Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Great Divide

Joshua, hatless and swaddled in his soft green blanket, is snorining softly in his shabby carseat. He is two months old now. Olivia, still wearing a valentine-hued getup of her own choosing, is passed out in her crib. Her purple hiking boots, such a hassle to put on, were even harder to get off without waking her.

So, the kids are asleep. The kids, plural. I repeat that word to myself at night when I can't sleep, over and over, marveling at it and wishing I could make myself believe in its veracity. Soon, maybe.

There are days, today included, when we are a family of four. We went for a long walk together, ate lunch together, sang silly songs. And there are days--most, in fact--when we are not, when we are divided into our natural pairings. I am near constantly with Joshua, for reasons obvious and otherwise; when he's not working and she's not with a caregiver, Jeff is with Olivia. It is the pragmatic tack to take, the sensible way to handle the demands of two babies at once. And, it seems to me, a little sad and isolating.

Until Josh's arrival, Jeff and I marveled together over Olivia's every ounce, every sound. The shape of her head, the directness of her gaze, the curve of her mouth, the angle of her chin, the plumpness of her wrists, the timbre of her laugh. We had the luxury of being a team with a single objective, a single project. That project is now a blooming, determined toddler who needs a river of attention and energy--needs that are incompatible with the simultaneous care of a newborn. So she jumps and runs and paints and babbles and throws tantrums in the company of her father, while Josh and I keep to gentler activities in another room, and I marvel at his gaze and chin and wrists on my own. I have breakfast time with Olivia each morning and "special time" each evening--a time to do whatever activity inspires her at that moment--but it's not nearly enough.

When she falls down, the sympathy she wants is from her dad. When she masters a new skill, she wants his approbation. When she's full and still has food on her small plate, the mouth she wants to feed with her plastic fork is always Daddy's. Josh, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to be with me, to be comforted by me, to smile with me, and tracks me with his eyes regardless of whose arms are holding him.

It hit me hard the other night when I came in from a few minutes' play time with Olivia to find Jeff cooing and smiling at a burbling Josh. I realized that it was the first time I had seen Jeff look unreservedly delighted to be a father to his son, a delight I was so used to seeing him feel for Olivia. There was no taint of overwhelm or worry or exhaustion, no how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-manage crease in his forehead, no vague accusation in his eyes. Just delight. Pure delight.

I want more of that. I want Jeff to have more of those moments with Josh. I want more of those moments with Olivia. Some day, I'll probably ask for some of those moments between Jeff and me again, too, but I don't want to get that greedy just yet.

* * *

I realize that I haven't given Josh much of an introduction, and I want to give you a picture. He is an exceptionally easy baby. He eats, he smiles, he sleeps. He does not scream and spasm and shake after feedings, he doesn't need to be walked in endless loops through the house at 3 a.m. No GERD, no thrush, no ear infections. Not even diaper rash. In short, he is a delight, an unexpected counterpoint to the colicky misery of Olivia's first months. I am flush with gratitude.