“It's funny,” David said recently. “When I was littler I never thought about myself in… like… like the way I think about other people. Now that I'm older sometimes I think about myself and the reasons why I do some things. Or I see what I've done and I think ‘Wow, look what I did,’ or ‘That was dumb’ or… as though I am looking at someone else. Is that weird? Do you ever do that, Mom?”
I nodded and looked up from my sketchbook. America's face was beginning to take shape under my charcoal pencil. A long history of stubborn desire to draw portraits in situ compelled me to try again. David sat beside me working on his own sketch.
“Yeah. I think the ability to step back and look at yourself is part of growing into a ‘bigger’ human being… bigger as in more capable of observing ourselves and our surroundings. You know what's weird, David? Every time I'm pregnant with a baby—like you, when you really kicked hard for the first time—my first instinct is always to put my hand there against that tiny foot and push back.
“It's like my first real interaction with my baby. And I always wonder about the baby—who he or she is going to be. Until then, I know I'm pregnant, but there's no interaction and it's hard to get to know you at all.
“Then, like when you kicked the first time, I pushed my hand against your little foot and I called Daddio to put his hand there and feel you. And then you kicked again. I remember that very moment because I had this idea come to my mind: ‘Oh. There he is. That's our son! One day we won't be poking at each other to communicate. Someday he'll be sitting next to me and talking.’”
“Like right now!” We both laughed and looked at each other with a sense of glad wonder.
“Yeah, and then I thought, ‘Someday he'll have his own baby kicking at his hand… ’”
David flipped his pencil rapidly in his fingers, thinking it all through. “And I'll come over to your house to tell you ‘Our baby kicked and remember when we talked about that and how I said I'd come over and tell you that our baby kicked for the first time… ’”
I nodded, “And then when your son is eleven years old and he tells you that he sometimes stands back and looks at himself and his own life… ”
“Then I'll tell him about feeling him kick inside of his mother's belly! And about you telling me about me kicking in your belly!”
David was silent and his sketchbook lay forgotten in his lap.
“It makes me wonder… it's all the same thing again and again. But not the same. I'm different than you. You're different from your mom and dad. It's like a story or a song that we're inside of and we have the time of our own life to figure out what it's about. What is it about?”
I didn't know what to say. It was a good question. What is it about? I put my pencil down and looked at him.
“It reminds me of America the other night going outside and looking up at the stars. She put her arms straight up like she was waving with both hands and said, ‘Mom! They're all looking at me!’”
We both laughed and I shook my head. “You know what's funny was that I started to say ‘no, you're looking at them,’ but I remembered us looking at the carpenter ant pile earlier this year and you asking me if they could see us looking at them. It made me stop and wonder if America was right. Maybe the stars are looking at us.”
“Which makes me wonder—” David said…
“—what's looking at them.” I finished.
We both gasped in surprise at the glimpse of forever we had uncovered.
Flashback: Central America, 8 years old.
With a sudden rush of physical memory I felt my face breaking through the surface of cold river water and the rush of air filling my eager lungs. I felt the warm sun on the part in my wet hair and the exciting fear and realization that the Belizian river we were swimming in was so deep I could not touch the bottom with my bare toes. The bright sparkle of the surface water reflected in the droplets on my eyelashes as I thought to myself, “Someday I'll remember this moment. Someday I'll remember remembering this moment… ” And the overwhelming realization that I was in “forever” made me laugh aloud as every sense opened to inhale with joy that thing we call life.
I spoke slowly, gaining my own understanding as I found the words, “And in that ‘looking at yourself looking out’ you begin to see where you're at and how you became.”
Reader, I see you reading this book and feeling my baby kick inside of me. Like a star gazing down, I know you're watching me; observing me observing you. Who is it out there singing this song that we're in, observing us observing him?
That, I believe, is “what it's about.”