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A Conversation Without Words

When Penelope was very small, my husband watched us one day as she lay on the changing table and I hovered over, gazing down at her. “You guys are having a whole conversation without words,” he said, and it was true. There is this thing that moms and newborns do, in the days before there’s even much cooing, and it amounts to language as far as I’m concerned. Communication, definitely.
Abby and I are deep in the wordless-conversation phase now.

Especially at night, when I nurse her in the gentle bedside light and she takes about a half hour to be awake and alert before taking her “long sleep,” which is about six hours. She smiles a bit, though mostly she saves her smiles for the morning, when the light streaming in the window is a source of amazement for her, and she seems to want to make sure I’m in on it.

At night, though, it’s a quiet gazing, a pursing of the lips. Worlds of emotion cross her face. A small smile of recognition as our eyes meet, a furrow of worry as she looks off to the distance of the bookshelf, a desolate expression of sorrow as a gas bubble causes consternation. Her fists twist, then a hand lightly grazes her temple, which makes her turn her head curiously whose hand was that, anyway? Mine? What’s a mine?!

It’s the kind of profound yet ordinary moment that reminds me of first teenage love thinking we had invented this gazing, this mooning, this feeling. I’m old enough to know that as deep as this is, as special as it feels, that it’s also the most universal and mundane feeling. Nobody has loved this profoundly, and everyone has. We have this in common. And as much as my horrible anxiety wants to tell me it could vanish in an instant, everyone I know was once this tiny, this vulnerable. And they all made it so far.

She quacks, she pants, she whimpers. Then a sudden gasp, a perfect burp, and a broad grin. Which I mirror back to her (well, not the burp), and she studies the huge planes of my face. How ginormous I must be! Being a baby must be like getting stuck in the front row of a movie theater and seeing Julia Roberts’ face as a distorted twelve-foot monstrosity. She doesn’t seem to mind. There’s a lot to say.

Her face is welcoming, it sits in quiet expectation till my eyes meet hers and her body gives a little jump of recognition. She hasn’t yet found her feet, she doesn’t have the control she needs to stroke my face, but when her eyes get squinty and she gives a little mew of crankiness, I gather her up to me and feel her arms and legs snuggling against me with a determined body-length grasp I didn’t feel a week ago.

“You’re great,” she’s telling me.
“I like seeing you.”
“That face of yours, it’s very interesting.”
“Hey, eyes!”
“I’m warm. I’m full. That’s awesome.”

And I tell her back: “I’m here.”
“Whatever you need.”
“We’re in this together.”
“I think you’re faboo.”
“Got milk if you need it.”

All of which translates to “I love you,” if you listen hard enough.

Do you “talk” to your baby without words?

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