Faint stirrings, a whimper, a frown that seems to melt your entire face like wax dripping down a candle, a frown that threatens to morph into a full-blown yowl. You turn restlessly to and fro, and I try to determine whether you’re about to cry in your sleep, pass tremendous gas, or howl to be fed. I hold my breath and watch you for clues. You start and stop, sputter like an antique automobile. Your movements begin to get more frantic, and I realize I have thirty seconds to run to the toilet if I absolutely must, and perhaps put on a pair of wireless headphones so that I can watch a movie during the hour it will take to feed you as you drift in and out of sleep, spit up, push away the bottle, then thrash your arms trying frantically to grasp it, eat, fart, pee, and finally raise your arms above your head as if in complete surrender to soundest sleep.
I know I am a horrible mother for entertaining myself while I feed you. Every minute spent with you should be valuable, and by squandering it on distractions I feel that I am shortchanging you. I am selfish.
I sit back down and pick you up, laying you down on your nursing pillow. (Well, feeding pillow. Nursing is a skill I haven’t quite mastered yet.) I can hear your cries and whimpers through the headphones, and I tell you reassuringly that it’s all right, that I’m going to tuck your burp cloth into the collar of your sleeper, and feed you a bottle of milk. (In the interest of brevity, and the hope that you’ll learn to associate the word with relief and the cessation of your plaintive cries, I refer to all bottle contents as “milk”, whether it is expressed breast milk or the organic formula I prepare for you by mixing filtered water with odd-smelling, yellowish powder.) The feel of the cloth around your neck is your Pavlovian bell–you stop crying and emit small, high-pitched grunting sounds as you root excitedly for the breast that won’t feed you. (In these moments, you sound a bit like a dolphin.) I pray the distraction of the burp cloth gives me sufficient reprieve to reach over, get your bottle (please, please, please let it be at least half full), remove the cap, position you accordingly, and offer you the silicone nipple in such a way that you latch properly and drink your meal without spitting up half of it down the burp cloth, your chin, neck, onesie. I have learned that frantic sucking while tossing your head right and left and making a sort of frustrated “mmf mmf mmf!” sound means that the nipple is screwed too tightly on your bottle and has consequently collapsed in your mouth, or that you are farting and/or pooping prodigiously and are uncomfortable eating at the same time. (When you’re done eating, I shall tell you that you are Captain Stinkypants, and that you require a diaper change–which you hate, but for which, I know, you are grateful when it’s all over.) I adjust your bottle, and wait for the sound of the gas passing, for which I praise you. “Good baby fart!” I say. (May all your achievements feel this satisfying.) If you make snorting piglet sounds, it means your head is tilted at the wrong angle, or your nose is stuffed. I use the horrible blue squeeze tube thing to vacuum the snot from your nostrils, which you hate (I’m so very sorry!).
You take the false nipple rather deftly and begin to eat. Having satisfied the urgency for sustenance, your eyes wander as you quietly suck your meal. You glance sideways, directly into my eyes. It’s more of a curious stare, the unwavering kind that is the hallmark of absolute guilelessness. Your brow is raised and furrowed. I hold your gaze and wonder what you’re thinking. “You’re the lady who feeds me,” I imagine you saying, “the one with the leaky protrusions.” Your almond-shaped eyes are wide, the dark grayish corneas with their pupils fixed on me. “I’m counting on you. Please don’t fuck this up.”
I can’t take it. It’s too much. I lean down and kiss your forehead, deeply inhale the scent of your hair. I look back at you and smile almost guiltily, tell you you’re a good baby (is there any other kind?).
You stare back as you knock back the “milk” with a faint “kuh, kuh, kuh” sound.
You’ve sussed me out. I’m not a real mother, I just play one on TV.