| Musings |

The Baby Borrower

I need to know I still have the Mommy Touch, even if I’m no longer a Mommy of babies; I’m more of a “Ma!” now


I’m a baby borrower.

Yes, exactly that: I borrow babies.

I do give them back, albeit with a (hopefully) well-concealed reluctance. Even when they’re crying for their mothers because they’ve finished enjoying the wonder of my glasses, I’d hold fast if I could. I still want to try to soothe them.

I need to know I still have the Mommy Touch, even if I’m no longer a Mommy of babies; I’m more of a “Ma!” now. Mattie, my ninth grader, who enjoys her French lessons, has taken to calling me Maman, which at least injects a touch of elegance to this baby-less epoch of my life.

I don’t claim these babies in a scary, stalking kind of way, of course. You can still step into my house, borrow a cup of sugar, and go home with those items — and your child. I may just make you measure out your own sugar while I snuggle your little one, and, come to think of it, I may not be able to find the measuring scoop so quickly.

I may pretend to be scatterbrained when you spy the scoop inside the bag, but, inside, I’ll be celebrating eight more seconds of mushy baby time. You might mistake the light in my eyes for joy at your find, and I’ll leave you to your error. I could even have trouble locating the bright yellow bag of Domino, and have you root around my pantry or fridge by yourself while I engage your infant in Potchy, Potchy, Hentalach. If a toe is exposed, I’ll probably kiss it. If you’re related to me, don’t be shocked if I nibble it, too.

I’ve had my babies, baruch Hashem, and they smelled as sweet, cried as loudly, melted into that space where shoulder meets neck, and fallen asleep at the worst times, as yours does. I was possessive of them — I never wholeheartedly let others hold them. I felt a smidgen of resentment if any of my babies were happy in someone else’s arms, even if that respite bought me a few minutes to eat my soup while still warm, to try on a pair of shoes, to free my hands to manhandle a heavy, bag-laden stroller up my front steps.

I was jealous of any coo or giggle elicited by fingers that tickled with a rhythm not my own, songs sung in a timbre richer or poorer or truer than my own. Any morsel of food coaxed into pursed lips by an interloper’s hand was another tiny pluck on the heartstrings that eternally bind baby to mother.

I held fast, while I could. I knew that very soon this so-small creature could, and would, and should, claim his own personhood independence, and eat where, when, and how he liked. And that she, the much tinier and more beautiful version of me, would develop tastes, talents, and preferences far different from mine.

I find it interesting that the young mothers I encounter today seem to be much more comfortable handing over their little people than I ever was. They look so much busier than I used to be, pulled in many directions at once. Perhaps that’s why they seem happy to fill my arms for a few minutes here or there, and flex theirs in preparation for the next bundle they must pick up.

Or maybe they’re just responding to the yearning I’m sure they see flickering in my eyes. Maybe they recognize my longing for The Baby Smell that surpasses Bakery Aroma on a Fast Day and leaves the Morning Coffee Aroma humbled in its chipped “#1 Mom” mug.

Whatever it is, friends and neighbors know they can find a little respite if I’m around.

Sometimes, I’m a little overeager, I confess. Let’s say I’m at a dress shop; there’s always a flustered mother who doesn’t know just how she’s going to try on what she’s chosen. Without half a thought, I’m there, offering to hold their little cutie. I enjoy the yum time — while very carefully blocking out memories of my own daughter with me in a similar dressing room, licking the mirrors and picking up stray pins from the floor. I choose to only remember the bliss.

Those little interludes are usually cut short because of the Bubbe-age saleswomen who seem to miss their own eineklach. I defer to them only because I have to (and it would look odd for me not to try on my own selections), but inside I’m growling, It’s my time! I don’t have grandkids yet! I’m lucky to get eye contact from my teenagers, so back off, Bubbe!

I’d never say this, of course. I was raised better. But still.

My nest is not empty. No strangers have come yet to claim any of my children as their partner. But my home is no longer filled with cries and crawls, with spills and the skipping steps of the under-four-feet-tall crowd. Speech therapy is done; the mitzvah notes have all been written.

“What is this craving,” I ask myself, “that’s sometimes dormant and sometimes manifests itself as a vast ache?”

I’ve done my share of holding babies. I’ve cried while holding and feeding them during those lonely hours when everyone else in the world slept. I’ve gone through the frightening dead-of-night viruses and supermarket tantrums, and as tempting as it may be to don pink or baby-blue colored sunglasses, I cannot deny the reality that sometimes it was hard. Wonderful, and very, very hard. To deny that would also be to deny the gift of the Heaven-augmented strength that was given to me when I most needed it.

Those days weren’t all soft onesies and Ivory Snow dreams; weren’t all applesauce breath and blue-eyed wonder. So why is it that those sometimes halcyon, sometimes apocalyptic days seem to draw me back? What is it about the time-blurred mélange of memory that urges me to revisit it via baby borrowing? What am I really trying to recapture?

I’m not looking to relive my youth — I’m a little too tired for that. But I feel, through all the nuzzling and cuddling and toe-nibbling (don’t tell Mindy-with-twins-three-doors-down), that there’s an unexpected space inside me that needs filling.

I try to identify this feeling. Is it insecurity? Fear of aging? (I decline that possibility, as Mrs. Aging and I aren’t yet on speaking terms.) Lack of fulfillment? Lack of—

Ah. Got it.

Lack of counting my blessings, of hugging my big, towering teens when I want to, because I’m afraid that they only patiently endure it.

Lack of kissing my just-recently-turned-adult daughter goodnight, because she’s five inches taller than I am, has printed up a shidduch résumé, and wears perfume. I ask myself: Is she therefore beyond welcoming a Mommy kiss? And just what am I planning to do at her wedding, im yirtzeh Hashem? Shake her hand?

These are my kids, even if the child in them is hidden beneath the veneer of maturity. I will always be “Mommy” to them, even when they call me “Mom,” “Ma,” or, with an arched eyebrow and an assumed savoir faire, Maman.

Even if they can’t recall the long colicky nights when I sang every song I knew in the hopes that my voice would simply horrify them into sleep.

Even if they don’t remember planting Cheerios in the rug the day after we planted sunflower seeds in the garden.

So now I fill the spaces within by putting my arms around the real people before me, and kissing their cheeks when I want to. I reach up, or they bend down. I touch their hair. I go to their rooms, and they take their earbuds out of their ears so they can hear me tell them to shluff good.

I think about buying Ivory Snow and using it on my towels, but I don’t have to, because I feel full, and it’s a real feeling.

Not a borrowed one.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 728)

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