It has been six weeks now since we last met someone outside the family. The baby has fallen asleep on my chest while nursing, and his hair is soft and sweaty. One strand sticks to his forehead and has nearly formed into a small question mark. His breathing is noisy, and I wonder, yet again, that babies have such a fast heartbeat. His little hands are curled into tiny fists and he holds them close to his face, drooling onto the back of his hands. His eyes are shut very tightly. I marvel at his beautiful lashes and perfectly shaped eyebrows, light brown, arched and feathery. If I watch very closely, I think I can see his eyeballs roll to and fro, but maybe that is imagination. I try not to move too much to avoid waking him up, which is uncomfortable, but the thought of carrying him around to make him go to sleep again keeps me still.
I recently saw a set of bed linen for children online (of course, online) that sported the slogan: “Home is where Mom is.” Lying here in this darkened room now, listening to the baby breathe, I keep coming back to this sentence. Since the lockdown, the flat seems to have become a tiny cosmos in which we mostly spend our days. We pace up and down the hallway, practicing to walk; we stand at the windows watching cars go by; we prepare and eat meals; we listen to music and dance; we change diapers; we take a nap (if we are lucky); we put up washing on our balcony; we look at picture books; we sing songs when it is bedtime. And, time and again, we lie here and nurse.
For the baby, it does not seem to make much of a difference that we rarely leave the house or meet other people these days. Am I his home? Can a person be someone else’s home? And do I want to be home, for anyone? The milky smell of his breath is familiar and soothing and his skin is the softest thing I have ever touched. It seems overwhelming sometimes to have someone rely on you that much, to be so important and needed. Or, maybe, this is just me hoping that I am that important, indeed, that he needs me most, or at least more than he needs other people. Maybe I do want to be home, at least for this tiny little being. This mixture of being overwhelmed by responsibility and puffed up with self-importance is a bit ridiculous, even to myself, and I wonder whether being at home all the time in this small space has increased this feeling of self-absorption.
I suddenly feel the intense urge to scratch my back and involuntarily move on the mattress, making a muted ‘Aaaargh’ sound. The baby inhales sharply, crawls a bit closer, and starts nursing again. The smart little thing does not want to wake up. Hope makes me believe that I have a few more precious minutes to rest, although I know from experience that this hope is treacherous and easily shattered. I try to rub my back against the mattress, ever so gently, to make the itch go away, but it does not really work. So I try to concentrate on something else and study the picture of birds and foxes that we have put up on the opposite wall. Baby birds and baby foxes, of course. Interesting, I think, that in many of these images for children’s rooms, parents are nowhere to find. If home is where mom is, then these cute animals seem to lack a home. Maybe they are in kindergarten. The itch returns with a vengeance, and I cannot help but moving my arm to try and scratch it.
The baby wakes up. He opens his eyes, stares at me without seeing anything at first, and then realizes that he is indeed awake. His wet hands wipe across his sweaty forehead and rub his eyes forcefully, spreading baby drool everywhere. Then, finally, he opens his mouth wide so I can see the two tiny white teeth that have started to show since last week. They glisten like miniature pearls in his lower gums. There is an eerily long pause while he inhales, and then he starts bawling at the top of his voice. I sigh. We are up, and start another round of our small space, our home, where mom is, and where baby is, and where we all are, these days.