Life after Leo, part II: a chance to go back

Originally published on June 11, 2015

6.11.15On a recent Thursday morning, I packed the car for a weekend trip to West Virginia. I stowed a bag for each boy, a soccer ball, a cooler, then I went upstairs to pack Leo’s bassinet.

Standing before the bassinet, I realized it had been a long time since I’d taken it apart. I remembered that you had to collapse it in just the right order or else the sides wouldn’t fold at the end. I tried pushing on the bassinet in a couple of places and looked for a lever that I vaguely remembered was key to the whole operation. I couldn’t find it. Frustration stirred in my ribs, then gave way to a different feeling—in an instant I was back in our old Philadelphia apartment, standing by the same bassinet with Jay, an infant, on the bed beside me.

In addition to the expansion of needs, which I wrote about last week, this has been the other main theme of Leo’s arrival—a sense of going back.

Late on his first night home, after Jay and Wally were asleep, Caroline and I lay with Leo upstairs in our bedroom. We looked at him on the bed between us. He made some little noises, brought his hands up near his face. I was struck by how at ease I felt. I remembered that on my first night home with Jay, I felt completely overwhelmed by the task before us. Six years and a Wally later, the idea of caring for an infant didn’t feel overwhelming at all. This has made it much easier to enjoy having Leo around.

For that reason, we refer to Leo as a cherry, a bonbon, a little something extra. Caroline and I never contemplated not having kids, or stopping at one, but we might have held fast at two. As Leo grew in her belly, there were moments when Caroline and I wondered what we were doing. Life was so good, we seemed to have most everything we wanted, yet here we were, about to throw a whole new life into the mix.

And, Leo’s arrival has been disruptive in the ways I wrote about last week. But the stronger feeling, and the feeling I expect to see grow over time, is the feeling I had one afternoon just before Christmas. Caroline’s family was visiting and in a quiet moment I surveyed our house. Here was Jay playing cards at the dining room table, there was Wally reading on Grammy’s lap on the couch. Then I looked in the corner and saw Leo, two weeks old, asleep in his seat, and I felt our cup runneth over.

Leo has almost entirely complied with this idea we have of him as a sweet something extra. True, it was an ordeal getting him to drink from a bottle, but besides that, he has made being an infant look easy. He’s cheerful, amiable, fun-loving, good in the car, content. Family activity often roars away without him; Jay and Wally dash to the playroom, Caroline and I follow, and Leo is left alone in his bouncy seat on the kitchen counter. For the most part, he doesn’t seem to mind.

In life, we often wish we could relive our most vivid experiences, or wish we could do things over given what we know now. And, in most cases, it’s best to set those kinds of wishes aside. You can’t swim in the same river twice, life goes on, there is no going back.

Yet here is Leo.

Caroline and I talk sometimes about how Leo has gotten less of the royal retreatment than Jay or Wally did. We’ve taken fewer pictures of him, been less amazed when he rolled over. He has had to fit himself into a story already in-progress. But we also think about how, years down the road, there will come a time when Jay has gone off, and Wally has gone off, and it’s just the two of us and Leo at home. I think about how those years might feel, and I imagine that having Leo around then will feel a lot like having Leo around now—like an act of grace.

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