The pandemic baby boom was a bust and the national birth rate is at its lowest point since 1979, but my own extended family is in overdrive delivering bundles of joy. Between spring and late summer, six newborns arrive. One of them, pictured above, has already emerged. To celebrate these babies’ entry to the world of independent breathing, I left three poems in a boutique with a cute baby section. (Is there any other kind?)
I left an ode to baby adorableness amongst the Welcome Baby cards:
I Know a Baby
by Christina Rossetti
I know a baby, such a baby, –
Round blue eyes and cheeks of pink,
Such an elbow furrowed with dimples,
Such a wrist where creases sink.
‘Cuddle and love me, cuddle and love me,’
Crows the mouth of coral pink:
Oh, the bald head, and, oh, the sweet lips,
And, oh, the sleepy eyes that wink!
Rossetti’s poem is a reminder it’s been too long since I’ve had a baby in my arms. Sweet, sincere, pure, un-ironic, “I Know a Baby” calls up memories of holding babies, smelling their sweaty baby heads, marveling over their mouths of coral pink and wrists where creases sink. For some of us, this is heaven. I remember a very sophisticated Shakespeare professor in graduate school who apologized for not grading our papers over the weekend because a baby had been visiting. She spent all Saturday and Sunday holding the wee one in her arms. “Truly I could do nothing else,” she said.
I set a three-line “poem” attributed to Plato on some bedtime baby books.
My child—Star—you gaze at the stars,
and I wish I were the firmament
that I might watch you with many eyes
This is not technically a poem (it’s one of Plato’s epigrams), and who knows if it was actually written to a child. Other translations don’t include the opening salutation. But for the purpose of this poem-elfing let’s read it that way. And let’s set aside creepy images of helicopter parents wanting more eyes to track their child’s every movement. Let’s just consider the sweetness of a parent thinking a child so adorable that more images of said adorableness are desired.
Finally, I left an excerpt from a Yeats’ poem written for his daughter near pink sock sets.
May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.
—from “A Prayer for My Daughter”
William Butler Yeats
Yeats’ prayer for his child seems to me a most sensible wish. But in today’s Instagram world where every moment is a potential iPhone photo shoot, his hopes for his daughter must sound about as relevant as “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
I’m old enough that the excerpt sums up one of the tenets of my parenting style.. I took as much pride as the next mom in how darling my children were, but I never wanted them to know it. How many times strangers exclaimed to one of my daughters how beautiful she was (pardon the bragging, but they were and are) and I responded, annoyingly I’m sure, with a stiff holier-than-thou pat phrase: “She’s beautiful on the inside and that’s what’s important.” Truly insufferable. But I didn’t want my girls to be hung-up on their looks and to consider beauty a sufficient end. And also I was a bit lazy. Tidying up hair and making sure clothes matched were less interesting than whatever else I was doing.
I happen to be writing this baby post on the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. She was a wizard with babies. She enjoyed every baby brought to her lap but not in a cooing and kissy fashion. Being Irish, she checked her delight in a baby’s cuteness with wry comments and silly insults. She called babies “fatty cakes” and “fussy budgets.” She bounced them around saying, “Roompty doo, a’roompty doo” which almost always settled a crying baby down. She’d set them on her shin to ride a cock horsey and made them laugh. They made her laugh too, that was the great thing. She birthed, nursed and raised eleven of her own babies, held and bounced thirty-two of her grandbabies and most of her fifteen great-grandchildren. She was loved and cherished by each one. How lucky I am to have had such a master to learn from.
Which brings me to Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day! It’s a good day to remember we were all babies once and most of us were loved deeply by our mothers.
And if your mother was too damaged to love you as she should have, I’m certain that at some point in your infant life there was someone who looked at your innocent baby face and felt a glow of love and tenderness towards you.
Mothers or not mothers, let’s all be those someones.
If Mother’s Day is a tough one for you (and even if it’s not), you’ll enjoy this beautiful essay by Margaret Renkl.