H and I laid together at bedtime, face to face, my eyes inches from his. It started with me pushing my cheek gently into his back while he sat reading Tumble Bumble. For some reason this made him laugh, and he threw himself back on the mounded up comforter behind him. I laid down, too, our noses nearly touching, and leaned in to brush my eyelashes against his cheek. He laughed even more before protesting.
“No. No,” he said, shaking his head, laughing still.
“No. Okay,” I agreed seriously, and I stopped.
He brought the tips of his fingers together and said, “More. More.” I leaned in for another butterfly kiss.
“No. No,” he laughed as my lashes touched his cheek.
We continued this dance for what seemed a blissful eternity, but surely was just minutes. Amid the butterfly kisses, protests, reversals, and a handful of eskimo kisses thrown in for variety, H poked his finger at my eyelashes, saying, “Eye. Eye,” and laughed and laughed.
I wish I could bottle H’s toddler laughter so that I would have it with me for always, for those times he will be with his father or at school or away on some as yet unseen grand adventure of his imagining, for when he is grown and off growing a family of his own. The sound I would capture is honest and true and all that is right with the world. It is pure happiness, pure grace, pure joy. It is a lifeboat that ferries me from the thoughts that flood out the peace in my head to a calmer place. If his laughter had a smell, it would be crisp white sheets hung on the line to dry, damp earth after a rain, freshly mown grass, maybe the smell of wet gravel and rocks.
H is a balm. His laughter saves me.
He has saved me again and again. When postpartum depression pulled out all the stops to convince me I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here, pumping milk for H and then breastfeeding him saved me. When I walked out of the hospital every night for those first 40 days of H’s life, my heart shattered into a million pieces, coming back the next day to sit by his side and hold him for as long as was allowed put me back together. When the cracks in my marriage spread and finally pulled us apart, H’s immediate needs helped me be braver and stronger than I ever knew I could be. The sheer fact of his existence has brought down the armor around my heart, rendering me vulnerable in ways that are both profoundly unsettling and profoundly liberating. His existence has challenged my assumptions about what is important in this life and has helped me become a better version of myself day after day. Because of him I am more patient, more kind, more forgiving, more open, more vulnerable, all of these with room to grow. I am learning to be less afraid to look at my dark bits, my imperfections, the things I do not like about myself. I am stronger, and I am softer. I know, and I don’t know, and I am learning to embrace this contradiction, to surrender to it, to shed black and white ways of thinking that cause disconnection and suffering. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin.
H has no obligation to do any of this for me, not to save me nor to show me the way to saving myself. It is not, nor will it ever be, his responsibility or duty. I do not ask it of him, and yet he does it again and again. It is a gift he gives me unknowingly, an unexpected gift of motherhood I never knew I needed until he came along.
When he laughs, I pause. I take these moments whenever they come, be they in the middle of bedtime or when I am wrangling him into pants so that we can be out the door. The post-bedtime quiet alone time can wait. The appointment will be kept; we will get there even if it is a minute late. When he laughs, I close my eyes and still my mind. I am anchored in the here and now. H, his laughter, the call to be present, this is what saves me and how I save myself, again and again.