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Pinch the Baby, Make Him Cry


By Rebecca Swanson

He is blue.

It is far away, a planet from the sun, the sun from the moon, his small face from mine. I feel as if I am looking through a tunnel—worse, down the barrel of a gun—at his lips, his chin, his rigid body. Yet right at the end of my fingertips, I feel his warmth.

I must be looking through someone else’s eyes, because my own world has stopped as his world has turned blue. He must be someone else’s child, because my child is not, cannot be, blue.

My mouth seeks his mouth with no instructions, no directions, only instinct. When that fails, his seized jaw locked firmly into place, my mouth moves to the only opening it can find. I blow. I blow into his nose, his nose that is still small as a dime, his nose that will be big, someday, like his father’s. If only.

It works and the pale rushes in and erases the blue. The pink won’t come for hours yet. They will tell me, the paramedics whose faces I will never remember, that it was not the blowing that helped; it was just because I moved him. He would have been fine, most likely, anyways, they say. But I don’t care. Their words are meaningless because he is limp in my arms now, heavy, a delicious shade of un-blue.

I pinch his thick forearm, a last bastion of chubbiness between babyhood and toddlerhood. I am grateful when he cries, a weak mewl. I have hurt my child and I am grateful, because in hurting him I hear him.

I tell the story backwards, when they ask for it, because it is only the end that I care about, how I pinched him and he cried. Before that, he was blue. And before that we were downstairs, and somehow I must have gone up the stairs, because that was where we were when he stopped being blue. That was where my husband woke, and called 911; disheveled and unsure in his faded boxer shorts, vision fuzzy without his glasses, seeing the outline of his now limp, pale boy in his wife’s arms.

His boy is limp, and pale, but not blue, because we are almost at the end of the story now, the part where I pinch him. This is the part my husband sees, and he has no story to tell when they ask for it, because he has not seen the rest.

I tell them how we had been playing, my son and I. How he was dancing out of my reach, giggling, as I tried to catch him and put his shoes on. We will be late for Starbucks, I told him, teasing because it was a Saturday and it was Starbucks, and it didn’t matter if we got there in five minutes or five hours save for a needed infusion of caffeine for mommy.

The light peeking through our yellow curtains caught his hair as he twirled, and when he fell backwards I thought he had gotten dizzy and fallen down so I laughed.

I laughed. I laughed because I did not know. But I should have known, because when I retell the story I know clearly that little boys don’t fall straight backwards like arrows. They crumple. And they giggle when they fall, they don’t lay silent. They don’t convulse, marionette arms jerking on a string.

And they don’t, under any circumstances, turn blue.

This is the part of the story that is mine alone, no matter how much I wish it weren’t mine at all.

The rest of the story belongs to our family. My husband, who will never sleep soundly again, who will sleep with a baby monitor next to his ear for years to come even when our children are far from babies. My son—especially my son; every day for a lifetime, the story of epilepsy will be his. The story will even belong to his baby brother that will be born two years later, because I will treat both of them differently from now on, no matter how much I try not to. I will pull the car over on the side of the road if someone doesn’t answer quickly enough. I will hold my hands above their mouths, their noses, while they are sleeping to feel their warm, moist breath on my fingers. I will make them wear helmets on their tricycles, and will sit next to them while they bathe long after other children’s mothers take to reading a book in the next room. They will wear life jackets in kiddie pools, and on the beach. They will not know football, or hockey, other than from afar, for as long as I can hold their interest elsewhere. The baby, his options limited before he even came into the world, and despite my best efforts.

Because the blue has changed me. No one can see the changes, except, perhaps, my husband. He will think he shares the same fears, and he does, mostly, plus some all of his own.

But he will not know this one. He will never, I hope, know the blue. I will shoulder it alone, with lonely gratitude for each moment that it stays away.

And sometimes, in the night, I will pinch my children just to hear them cry.

Rebecca Swanson lives in Colorado with her husband, two young sons and toothless dog. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brain Child Magazine, River Teeth Journal, Scary Mommy and The Manifest-Station. Follow her on Twitter.

Art: Linda Willis


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