The way I remember you

Sadie has just turned 6 months. We were very excited about it — it’s a milestone! We got her highchair ready to start her on solids, we picked a perfect avocado as her first food (other than the sneaky apple and clementine that we let her taste), I picked her outfit for the big day, and of course Sadie was completely oblivious to this all.

I had just gone back to work that week. The week started nice and slow, but before I knew it, things had started to pick up pace, and I got back into the familiar manic rhythm of my work, except now I had to physically rush from one corner of the flat to another, apologising to colleagues for being late to calls, apologising to a screaming kicking Sadie for being late with her feeds. All the while reminding myself to cling onto that sense of calm I had at the end of the year, for just a little longer.

I have felt extremely lucky to be able to work from home during this transition. I still get to feed her myself, I get to hold her a few times during the day, I am there for her bath time and I don’t have to guess what she’s up to every minute of the day. But when David takes her out for walks, when he puts her down for her nap time, lifts her out of bed when she wakes up from her nap with the biggest grin on her face, and comforts her when she is tired and rubs her face against his shoulder, I get jealous. I have to stop myself thinking I would do it differently, I would read to her now and she would enjoy that, I would not let her play in that jumper for that long. I have to remember that I’m not her primary carer right now. It’s a transition for all of us, and perhaps I’m the slowest to adapt to the changes.

Her little changes are happening behind my back. But the evidence is there — she’s outgrowing her clothes, she’s learning new trick, she’s undoubtedly getting heavier. It’s only when I look at photos from a couple of months back that I’m surprised that this is still the same baby. I remember her tinier self, that baby with wrinkly face and peeling skin, she had sleepy eyes and napped all day on my chest; but this baby I’m holding now is also mine. In fact she’s more mine than the tiny wrinkly creature I took home. She knows me, looks for me, gets upset when I walk away, giggles when I look at her sometimes as if I’m the funniest thing in the world.

We take many photos, and videos, of a new trick she’s learned, a new sound she’s making, a new food she’s tasting. We can’t get enough of every new thing she’s managed to do with her face and body, despite the seemingly endless repetition of our day to day life at the moment.

But I can’t record every moment. What I know and love the most about her are things I can’t capture in photos or videos.

Will I hold these moments in my memory? Will I be able to access them years from now?

All these little precious idiosyncrasies that make her who she is. Or who she was 2 weeks ago. She develop new habits, and a few weeks later they are gone. They are like fleeting little clues about who she is as a person, what goes on in her head, things that I observe yet don’t quite understand. Things if I don’t remember, perhaps they will be lost forever.

So I look at her sometimes, I pause to take a mental picture of her, so I can capture those moments in my memory. The way she squints her eyes when she smiles at me, her mouth wide open showing her little half moon shaped gum with two tiny teeth. The tiny pause before she sees me and smiles her sweet smile, then hides her face in whoever’s holding her, as if she’s shy. The way she starts to breathe loud and fast, almost hyperventilating, when I put her bib on, in anticipation of milk. The way she opens her mouth wide for a long while before she eventually attaches herself onto me. The way she gets distracted mid-feed, by any sound around her, by the sudden need to poop, by a random thought that comes to mind, and she would lift her head a little to give me a long thoughtful stare before she plants her face down again on my breast. The way she used to scratched the mesh on the side of her bassinet at night, often the only sound I could hear at night, which made me feel comforted and concerned at the same time…

In six months, she’s grown so much. Not long ago I watched her, on the monitor, find a stray dummy in her bed, play with it and put it in her mouth. I was astonished. The dummy, our mighty enemy, the one that we had tried for months to defeat, now seems like such a trivial little thing that she commands with ease.

In a month or so we will start transitioning her into childcare, a child minder we found locally. She will start with a few hours with her, and soon move onto a day, two, three, and more. Every day, she will spend just a bit longer, a bit further away from me. And I will help her, little by little, to get used to others, to accept others who will also love and care for her. I will teach her that I I will be here for her when she needs me, and every step of it comes with a little heartbreak that only I will remember.

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May Li

May Li

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