I would imagine that Otis and Joy got sick of my near-daily visits to their apartment to see and hold bathe and snuggle with their sweet baby boy. I spent hours with him in my arms, sniffing that new baby smell. Certainly there were moments when there were other smells as well, but the smell of his breath, the smell of the top of his head, the smell that lingered after I uncurled his tiny fingers and laid his hands on my face - that smell became an addiction that has yet to be broken.
Kevin's little brother, Matthew, was born during my freshman year in college, so I didn't see him for several weeks - but when I got home from college, I had another baby to snuggle with and sniff. I know that sounds a little weird, perhaps a little creepy, but that new baby smell is unrivaled in its miraculous bouquet.
Otis and Joy's third and final gift to me, I mean their final addition to their family, Raquel, was born when I was in England. Why I felt the need to be so far from home when they were bringing new life into the world is beyond me, but there I was. She was born in July, and I didn't get back to the States until December. Far too long to wait to meet my first niece, but not so long that I missed out on the wonder of holding her little body in my arms, closing my eyes, and taking my first hit of the splendorous scent of new baby girl curls.
Three more nieces were born to my two other brothers in the years that followed.
I changed their diapers. I bathed them. I fed them. I babysat them all for free.
And when nobody was looking, I lifted their arms and smelled their perfectly formed armpits.
I peeled off their socks and smelled their tiny toes.
I nuzzled them and sang to them and shook my head at the magnitude of their beauty.
If my memory has not failed me and my calculations are correct,
Kevin is now 35, Matthew is 32, and Raquel is 30. They are married.
And they all now have babies of their own.
On July 21 of this year, Kristiana and I were on the tail end of a two day visit with Raquel and Jay and their gorgeous little girl, Aurora. On the final day of our visit, we met up with Matthew's wife, Monisha, and their son, Myles, and Kevin's wife, Susan, and their daughter, Pem. Raquel's husband was in the room with us - but he hardly counted - no offense, Jay, but that visit was all about the babies! Matthew and Kevin were both out of town for work - we were sorry to miss them, but again, it was all about those babies.
That afternoon, I watched those three new moms care for their babies, feed them, nurse them, and change their diapers. I watched them love those babies and nurture them, speaking to them with tenderness, laughing with them, playing with them, mothering them as though no one else was present. Even as I type these words, tears well up in my eyes as I think of the love that filled that apartment, the adoration, the intimacy between mother and child, between husband and wife, between the three new mothers, as they helped each other resolve the issues and challenges that came up in the few hours we spent together. One by one, I took each of those children into my arms, held them close, silently prayed over them, and breathed in that new baby smell.
There are far too many families in which terms like "sister-in-law" and "niece by marriage" designate some level of separation or formality. There are far too many families in which the presence of a mother-in-law in the room - be it the birthing room or the living room or the baby's room - means there is tension in the air. There are families in which an aunt and a cousin who live six states away are not easily or quickly folded into the new life of a newly formed family. I am blessed to say that none of those things is true for or among those three siblings and their spouses and new babies. My sister-in-law, Joy, is about as adoring, patient, generous, available, and encouraging a mother and mother-in-law as I have ever known. And those three new mothers are more like sisters than most "real" sisters I know. They all welcomed me and my daughter with open arms, generous hospitality, and complete trust in our love for them and their babies.
In this day and age where some people insinuate that immigrants need to be kicked out of our country, in this day and age in the world when some people insinuate that people of different backgrounds and cultures and languages cannot live together in peace, Kevin and Susan, Matthew and Monisha, and Raquel and Jay are proof that those insinuations are far off base.
My African-American brother, Otis, married Joy - whose family originated in Honduras.
Kevin married Susan - whose family originated in Cambodia and Laos.
Matthew married Monisha - whose family originated in Jamaica and Aruba.
Raquel married Jay - who is a first generation immigrant from Poland. He is the only member of his birth family living in the United States.
Truly a uniting of nations.
But back to the babies and that new baby smell.
Two days and two nights with Jay and Raquel provided me with many hours of bliss with Aurora.
How could I possibly be expected to resist this face???
The only thing I didn't like about my time with my nieces and nephew and their babies was the knowledge that I would soon have to leave them in NY and make my way back home to Charlotte. Truthfully, I try not to look at the pictures or reread my journal from those days too often - because I miss them so much. I am beyond sad when I think about all the days and weeks and months I will not share with them because of the distance between us. The milestones. The celebrations. Their first words and first steps.
If you scroll back up and look at the photos of these three little people in my arms, you will notice that my head is down in most of the photos. Do you want to know why? Because I am trying to draw in as many deep breaths of that new baby smell as possible.
Thirty five summers ago right now, I was most likely on my way home from Otis and Joy's house, after spending the day with Kevin... and his parents. I was most likely trying to figure out when I could get back there. Not much has changed. I am still trying to figure out when I can get back there and see Myles, Aurora, and Pem... and their parents.