The morning narrows to the place where I sit cross-legged on the carpet, my eyes closed against the scattered detritus from the day (coffee mug, plastic giraffe, an unused diaper, a book which I intend to finish but can only tackle two pages at a time). There is quiet. It is an ephemeral quiet, I know this. Quiet spaces between a parent and her toddler are always fleeting, after all.
I relish the quiet and inhale the honeyed scent of baby shampoo in my son’s hair as he taps a dimpled spot above my jaw line.
“Dis? Dis, Mama?”
“Cheek. That’s my cheek.” I stretch out the hard “k” because I’m giving him a word, and I want the word to be clear and precise and right. He’ll use this word as he charts out the boundaries of my face, my little cartographer with banana-sticky fingers.
This is a moment I resolve to savor.
As a parent, I often think about savoring. I’m urged by others to “cherish every moment.” To “realize that these years go by so quickly.” To “savor my precious time with my children.” But the savoring never comes that easily. It’s easy to talk about, easy to endorse. Not so easy to do.
To parent is to give oneself over to relentless noise. To parent is to be selfless, and selflessness is a strident beast. A child’s needs are ceaseless, like so much thread unspooling and unraveling downhill. My mind whirs with static even when my child is not in front of me or next to me or on top of me. There is noise, not quiet. Or, there is scarce room for quiet.
But for now, in this moment, on the floor, underneath the morning light and shadows, held fast by two hands that once formed inside my own body, I have quiet. We have quiet.
My son’s fingers slide an inch to the right, tugging a trail across my face. “Dis? What dis?”
“Cheek. That’s my cheek.” He kisses me, my cheek, marking this newly mapped-out place with a sweet, wet smacking sound. He leaves a glisten of slobber on my face, and instead of wiping it I simply hold my hand against the wetness because though it is disgusting it is also beautiful, and there is much to be cherished in each of our tender gestures.
An inch further, and he finds my mouth. His index finger digs into my lower lip. I wince before stretching out his hand, replacing the sharp corner of his fingernail with the plump folds of his palm.
“Lip. Luh-luh-lip,” emphasis on the l, on the p. He knows it’s my mouth, and he knows where his mouth is. He can point to and identify both of our mouths, says the word like “mowsh,” and so I elongate the “thhhhhh.” But this place also has another name. It’s part of my mouth, and so we can call the place where his tiny finger touches me “mouth,” yet we can also call it “lip.” The borders and the boundaries converge upon one another, synecdoche etched upon our faces.
I close my eyes and extend my hands. This is quiet. This is savoring.
He continues exploring the topography of my face. He pushes his finger through my mouth, through my lips (a new word for his map key), and finds my teeth. “Teeth!” he exclaims. He finds my teeth funny, inexplicably so. I laugh with him even though I cannot pinpoint the reason for our laughter.
“That’s right! Mama’s teeth! Mama’s teeth are inside her mouth!”
This time he throws his head back with a wild chortle. Our teeth are in our mouths, our teeth break free from our mouths and lips when we smile, our teeth are wet and slimy and sharp and hard. Our bodies are places of absurdity. I tickle the spot just below his armpits—ribs, side, torso, this, baby boy, is such a silly spot—and his giggles gather in his throat like tiny bubbles.
He calms and returns to my face with a deliberate touch to my eye.
“Yes, honey, that’s Mama’s eye.”
He nudges upward until he reaches my eyebrow.
And then a quarter inch more, slightly beyond the last hair of my brow.
“Forehead. That’s my forehead.”
He crisscrosses the length of my forehead, pausing at each uncharted territory. His eyes intent, serious. He asks for the name of this place on my face again and again, and he listens to me as I reply “forehead.” Forehead. Forehead, forehead, forehead. It’s still my forehead. This vast expanse on the map is still my forehead.
He reaches my temple. For a moment I wonder if I should teach him that this spot, circular, about an inch in diameter, nearly imperceptible to his own touch, is indeed my temple. Is the specificity necessary? Has its time come, just as the time came for “lip?” Or will the word clutter the map of this two-year-old, he with his burgeoning vocabulary, the words still sometimes twisting on his tongue?
I tell him that this, too, is my forehead.
I lie back and close my eyes, hands open and empty against a sun-dappled spot on the floor. He returns to my eyes and cheeks and mouth and lips, tap tap tapping out the boundaries of his map.
In this moment we have quiet, and the quiet has us.