Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Video Killed the Motherhood Star

Westley has become more and more interested in seeing pictures of himself, so last Saturday, Rob hauled out the video camera. Because we got the camera and the newborn around the same time, we never really mastered the art of getting video from the camera to some other format. Consequently, it still has bits and pieces of Westley's first year hidden inside itself.

Rob hooked the video camera to the TV, so Westley could see himself on the "big" screen (and so that we could watch him watch). At first, I was excited to see old Westley movies. After a few minutes of footage from the day before Westley's first birthday (he's eating his first cupcake: vanilla, no frosting), I wondered aloud, "Is there anything from when he was really tiny on here?"

Rob calls up video from Westley's first bath.

"Oh shit," I murmur to the screen with a mixture of awe and disbelief.

Westley is nine days old, with wide, dark eyes. I weigh about 600 pounds and clearly have no idea what I'm doing. I'm talking to him as I dry him off, trying to sound funny and confident even though my body is filled with question marks. Jovial and on the verge of tears. Westley is shivering, shivering. He's equally unsure, trying to nurse on my shoulder. Clearly freezing. Clearly.

I hear myself - the "now" me - say, "Jesus, mama, wrap him up!" I cross my arm over my chest and touch my collar bone. My heart is beating too fast.

Shrimpy, shivery Westley finally gets bundled in a towel, and then the video jumps to an overhead view of us nursing. The proportion is grotesque. Imagine a squirrel trying to eat a cantaloupe.

Rob switches to some video of the three of us playing on the bed. Westley is older, about 5 months, super-cute and giggling at Daddy. But I can't watch. I excuse myself to the kitchen and try to shift my focus to making dinner.

It was beyond odd, seeing myself like that. It's absolutely clear in that video that I have no idea what I'm doing. Not that I'm spectacularly good at anything after nine days. Still, I remember that particular incompetence like muscle memory. It's heartrending.

With Westley on the verge of 3, I'm finally feeling the tiniest shreds of confidence about myself as a parent. I'd very much like to erase everything about the mother I started out as. But even if I destroyed all of the pictures, deleted all of the video, she wouldn't go away. I remember that girl so well. Less than a week before that "first bath" video was shot, she'd lied on the pediatrician's form.

The question about being afraid of hurting herself or the baby. Hesitating, the pen hovering over the "Yes" box. Her husband putting his hand on hers, squeezing.

"Are you going to check 'Yes'?"

Four hours earlier, she'd been crying in bed, burying her face in her hands instead of picking up the squalling baby. "I feel like hurting him," were her exact words. Just four hours earlier.

The pen comes down, touches the page. "No." Check.

That girl who kept herself from getting help. Who suffered quietly, angrily. Unnecessarily. That girl has no business holding a nine-day-old baby over the kitchen sink.

I try to muster up some compassion for myself, then. I think over the list of factors working against that girl. I search for some kindness, some sympathy. But I can't find anything. All I can feel is absolute certainty that, even though that girl will always be a part of me, I never want to see her again.