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05/27/2005

Six months

Six months ago this minute, I was lying on a table in Norwalk, Connecticut, listening to a scrub nurse count Alice clamps to make sure I didn't make off with any. My plan had been to sneak out with a few extras secretly tucked into my uterus — or as I like to call it, my crime pouch — but my diabolical scheme was thwarted in its infancy, and I was wheeled out without Alice one.

I asked Paul earlier if he's happier now than he was six months ago. I was fishing for some kind of warm affirmation, a definitive statement of contentment, harmonious agreement that, yes, things have been hard, but they're getting better, and our lives are growing richer with every passing day. "Oh, yeah," Paul said fervently, and I thought I was home free.

But he continued. "Am I happier than I was exactly six months ago?" He looked at his watch.

"Oh, yeah."

...

I am also happier than I was six months ago. First, I no longer feel as if I've just chugged a jeroboam of Liquid-Plumr followed with a frosty chaser of lye. Second, I'm not especially worried that I'm going to suddenly, you know, get all dead and stuff. Third, now we have Charlie.

Today Charlie had his six month checkup. The doctor examined him, posed a few questions about his developmental progress, and then asked, "And what's his personality like?"

I was utterly tongue-tied. He's...well, he's...he's just Charlie.

He wakes peacefully. If I'm there when he opens his eyes, he smiles up at me. He cries to get our attention if no one is cribside when he checks, but it's more of a call than a cry.

He is righteously offended by any attempt to feed him when the temperature of the liquid is not precisely to his liking. I can see him composing the acid review he'll pen for Zagat's (when he can eventually write, that is).

He is visibly fond of that Muppet song. I make up lyrics, and I punctuate them with noisy kisses to his cheeks:

You are my baby [kiss, kiss]
My baby boy [kiss, kiss]
You are my baby, my bunny, my buddy, my birdie
And you always bring me joy. [kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss]

I got my first belly laugh with this, and it doesn't even include swear words. I think I am going soft.

Seductively sprawled on the rug in front of the fireplace, he makes sweet, sweet love to his Lamaze worm.

He currently dislikes being cradled unless he's being fed or rocked before sleep. He prefers to sit up in my lap, though he still needs support to do it. Best of all is standing on my lap, held high above me. I amuse myself by making Godzilla-storming-Tokyo noises. He amuses himself by smiling down at me, leaking long strings of drool in his excitement.

In the main, he enjoys his bouncy seat, and in this he is not alone, but too long in thrall to its noisy toy bar and he gets a little frantic, unable to stop kicking and making noise, casting about for someone to rescue him.

When confronted with new experiences, he's alert but not alarmed. When we take him for walks in the woods and show him leaves and mossy stones, he furrows his hairless brow in concentration, thoughtfully taking it in.

When we give him a bath I like to pour a trickle of warm water over his head, letting it run down his face in thin streams. He smiles and opens his mouth to catch the water.

He's crazy about the baby in the mirror.

You know. Nothing exceptional. Just Charlie.

...

He got three booster shots today, three long needles plunged deep into the meat of his small but hammy thigh. A year ago I felt that pain myself.

Despite a good stiff shot of Tylenol, this afternoon he was still wretched, crying from 4 until bedtime. He cried when we held him. He cried when we didn't. So of course we held him close.

And this may sound crazy, but I could see that he wanted to be happy. He'd catch my eye and smile, forgetting how much he hurt, but then suddenly he'd remember, and the tears would come again. He wobbled on the line between laughter and misery, and it almost broke my heart, this stouthearted boy trying hard to be friendly while he was in pain.

...

Six months ago this minute, I was waking from an opiate stupor just long enough to remember where I was and why I was there. I thought about the boy down the hall, whom I'd seen for only a quick count of five and wouldn't see again for a day and a night. I knew he was small, and I knew he was sick, and I knew it could all end badly. I knew the hardest part was ahead.

Oh, yeah. I'm happier now.

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