When you first bring your baby home, it's a little like someone telling you, "Look, we are entrusting you with this fragile vase made by Jesus that contains the cure for cancer which happens to be molten Pegasus tears and can never be replicated. But we're sure you can handle it... ". Like, they just give you this 2 day old human, like a library book, and trust that things will be ok.
And part of you knows they will be. Part of you recognizes that mothers have been having babies since the dawn of time and is also pretty awestruck by the tremendous force of maternal instinct that has swept through you in the past days, making it impossible for harm to come to this baby while breath was in your body (you figure out pretty fast, for example, that you will NOT roll over on the baby while napping- you just wont.).
But another part of you is, to be frank, scared shitless.
Which brings me to my point. During Gwen's first months, there would always be a moment (or five) when I would wake up in the middle of the night just to look at her sleeping in the bassinet next to our bed, to make sure she was still there and breathing and warm. I would lay my hand as lightly as a snowflake on her tiny, boney chest and feel the faint but steady rise and fall of it. And I would pray silently and fervently that I didn't screw anything up too badly.
A year later, I still sneak in for a quick peek at my girl. To be sure, it's a comedy of errors to get into her room- our house is at least 70 years old and it seems every single floorboard squeaks like it was rigged up in an old-Hollywood horror movie. I mince along the hallway on the balls of my feet, trying to find non-creaking patches of floor to tread on and finally slip through her door (which you must open very quickly to prevent additional squeaking). Then comes the gauntlet of crossing her bedroom floor, which makes the hallway seem like it was paved in feathers. Seriously, every step sounds like someone ripping apart a head of iceberg lettuce whilst eating a bag of Frittos.
But then I'm there, next to her white crib and she's my baby. And she's got her arms flung out all funny and one bare foot (with such funny long toes like my own in perfect miniature) out of the covers, and she smells like Johnson's Baby Shampoo and her own lovely baby-smell. And I lay my hand on her little back to feel that familiar rise and fall- not because I'm scared these days, but because it is an anchor in this very uncertain world; knowing that your child is safe and warm and so incredibly alive and spilling over with potential, and that for this brief window of time she's all yours to love.
I remember those nights when I would wake just enough to know my own mom was there, fixing covers and pulling books out of my bed. I remember smelling a whiff of her perfume and then back down to dreaming, secure in how utterly safe I was- that fleeting feeling of being completely parented.
And so now I am united with all parents somehow, as we make our rounds and guard our gifts, committing all these sounds and scents and breaths to memory for when they, rightly, leave us to sleep under their own roofs. And, perhaps, to start a night watch of their own.