Da's star is ascendant. Finian is making his first tentative tugs on the old apron strings. He is venturing from the bosom of his mother, working in the kitchen — the bosom of the home — to the realm of the first person he knows who is Not Mom: my office. (Until I get the garage painted, I am set up in what used to be called the nursery, though Fin has never slept a night away from his parents' bed.)
I hear the thumpthumpthump of his hands as he leaves the kitchen's linoleum and whacks hi sway across the wood floors of the living room and hallway. I see him motor in, all hesitation lost from hi scrawl now that he's stopped thinking about how it's done. He has take to tossing his head from side to side as he goes, but he pauses as he enters the room and sees me looking at him. He gives me an open-mouth smile and a little inhaled squeak of happiness, then marches over on all fours.
Gone are all thoughts of things soft and maternal — comforting breasts, climbable, clingable legs, high-security hip perches from which to view the world. Gone too are the simple, earthy pleasures of the kitchen pot shelves — the clash and clatter of pot on floor and pot on pot. Here in the office, things are plastic, electronic, abstracted. Power cords abound, tempting as garden serpents, but only one leads straight to the forbidden fruit — the coiled white snake connecting the phone to its receiver. Folded back on itself, it dangles, beckoning.... (Fin's interest increases in proportion to a thing's technological qualities. He likes the regular phone; he loves the cordless phone. He loves it even more than he loves the TV remote, in part because he many not have it.)
Fin talks a blue streak sometimes, litanies of complaint, rejoicing, persuasion, and invective, all of it incomprehensible to everyone but himself. But when his grandmother calls, he falls silent, not out of infantile octulance, but out of fascination with and desire for the phone. The medium destroys the message. He covets the phone. If I'm not expecting calls, I unplug it and give it to him. He fiddles awhile, not fooled, knowing that something is missing from the Adult Toy. He moves on. Pulling himself up on my chair, he juts his jaw and requests amusement. I put him in the crib next to the desk, where he amuses himself, another sign of his increasing independence.
Gadgets aside, Fin likes me, too. He has crawled to the door after my departure, sad to see me go. He smiles upon my return. He's 11 months old now, and people are starting to ask if he's walking yet .No, but he is standing, often for a long time. One of the first unassisted stands came late one night while we were all in bed. He crawled over to me, grinning, used to push himself upright, and stood, arms over his head, still grinning at me. Standing for Da — I was thrilled.
In the days of Mama's reign, Da had no part in Fin's dead-of-night awakenings. I lacked the auditory membrane that resonates to the stirrings of a hungry baby. Perhaps his few plaintive bleats for milk as he lay between us caused a ripple of want in my own dreamings, perhaps not — I was not conscious enough to consider it. Now, my parenthood has gained mass; Fin gravitates, even rolls, toward me in his sleep.
Several nights ago, I discovered the consequence of my new stature. Fin must have half-woken up and rooted and thrashed for a breast that wasn't there. Rousing himself, he investigated and found Da, snoring and useless, where Mama should have been. My own entrance into this story came seconds later, as I swam up from a deep sleep to discover the source of the commotion on my face. Finally, Mama got involved, waking to my groggy cries for help, seeing Fin kneeling and beating on me, and coming to the milkifying rescue. She laughs when she tells the story.
She also laughs at the memory of Fin's attentions to me in the kitchen. My brother Mark was visiting; it was after breakfast, and I was washing dishes in my pajamas. Fin has developed an intense interest in whatever is going on up on the kitchen counters. He loves to watch Deirdre cook, especially when it involves the purr of the Kitchenaid mixer. To signify this interest, he climbs her leg, eyes wide and pleading. He attempted the same with me, but as soon as his accent began, it reversed itself. The pajama he had grabbed gave way like sandstone. He flopped to the floor, leaving me pantsless. I was glad my pajama top was long, which prevented the extreme weirdness of being naked in the presence of both brother and wife.
Family matters. Easter will find us with my parents in upstate New York. April is not the prettiest month up there, unless the snow flares up and covers the frozen mud and dirty ice and leafless trees and general gray-brown feel of things. But I still feel a stirring, a sense of homecoming, a sense of place, as the plane lands at Syracuse's Hancock Airport. It's a sense that still doesn't come at the now-familiar sightings of Balboa Park, Mr. A's, Fat City, et al., as I return to San Diego.
Finian is a first-generation Californian. As things stand, he will grow up in California. The particular atmosphere of San Diego will be his first and deepest impression of How Things Are. He will not come from a tightly wound small town in the Northeast; he will come from a relaxed big city on the West Coast. What sensibilities, what mannerisms will he exhibit that seem foreign to me? What will he, the native, see that I do not see? What will he miss that I, the visitor, perceive, however vague and undefined my perception? What will I pass on to him? Even at 11 months, the boy is cause for introspection.