Jo came down the stairs holding her newborn with a confidence rarely seen in first-time mothers. She could have been taking two stairs at a time. She put the baby in my arms without hesitation and without even asking if I had passed my babysitter’s exam (I haven’t; I failed twice). Suddenly, in the scramble of neck adjustment and weight dispersal, I was actually holding the smallest, newest person I had ever come into contact with.
“Thank God you’re here,” Jo said. Her jacket was somehow already on; her shoes wrapped automatically around her feet. “I need to go to the store for just one moment. Will you be fine? You’ll be fine.” And she was gone before I could tell her I wasn’t legal to supervise children in the province of British Columbia, Canada.
The house became still. There was no sign of the embittered cat, Olive, who must have gradually realized how far her status had slipped since the latest arrival. Then, slowly, from the little lump I was holding, an arm appeared and rose towards me in the sort of slow motion I last saw in China, in parks at daybreak, where the senior citizens practiced tai chi. I followed the arm down to the face, hoping I would be able to notice if I was making any mistakes, or if, in my inept baby-holding posture, I had inadvertently done something wrong that might delay her interpersonal growth or her ability to recognize colours and triangles.
She didn’t actually have a name at that point, so there were no formal introductions (later, she would become ‘Jessica’), but she did have eyes like you wouldn’t believe. Big, Jim Henson’s Workshop eyes, deep grey-green, that moved with an untethered quality, curling around her sockets in the endless ‘What’s this? What’s this? What’s this?’ of a baby’s first couple weeks. I could hear her breathing through her mouth — I was doing Ok — and eventually her hand returned from its exercise and came to rest on one of my fingers.
There’s those moments when you re-realize what skin is; when someone touches your earlobe one way. It was that again but smaller. Her fingers stopped on mine. So many of them could take up so little room — and I thought this — “You have the tiniest working parts of us all.” When she curled them they dragged across mine with a slow purpose; by the time she had clenched she wanted to open again. In contrast I had gained mammoth hands, stevedore’s hands, wrestler’s hands. I hadn’t noticed they were so scarred (they’re not), so weatherbeaten (they’re not). Underneath these fresh ones my fingers looked worn down by life. She was beautiful, still bruised in places from arrival, but we sat there regardless, content with each other’s looks. She moved her foot in a new way, and waited, transfixed, for it to come back, and I continued breathing as carefully as I could, keeping my massive chest (it’s not) away from her head. Then there was a scratch of keys in the lock, the door, and Jo with a newspaper and two Magnum chocolate ice cream bars and a look on her face that said yes, these kinds of discoveries were happening in this house all the time now.