what i learned

Everything I Know for Sure About My Tiny Baby

Blackout series. Illustration: Jules Julien

Two weeks into California’s shelter-in-place order, I took up quarantining with a total stranger. Stranger’s not exactly the right word, but if there’s a word for person who literally came from inside you, but you’ve never actually met, I don’t know it. I mean, there’s baby, and technically that’s what my daughter, Ellie, was when she came out of me in early April — and still is, even though sometimes it feels like she’s been here for 15 years already.

The day she was born, she was quiet on my chest. I looked at her and thought her eyes are blue. And also, this isn’t what I thought she’d look like. It’s not like I’d had a baby before or any other ideas of what she’d look like. She was just new.

We spent the next day and a half pretty much alone in the hospital together, save for the nurses who came in every few hours to check on us. She lay in a little plastic tray next to my bed or on me and barely made a sound. She just stared in my direction or slept, while we listened to the tiny wails of other newborns from rooms nearby.

Since we’ve been home, it’s still mostly just the two of us. Time functions differently than it did before: It feels like it’s 4 p.m. when it’s only 10 a.m., but whole weeks feel like a day. We live in bottle-to-bottle increments. I text friends I’ll call you between bottles instead of I’ll call you at 2. I wake up with grand illusions of what I’ll do during those breaks. Take a shower. Fifty jumping jacks. Eat lunch. Write a thousand words (this paragraph has taken three between bottles so far). But mostly I sit next to her, watching her tiny fingers pinch her own ginormous cheek as she sleeps, and wish she would both open her eyes and stay sleeping. She gulps her bottles, but when she’s done, she’s done and she sticks her bottom lip out in an exaggerated pout, closing her gums together so hard she gets a little half-moon chin divot.

She likes to eat on the couch and then fall asleep in my arms while I stand by the window looking to see if the actor who lives across the street is outside (we call him Roswell; he was on Roswell). I’ve discovered she sleeps better on her tummy than her back, but since that’s not technically allowed, she takes lots of naps on my chest. She cranes her neck like an owl to watch whenever Anderson Cooper is talking about the coronavirus on TV. She has a constellation of tiny baby whiteheads on the tip of her nose, probably from the constant booping on my part. She loves being strapped into this vibrating chair for babies that has two little birds hanging right above her head.

She has maybe ten different cries. There’s one she makes when she stretches that sounds like tires screeching. There’s one she makes when she’s falling asleep with a full belly that sounds like an overemoting porn actress. There’s one she makes when she’s generally displeased with something that sounds like a cartoon “waaah.” There’s a soft, pained whimper she emits when she seems like she’s having a bad dream. When you jostle her too much, there’s one that sounds like an old man saying “oy yoy yoy.” There’s one that sounds like a tiny alarm clock — rhythmic and unending — that she reserves for when she’s really frustrated she can’t sleep. She gurgles at the birds in her favorite chair, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a furrowed brow. I still can’t tell if they’re her best friends or a pair of overhead menaces that haunt her waking minutes. I’ve never spent so much time noticing things about another person.

But the minute I think I know her, she’s changed again. Yesterday, my impression of a cow made her smile, today only a very emphatic “cockadoodledoo” will work. Same goes for our schedule. Two days ago, she seemed to sleep for the better part of the afternoon; today she was wide-eyed, and we spent an hour reading Look, Look, a black-and-white book about all the amazing things one sees outside (I’ve started changing the line “Cars go zoom!” to “People do Zoom”). The face she makes just before she starts to wail is the same one she makes just before she grins — her lips open wide and she sucks her tongue in and goes completely silent for a moment. It fools me every time.

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Everything I Know for Sure About My Tiny Baby