The Boy On My HipThomas Beller
On his first birthday, I thought about the day of his birth. He was born with a C-section. My wife was very cold, shivering. From nerves as much as temperature, she later said. I stayed near her, held her hand. I stood to see when the boy arrived, screaming and red. I saw his bushy, furrowed brow. My first thought: “He’s going to grow up to write acerbic book reviews.”
Not long after that I was back in the hospital room where my wife and I had begun the day, trailed by a little gurney. I guess the nurse handed him to me, I don’t recall. I only remember sitting there with him, alone, his lightness in my arms, his tiny, raging voice. I sat there cradling him, bouncing him in my arms, and singing. I realized I didn’t know any songs. I sang Silent Night. But he’s Jewish, I thought, or at least I am. You’re making him into Jesus. At any rate, it had no effect. I made up a song called “It’s all right.” I was calming myself a much as him.
At a certain point, when he was four or five moths, he was big enough to sit on my hips. To straddle them, almost like he’s in a saddle. He spends a lot of time there, regarding the world. He fits nicely. I’m near his face. I can hear his breath, his sounds. I can kiss his soft head, say things in his ear. Occasionally he tries to tear my nose off. Sometimes he talks. He makes very emphatic, guttural noises accompanied by a sharp slashing of the hand. It’s a public speaking style that borrows heavily from Mussolini.
While he is on my hip I do things: walk, shop, talk on the phone, cook. I crack eggs into a skillet with one hand. I have broad hips, child bearing hips. ‘Bearing’ meaning fertile, bringing forth, and also something that “carries, supports, endures.” (OED.)
Keeping him on my hip allows me to commit the great sin of modern parenting – multi-tasking. But the fact that he is there on my hip ameliorates it. He sees everything, watches everything, as though on some kind of apprenticeship. Infanthood: the ultimate unpaid internship.
If am holding him I am not really ignoring him–a rationalization, but also the truth.
To say he seems happy on his perch is not quite right; it’s more that it’s a condition which is part of existence for him. And from my end, it’s nice to be able to see things, literally, from his point of view. I love it when he is surprised or amazed which, since he has just turned one, is often.
For example, taking a pee while standing there with him on my hip is a joy. Every single time he hears the splash it’s a surprise. He leans forward with this look on his face, as though to say, ‘what the hell is that?’ and spends the whole time trying to see what’s going on.
He’s recently begun to walk. We’re thrilled but I am also a bit sad, even though it’s so funny to watch, because now the hip is an option, a refuge, whereas before it was pretty much the only option other than long term crawls.
It all feels calmer than how things progressed with my daughter, who I certainly did not treat to the spectacle of my taking a pee. It may be that for all the many benefits that accrue to older siblings and only children, the first one gets rushed.
There is a video stowed on a hard drive somewhere, and also in that antiquated but famously portable device, my memory, showing me walking with her just as she was learning to walk. We are in a hotel hallway. I hold her hand in mine. Her arms reach straight up. I hold them and walk in big wide steps, making a kind of A-frame beneath which she walks. She is smiling. Laughing. Delighted. Up and down the hallway we go.
My thought when I think of that video is: slow down! I am walking so fast. As though I can’t wait to get her get her up and running. There is the eagerness to have her develop to alleviate my anxiety, so I know she can.
Now I know development comes very fast. No need to rush it. Now I understand the potential pitfalls of a tiny irrational beings who can walk and run. I know how fast everything goes. I am, with the second kid, possessed of less urgency towards development, change, growth.
I’m told he looks like me. Recently, at a street fair, when the wind picked up and it got cold, I lifted up my shirt and stuck him underneath. His head popped out of the collar. This caused a mild sensation. People pointed, took pictures, said things like, “Look! He has two heads!”
The best remark, for me, was a when a woman stopped in front of us and said, “there’s something about him that is so familiar.”
There is something about this physical contact, this riding the world together, seeing it from similar perspectives and vantage points, that is very close making. Sometimes I almost forget he is there. This, I think, must happen to an even more extreme degree with him.
Recently, I was at a picnic, standing around talking to some people with the boy on my hip. They were Ultimate Frisbee people. Eventually they started throwing around a Frisbee. The disc leaped from their hands and arrived hovering at about eye level with my son. I realized it could be dangerous if it hit him. Very dangerous. I reached out and caught the Frisbee a couple of feet from his face. I did this again and again. What would have happened if I missed?
He took it all in, as he does, with that mysteriously judgmental brow and big eyes. Every now and then he made a fascist speech. I kissed him between throws. I kissed his head, his ears, his soft, soft cheeks, his warm neck, making him squirm.
I didn’t know it that day, but he was about to start walking. Already I could feel his weight getting heavier. I could still hold him, but it was getting a bit more difficult to get lost in the trance of his presence. To forget he was there. But that evening I shifted him from hip to hip with the effortless, thoughtless gestures of a running back switching hands. Our bodies were constantly touching. It went on for hours.
There is a symbiotic, unconsciously observed symmetry of breath and heartbeat when you are touching someone for that long.
Audubon Park is packed. My daughter, her friends, and about twenty other kids are climbing a statue nearby. A lot of demographic variety. It’s a great New Orleans scene. The world moves and undulates all around us but we are a fixed point. The grass is green. The white disk glides through the air. We are the center of things, together. If that Frisbee hits him we will have problems. Big problems. But I am not worried and he is not worried. I catch it every time. Sometimes I have to run to catch it. His head bobbles and he laughs uproariously, monkey shrieks of pleasure.
It is clear to me in the evening light that was is going on, with him up on my hip as I move and throw and catch, is that we are expressing, innately, with our breath and heat and every molecule in our bodies, a complete faith in each other. A faith that is love.
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