adorable on your pelvis when you’re 21, but when you’re 31, with a baby, it’s going to have stretched so much it looks like the four parts of a cow’s stomach. Have you seen the hole that used to house my navel ring? It’s the size of Alaska!

For now, though, I am loving how she lays her head in the hollow between my neck and shoulders. Its weight is perfect, like the feeling of a softball smacking the heart of your glove.

Come to think of it, I might even have to take her swimming again next week.

P.S. If I do, I’m hoping that our outing doesn’t end up quite like it did last time. The pool is near my parents’ house, so we went there afterward for a visit.

As I carried Lucy in her car seat, I tripped on the walkway. I am not graceful, and this was a huge wipeout — a bellyflop onto concrete that left me flat on the ground, my arms flailing at Lucy’s carseat, which had tipped to its side.

My Dad saw it happen and raced out to pick her up. She was buckled in, so she was fine, but screaming. I, on the other hand, was thoroughly bashed. Dad held Lucy, while I struggled to stand, looking around for the one person who would make me feel like less of an idiot:

My mother.


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