It was supposed to have been a tender moment to cherish forever, the first meeting between mother and child. But minutes after our son Jonathan was born and laid at my side, he took one lingering, cross-eyed look and sneezed in my face. I think our relationship has been improving since then, though it's sometimes difficult to tell from the looks I get - or don't get.
During our first few weeks together Jonathan would occasionally fix me with a wistful little smile when I picked him up. I melted each time it happened and would have gone on burbling over his appreciative gaze if it hadn't struck me one day that he wasn't looking at me at all. He was captivated by the ceiling. Blank white spaces fascinated him, and no amount of kootchy-cooing could distract him once he'd focused on a door or window shade.
Watching him save his most beguiling smiles for the walls was devastating enough, but when he ignored the funny faces I made and laughed instead at the plastic foam balls hanging over his crib, I was ready to burn my playful-parenting books. After reading in those books that infants like to look at geometric patterns, I'd dutifully spent several hours painting concentric black circles on white plastic styrofoam balls to create some nifty bull's-eye targets. What the books neglected to mention was that babies not only enjoy looking at targets, they also love to talk to them. For hours on end. Forsaking parents and all their attempts at witty and stimulating conversation.
Thankfully, the day finally came when Jonathan began to realize that I was the one in charge of meals. What had passed for a faint flicker of recognition suddenly burst into a smile that set his several chins quivering whenever I came into view. If lunch or supper was immediately forthcoming, the grin only got sillier and sloppier. But if I dawdled over some other chore for one too many seconds, the charm dissolved into wide-eyed anxiety: Would I or wouldn't I? And when?!
As the weeks passed, his repertoire of expressions continued to expand, along with his nicknames. There was ''Rose'' for his sweet rosebud smile and ''Budge'' for his fussbudget frown, ''Sir Winston'' when his jowls hung low and pouty, and ''Sheikh with a Shriek'' when he emerged turbaned and trembling from his bath.
Although Jonathan couldn't call me names, his exasperated sighs often were comment enough. Especially when I took him out in public dressed in a pink playsuit, mouse-shaped booties, and white knit hat with bunny ears.
For a while there wasn't much he could do about his various humiliations. He tried staring imploringly at me but that only made me laugh - and being laughed at was worse than being caught at the grocery store in Aunt Hattie's crocheted bonnet.
Now that he's grown into a wise young man of three months, however, Jonathan has come up with a way to assert himself and exercise some needed parental control. Nowadays if he sees me stifling a giggle when he's stuck a piece of Zwieback toast in his ear (after taking careful aim for his mouth), he slowly, ever so triumphantly turns his face completely away and refuses to give me so much as a rebuking frown.
Tender? Maybe not. But certainly a moment to cherish.