They dropped bombs on Kosovo last night. I should care but I don't. I should be full of sadness and rage--I'm not. News travels more slowly now.
I wipe breadcrumbs off the kitchen counter and sweep the floor. The sink and dish rack trade ceramic back and forth. I scrub plastic baby bottles with an oversized pipe cleaner. My attention is drawn to the inside of a rubber nipple and making sure the tip is clean.
This is my world.
Here is where I find the local news. From the living room to the front door, that I call regional. Noteworthy but not necessary. The ring of the doorbell and the dull thud of letters hitting our mailbox, these are national headlines. International events take place between the front gate and the park. Kosovo is so much further away than the park and the park is as far as we go.
Six months ago Kosovo was a name on a map that, with difficulty, I could locate. Today I can't even find the map.
I try to read the newspaper, but the words won't stick.
My son ate carrots this morning. That brings us to four. Milk, rice, yams, and now carrots. He tries one new food a week, one thought for the tongue, that is enough. Kosovo has to wait for acorn squash, peas, barley, corn, beats, spinach, tomato, pumpkin and lima beans. Kosovo must stand in line behind eggs, bread and butter.
It will be years before my son imagines our home as part of a map, surrounded by a landscape that makes up a country. By then what will become of those people whose homes are bombed into the earth?
A birthday held underground, that much I remember from the papers. A little boy celebrates another year in a dark room of cement.
I want to go out but the teacups multiply. Plates spread themselves thin across the counter. Laundry piles at the basement door. My eyes lose their ability to focus.
I used to get out my binoculars and train them on the buildings downtown. I used to care about the people in my city. Now it's a question of pacing out the toys to last until the afternoon nap. Now it's a question of dry, wet, hunger, sleep, four intersecting plains on a small map. A map that has no capitols or city borders. A map where election results will never be posted.
As my son begins to grow and take in the world, I see less. Soon even the movements of our neighbors, walking just outside the window, will become a distant landscape. And their names, Mark and Nicole, will sound as foreign as Kosovo.
He has a smell that I cannot place. Do all babies have the same scent? I stop other parents in the street and ask, May I smell your child? It's not a smell that I would wear yet I can't get enough of it. What does my father smell like? And my grandfather. Is there even a hint of his baby smell left?
Here's a game. I hold him in my arms and say, "Ugh," with a jerk of my chest.
He says, "Ugh" and jerks his body.
I say, "Ugh."
He says, "Ugh."
On Mondays I take him to a parent/child class over at the college. It's a time for babies to play and parents to commiserate. Last week I stood around with a group of moms. The other dad taking the course wasn't there, so I was on my own. The conversation turned to nipples. Mary started, "My son plucks my nipples with his hands." Alice then said, "I had a dream last night. My breasts were long cylinders, so thin that I could slip my wedding ring easily through the tip."
Meagan told of a visit to the zoo where one baboon had big dripping teats while another's were flat and shriveled to her chest. "So that's what I have to look forward to," she said.
What am I doing here? I thought. I'm not part of this world.
I suppose I could have jumped in and revealed my dreams of impotence or my worries of seeing the Alfa male at the zoo with the hard on and thinking his is bigger than mine. Wouldn't it be easier to join a club where the members all looked like me? Listening to these moms, I tried to imagine dads standing in a circle casually talking about the size of their testicles.
Mary then mentioned the food stain on her pants and how her clothing was always dirty. Now that was something I could relate to. Quickly I pointed to the spaghetti sauce on my shirt.
Here's a game. He picks a Cheerio out of the dustpan sitting on the floor, puts it in my empty shoe, tilts the shoe until the O disappears out of site, and says, "Uh-oh." He then hands the shoe to me.
I retrieve the O from the shoe and hand it to him.
He eats the O.
All the books say that children regress. The first child sees the new baby and suddenly wants a bottle, wants to breast feed, wants to wear diapers again. But the books don't mention adults. There's no section that details how I want to be covered with a blanket and held at night. There's no explanation of how I want someone to watch over me. I want to go back to a moment before there was the knowledge of money and death and responsibility. I want to return to a time when the world was a handful of rooms, a back yard, a mom and a dad. Now I know why we call God the father and speak of the motherland and mother earth. We want parents who will watch over us, parents that we can reach down and touch.
To talk to other parents is to speak of sleep. Is she napping? What time of day? For how long? What's your secret? We share advice and regrets and cringe at the horror stories of children who do not sleep. When other parents tell me that their child has dropped the nap, my first impulse is to steer my kids away from theirs.
Last night I didn't give my daughter enough food or hugs. She went to sleep without enough warm cloths. I didn't give her enough time with her toys nor did I wait long enough this morning for her to get out the door. I see now that she is not loved as I had anticipated. I had this image that what he received for the first two years of his life she would get. And it's not true. It's not even close. I will never give her what I gave him in his first months.
But then I look at her. I see how happy she is and think, I gave him too much and it's too late to take it back. I can't undo all that passed between us, all the praise and the caution, the warnings and the touches, the questions and the cries of frustration. I wish I could spread everything I've given him before me. I would weed out what was a mistake from what I would give back.
Tonight, after dinner I will sit down with a boy who has too much and a girl with not enough. In the moments when they are not looking, I will try to sneak a little of his to her.