It is bedtime, but Danith remains standing at the door of our bedroom. The light in the hallway frames his silhouette. Then, from our bed, I see his hand motioning for me to follow him, so I flip over the two blankets and gingerly slide out of bed, the cold chilling my bare ankles and feet. He grabs my fingers, and we tiptoe across the hall to the spare bathroom, where we stand at its window and gape down at our backyard. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he whispers.
“Yes,” I say. He circles an arm around my waist, and together we watch the snow fall.
Our backyard wakes up in the spring, when new leaves unfold like toddlers rising in the morning and when the Japanese magnolia spread their violet petals. But, on a winter night, when most of the trees have lost their leaves and snow has newly coated the ground and a silver grayness falls upon the property like a bedsheet, our backyard becomes sleepy. A cozy and dream-like kind of sleepy. Situated atop a hill, our two-story house allows us to view clearly the rolling hills that lead to the valley in the next town over — the faraway streetlights there make it seem that Christmas hadn’t already come and gone. Closer to home, we spy a car carefully crawling down our yet-to-be-plowed side street that ends in a cud-de-sac. The snow tonight is especially fresh and powdery, and it is everywhere.
“The flakes are so huge,” I say to Danith as my gaze pulls away from the car and to the snow falling outside our window. They drift down like rice paper crumbs. I heard that there are no two snowflakes alike. Have scientists actually researched this topic? And what was their reason for studying it? It seems that it would have been a waste of funding. Regardless, I find that conclusion hard to believe. In existence are so many, many snow crystals. So many. Just look at my yard. How could there not be two snowflakes alike? My eyes follow a crystal that is large enough that I can actually see the arms of it. I follow it until I can no longer, but I know that somewhere in my yard it lies with the other snowflakes, securing its place. And there I let it rest as my thoughts return to our Baby Erin who is sleeping in the bassinet beside our bed.
Very soon I will lift Erin, and while she is still peacefully sleeping, I will remove the sleep sack off her, carefully pull her legs out of her jammies, and change her diaper. Then I will carry her to the glider and place a bottle to her mouth, all while her eyes stay closed. I often take selfies of her and me at this time of the night and send them to our lovely gestational carrier.
Erin is three months old now. She weighed 6lbs 12oz and measured 20.5in at birth. She was born ferociously hungry, gulping down the colostrum and formula until she fell into a slumber that kept her from eating the following day. She was a strong newborn whose neck did not wobble and whose arms clung to me as though she were the baby chimpanzee I had wanted as a child. She has a soft dimple on her right cheek. She wakes up smiling (and, sometimes, before she falls asleep). And, sometimes, while she is asleep. When I press my face to her belly, she unabashedly giggles. While waiting for her arrival last year, I was worried for Erin. How would she view her place in our lives? She would be one of four children, one of two living daughters. When I had learned that she was a girl, my heart dropped a bit. If she were a boy, she would at least be of a different gender from her sister Nora. Speaking of Nora, we had waited fourteen years to bring her home, and only two for Erin. Would Erin ever believe our desperation for her?
At the window, I tell Danith that I want to wake up our girls to show them the snow. The ginormous flakes are beginning to stick to the tree branches, and white glistening mounds are beginning to form on the small hill where Danith had installed a wooden porch swing for me over fifteen years ago. The irony that I can see the depth and dimensions of our backyard better in the winter than in the summer astounds me. Danith tells me that I should wake up the girls. His response does not surprise me. I wonder if he remembers that at about this time four years ago, he and I were entangled in almost the same position, peering out at the snow in our yard, certain that our children were there. I tell Danith that I need to feed Erin now.
Back in our room, I open the bathroom door and leave it slightly ajar so that light from it lets me pace around our suite without tripping. After I warm the bottle in hot water and change Erin, I set her on my lap in the gliding chair, and cradle her head and neck in the crook of one arm. She is sleeping as she begins to suck on the nipple of the bottle. I can hear her soft suckle. I want to take my lips to hers. This type of feeding is called a dream feed; I assume it is because the baby is dreaming (sleeping) while eating. It is intended to reduce middle-of-the-night wakings, allowing the parent more sleep. I, however, give Erin the dream feed so that I could hold her while I am fully awake and am able to savor this alone time with her. After she finishes the bottle, I waltz around the room with her until she burps.
I sit back down in the glider and set Erin flat against me. Her plump head rests under my chin. She has her arms splayed out across my chest. Her legs are tucked under her bum, which I rub with one hand. My other hand pats her head that is not at all perfectly smooth. I stroke the warm band across the back, where her fine hair had shed. I trace my fingers along the skull bones around the fontanelle. I caress what feels like crests and crevices. I squeeze her body, and I half believe that I could swallow her if I gave it a try. I am overwhelmed by the weight of her flesh, how it sits on me, adding to who I am. I thank her for being here. I thank her for being a daughter. She suddenly whimpers and buries one arm under her face, and then she is sound asleep again. I feel that I ought to set her back in the bassinet and return to bed myself. Instead, I press my lips to the crown of her head and quietly cry. Nothing about her is a dream. She is real. She only feels like a dream.