The little boy sat on my lap, comparing the difference between my belly button and a button on the back of the chair. He delighted in pointing from one button to the other, over and over. Surely, he was learning something from this so I let him continue with his button business. Plus, it was too early to redirect him into something more constructive or active.
From button to button he obsessed until he missed the button on the chair, located just over my shoulder, and poked his grubby finger into my eye.
I shrieked from the surprise of having a tiny finger suddenly jammed into my eye and the actual pain of the contact. His hand was clammy and sticky from drool and who-knows-what else with a sweaty hand smell. Freshly cut grass or rain in the summer or hot cookies in the oven all have specific yet hard to describe smells, I believe the smell of a sticky, sweaty baby hand is the same. You just know when you smell it and to be honest, it’s a little gross.
My beloved son recoiled back as though bitten by a cat, an all-too-familiar experience, shocked and scared. Temporarily, he froze with finger in midair to assess the situation. Mommy would live, although likely with only one eye. A possibility which he found acceptable and continued poking at the buttons. Meanwhile, I mused over life with limited vision and at the very least the eye infection that was soon to follow.
Perhaps the thing that shocked me the most was that I wasn’t even mad at the assault on my eyeball or that I would likely wake up with my eye crusted shut and need to go to the doctor’s office for a horrible prescription eye drop that would sting with each drop. Certainly, I didn’t love what happened, but it was another day in the life of baby raising and for better or worse, I was in it for the long haul. There was no room for anger in our busy schedule of playing, napping, eating and repeating.
I was instilled with a midwestern work ethic almost from birth. I washed dishes while standing on a stool, too short to reach the sink on my own, and folded laundry from a pile that nearly as big as me. My first job was at 14, selling ice-cream cones and hot dogs from a beachside concession stand. It was there that I was approached one day by a sweaty man with barbed wire tattoo around his flabby arm. He offered to “show me the world” and was quickly declined because I had other things on my mind starting with my next big job at a real ice-cream parlor.
My dedication to work continued through high school, college and beyond. I was like a monkey swinging through the trees, always reaching for the next job before letting go of the last one. Each one getting better with every swing forward, more money, time off and less of a commute. Work gave structure to my life and a reason to get up each morning. I was never without a paying job, sometimes two, since that first summer on the beach.
Then everything changed a few short weeks ago with the birth of my son; he became my reason to get up in the morning and not just because of his screaming cries for milk. I wanted to make him my top priority. I wanted to be the one to change his diapers, to see his silly smiles in the morning, to revel in his presence and let him know how wanted and loved he is by his parents.
So when considering returning to work and dealing with crippling anxiety at the thought of my little boy in the cold hands of a stranger, I had to come up with a way to stay home with him. I put my faith in the universe, quit my job and prepared to enter into an unknown realm of unemployment, days filled with infant care, and serious budgeting.
He is now my full time, 24/7 job. This new, non-income generating employment has actually cost me countless hours of sleep, an ugly scar from his c-section, and my entire heart in order to care for this being who neither walks nor talks. He coos and giggles and flails his arms and our bond deepens every day we get to spend together. I won’t be able to stay home forever, but right now, this day, this moment is all that matters.