I am standing on a crowded Manhattan bound B train staring at a row of sleeping people. It’s early, the train is very warm, and they are all overheated in their layers of winter clothing. They look like the drowsing snow-suited babies I have just seen being strolled around the neighborhood snuggled in their cushy blankets. I imagine the warm rhythmic movement of the B train plunging these slack-jawed snoozers into a deep sense-memory of that long ago innocent transporting sleep.
One man awakens – maybe he senses my stare? I have broken the 4th wall of subway etiquette.
I love to watch my daughter sleep. It is really the only time I can contemplate her awesomeness without disruption. During her waking hours she is moving too fast and is too resistant to my ministrations. I braid her hair while she is eating, I have to sit on her to cut her fast-growing toenails, and putting a Bandaid on her is like trying to grab that greased watermelon in the pool at summer camp. When she sleeps she is completely still. Completely still and completely innocent. If the Pope came to our house at night and snuck into her room, he would have to revise that Catholic edict about children being born with sin.
During her waking hours she’s anything but innocent. She has recently discovered the thrill of sneaking behind my back, hiding things from me, and even lying. On playdates, one of her little friends inevitably migrates to my side to update me on her daredevil behavior. She has tied a bonnet on the cat’s head. She is eating silly putty. She is cutting her hair in the bathroom.
This loss of innocence feels like it happened overnight. I can still hear the wondrous sound of her baby bellylaughs when she wore a pair of tiny red ladybug boots and we slid her little onesie-clad body down the front cushions of our leather couch. Last night I heard her breathing heavily and discovered her standing on the arm of that same leather couch preparing to propel her body straight into the cushions. Same couch, different day. “Just 10 more times Mama, I’m teaching myself to fly…” It does solve the mystery of why we keep finding the couch closer to the wall each week.
Every day around 5:15PM I feel like an addict who needs a fix. I miss her so much. I cannot wait to scoop her up and kiss her rosy warm cheek and hold her sweaty hand. We talk all the way home and I wonder how I have survived all day without her. By 7:30 when her homework isn’t done, she has changed clothes 4 times and left them in piles on the floor, she hasn’t finished her dinner yet, she is sneaking cookies, and tormenting the poor cat again, the need has been more than met. Taking the place of the praising yearning mother is the shrewish yowl of the repeating robot mother.
Please finish your homework. Take your hair out of your mouth. Leave the cat alone. Eat one more piece of broccoli. Please stop drawing on your hand with the Sharpie. You need to pick up your clothes. LEAVE THAT CAT ALONE. Don’t make me count. I’m going to count. You’re sharpening the eraser, sharpen the pencil. No, no cookies until you eat the broccoli. Stop writing your name backwards on your homework. Brush your teeth properly. You can’t have PetShop toys in your bed. Okay one PetShop toy. Only one. Only one. ONLY ONE. That’s it. Go to bed. If you don’t stop talking to me you are going to be in trouble. I don’t know what but it’s going to be bad. Yes I Love You. No I do love you. I’m just frustrated. Because you need to go to bed. Of course I love you. Okay. Goodnight. Goodnight. I Love You. What? No. One PetShop toy. Just-one. JUST ONE. BECAUSE I SAID SO…
And then, blissfully there is no more whining, no more sound. I sneak in. I rearrange the pillows. I could probably turn her entire body upside down when she sleeps and she would never know. When she’s out, she’s out. I tuck her in, move the cat, take the Petshop toy out of her hand, adjust the heat, and then I just look.
Sometimes she sleeps with her hand thrown over her face and she has the world-weary look of Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8. Sometimes she is tucked around her stuffed sheepie and her lips are curved around his head like she’s rediscovered the security of her breastfeeding infanthood. Sometimes her fists are clenched exactly as they were when she was a newborn. Mostly she looks so innocent and so much like the baby who wore the ladybug boots I think my heart will break. I know I can’t go back. And even though I’m exhausted by her, I love the complicated, intense, glorious and even sneaky person she is becoming. At night when I stare at her beautiful sleeping face I think that Tom Waits song seems truer than ever, “You’re innocent, when you dream… when you dream…”
The man on the B train tries to stare me down – to dare me to continue my rude observation – but he cannot fight the siren song of the subterranean mothership and his eyes shut once again, his weary head bobbing on his chest, the New York Post clenched in one meaty fist.
I can't tell you about it because you're a grown-up. Grown-ups can't know about these things.