We have a houseful of babies. Downy heads, dimply elbows. They sit in my living room, wobbly on bottoms not yet used to keeping their owners upright, investigating our old baby toys with fat hands and furrowed brows.
One of them realises his mother has gone out of the room. His face crumples. He squawks, heartbroken. He has forgotten that she always comes back. I pick him up and am surprised by the way he doesn’t tense to meet my lifting hands.
(I have become used to rangy-limbed boys who half-leap before you’ve reached them, who clamber into my arms like skinny monkeys and settle themselves into the curve of my belly to watch TV.)
This tiny boy smells, oh, he smells like a dream. He tolerates my faces for a minute or so, before demanding to be passed on to the right person, which I am not.
(I have boys who smell of anything from shampoo to mud to biscuits to urine, honestly.)
Babies, running on half-hour schedules of eat-sleep-play-eat-sleep. Babies, eating mush out of pouches and grass out of chubby fists. Babies and their mothers in a landscape I didn’t know I had left behind so thoroughly. I have a sudden, vivid memory of holding Teddy on my hip and moving around the kitchen, trying to make dinner one-handed. Sometimes I would stop and put my face against his chubby cheek just to feel the bounce of it.
(I have not made dinner one-handed for a long time, and I have forgotten this too, till just now.)
Then in he comes, a giant among the gently clucking pygmies. He runs full-tilt and noisily into the room in shorts and plimsolls, demands a fruit snack, amends it to please-may-I after a Look, gets stuck in with the infant toys he’s forgotten. He is quick, fiery, independent and communicative. I think this to myself for almost the first time, with something like wonder.
(I spend a lot of my time wishing him a little further, a little further on, and it turns out he’s so very far out already.)
He is looking around for my reassurance before darting off again. I say, in pantomime voice, ‘And where’s MY baby gone?’ He beams, and leaps into my lap almost before I’ve reached for him.
I squeeze him hard and rub my face against the chubby cheeks he still has, just about. He laughs for a couple of seconds and then wriggles off my knee and scurries away.
(Not a baby. Still a baby. Still the baby that belongs to me.)