Childhood: Redux

Annabel Hynes

I tell her he’s beautiful even though all babies look more or less the same, round-cheeked and pink and squinty. I don’t want to lie by saying he’s exceptional just for being an infant, since I don’t believe it and everything I say lately sounds insincere anyway. My parents fawn enough for all of us, so I’m permitted to hover in the background, almost brushing the plastic curtain, keeping my back to the family on the opposite side of the ward so the other new mother doesn’t think I’m watching her breastfeed, or something. I swipe through my phone to have something to do, seeing people my age or my sister’s age on holiday, with friends, martini glasses tilted between strobing lights stuck on blue. I wonder vaguely what Instagram will be like by the time my nephew is a teenager. Will they have transformed it into a retail site? Will he care, likely becalmed in a climate crisis? What celebrities will be dead? It’s almost fun to imagine it, a world where I’m no longer young, where my sister’s baby-round cheeks are hollowed out and lined. Maybe I’ll be into wine-collecting. Maybe I’ll be able to suggest books for my nephew to read, since he’ll be reading by then, rather than peering vapidly at the stucco ceiling like an old man with dementia. 

Hold him.

I have eyes on me, now. I say, well, he’s just so small, which earns a round of titters, even though I was serious as a heart attack. I’ve picked up little siblings and little cousins and swung them around, toddlers to kids; I’ve given them piggybacks, thrown them onto beanbags, jumped on trampolines so they flew dangerously high. I’ve started games of tag and red rover and hide and seek where the penalty for losing was an Indian burn. You can’t do any of that with a baby.

Just like this.

He weighs next to nothing, a pair of eyes inside a cocoon of blankets. There’s a thick layer of crocheted material that I recognise as my mother’s work, blue on darker blue, because we found out the sex early, at the first ultrasound. The general feeling then was that there were to be no more surprises, thank you. 

Say hi.

My sister looks tired, so I oblige. I greet the pair of eyes and the stubby nose and the dubious mouth and I introduce myself, awkward under the gazes of my parents, who supervise like I might suddenly call hot potato. I poke my forefinger into the blankets like a monkey searching its friend for lice, expecting little more than a gurgle, perhaps a blink if the young master is feeling gregarious. A tiny hand curls around my finger instead, the grip as delicate as a draped cobweb, or a few strands of loose hair. It stays there, even as the eyes close, and I experience a moment that you wouldn’t really label an epiphany, stubborn as I am, though it definitely skirts some sort of personal revelation. It’s my imagination, intruding again, forcing me to consider what the world will look like when this kid is as big as me, or bigger, when that hand can swing another hand or hold someone in a piggyback or give someone else an Indian burn. My own hands are smooth, and I see my parents’ are not, and that is the thing that makes my eyes sting, more than my baby sister’s chipped nail polish or her baby’s own fingernails, half the size of rice grains. I hand my nephew back.

What do you think?

I’m already scrolling through familiar territory, the safety of skin-tight dresses and hashtag the squad and the plastered-on grins that result from being accepted into any institution, anywhere. There are no tiny hands and very few thoughts about the days and years and decades beyond what we’re living in right now. My hands are smooth. Nobody is getting any bigger.

Annabel Hynes is a graduate of the National University of Ireland, Galway, where she earned a BA with Journalism, and is currently studying for an MA in Literature and Publishing. She has had stories published by the literary website, and the journal Periwinkle Literary Magazine. Find her on Twitter @annabelhbooks or Instagram @yestosonnets.