Putti In Her HandsThomas Beller
“You have to come see this!” my wife yells.
I dutifully rise from my seat in an adjacent room, a dark brooding space with bookshelves and chandeliers, and enter the bright halo of pink.
There on the couch beneath the window sits my wife breast feeding the baby. At the far end of the couch, watching, is the babysitter, a young woman.
There a quality to the baby’s skin at certain times of day that makes him seem alabaster, angelic, divine. This is what I think upon entering the pink room, so named because of the pink rug, the little pink piano, the pastels of the kiddie kitchen set, and by extension because it is the seat of softness and feminine warmth in our house.
The boy is eight months old. Very big. Physically precocious. And in an unusual position: on his hands and knees on her lap, almost standing up, holding his head as though drinking from a fountain–the fountain of youth! The way the baby’s skin holds the light is a form of divinity. I believe the word for such sculpted, opalescent boy-angels is “Putti.” A profane cousin of cupid. The whole Cupid myth is so mischievous–a dexterous baby stirring feelings of love and lust, who never needs to be fed or changed.
“Why does this seem a little bit funny?” I say.
The kid, hearing my voice, tears himself away and, with his hands still pressing on my wife, as though to make sure she didn’t go anywhere, erupts in a delighted smile. We all laugh. His smile grows wider. His smiles have always had a convulsive quality; they are so huge they almost knock him down. It is one of the greatest things. He is always so happy to see me. I don’t know how a person, once they have been on the receiving end of such looks from a baby, can survive without them. But then I suppose I do. My daughter’s smiles, also enormous, have become many layered and complicated as she has entered her personhood, and I still love those, too.
“It’s his position,” says my wife. “He’s in a funny position.”
“What’s different about it?”
“He’s torn his clothes off, for one thing,” she says.
“And he is standing up,” says the babysitter.
For a split second I regard the composition as a three headed monster– the two breasts and the head of my son, all about the same size, all wonderfully full and round, a golden triangle from which I am excluded.
My wife’s breasts. I can not say another word without commencing to slide down the slippery slope by which a discussion of my wife’s breasts turns into a kind of complaint about access. I do not want to complain. Merely to note the thunderous feelings that ricochet through me as I simultaneously absorb the nearly religious sense of communion between mother and child, that chaste, holy atmosphere, while also apprehending the incredible body that belongs to my wife. I look at the boy. His skin, his need, his concentration. I note that the back of his head, sprouting the soft little hairs, which I so love to pet. His head exudes a feeling not only of sumptuous bliss but also of triumph, even assault.
“It’s like he’s…” The phrase at the tip of my tongue is, holding you down. I don’t say it.
“He looks very grown up,” I say instead.
The babysitter, college age, proceeds to share with us that she had been breast fed until the age of three.
“You mean beyond the point at which you could ask for it?” I say.
“Oh yeah,” she says. “But asking wasn’t the problem. The problem was I started offering it to others. Apparently I’d started asking all my friends, even strangers, ‘Would you like some?'”
The babysitter is bright, rosy cheeked, energetic, and enrolled in a good school. If you wanted a poster child for the virtues of lengthy breast feeding she would be a candidate. But her comment upsets me. I don’t want to live with the three headed monster for two more years.
“He does seem very excited and happy,” I say, arguing with my unstated thought.
This is our second child. The first is a girl. With her my wife also had intense, immersive sessions of breast feeding which only came to an end when it became clear they would have to cease in order to make way for trying to have the second kid.
While I recover from the panic of imagining three years of his breast feeding, three years of having my hand swatted away, of having my glance swatted away by my wife, I try to recall my feelings about all this when it was a girl attached to my wife’s breast as opposed to a boy. They remain out of focus, pushed down in memory. But I am quite sure they were different.