At first I'm not sure why I'm awake, and it's annoying: I've come to on my stomach, and it's 3:37 a.m., and nothing disrupts my sleep, and I'm going to ignore it. But, after what can only be called fitful dozing, by 4:30 I'm ready to give up the game and at least indulge in some reading.
It's not until I'm making my toast that I wonder whether I've awakened because something has gone wrong somewhere. And so I'm back to thinking about what I almost posted yesterday: some days, when the baby gets herself really worked up and unconsolable in the car, her mother will call me on her mobile, put me on speakerphone, and let me talk until the baby goes wide-eyed and quiet. "Listen," she'll say to the little one squawling, "it's Auntie S!" I coo out the baby's name in my very best soporific sing-song, the kind of voice I'd use if I were talking a person next to me into sleep. And, while my beloved and intrepid friend stays quiet, piloting her car through the streets and highways of the town that will be her home for only a matter of weeks now, hoping that her daughter will forget everything but the quiet onrush of words coming from across an ocean, I tell her stories about what I've seen, and I let the stories carry me on to whatever comes next in my associative mind.
"Do you know what I saw today?" I said to her on Wednesday. "Today I saw ducklings, three little spotted ducklings, walking with their mother on the lawn at King's College, and they were little baby puffballs, even smaller than you, small girl, and they were tumbling over each other and falling down, and their father was walking away from the whole group as though he was thinking that he'd had no idea what he was getting himself into, having a family like that. And then I went to evensong, and the readings were psalms that were beautiful, and then after evensong, the sun was out but it was also raining! And that meant that there was a rainbow in the sky. Someday you'll learn all about why there are rainbows when it's sunny and rainy at the same time, but basically it's because water refracts light into its constituent colors, and someday you'll learn the mnemonic for the colors, the only mnemonic I can ever remember, which is ROYGBIV, and ROYGBIV stands for red, orange, yellow, green, blue...[indigo, her mother says quietly, and as the voice-operated part of her mobile's speakerphone kicks in, I can hear that the baby has gone quiet], and violet. I have a little prism that my father gave me when I was not much bigger than you are, and with that prism, you can refract the light whenever you want to, and if I can find it again in my boxes of treasures that are all still stashed away in my old closet in my parents' house, I'll dig it out and show it to you when you're a little bigger, and you can learn about the spectrum of visible light that way."
When it feels safe, my strong, strong friend will give me a progress report. "She's listening to you," she'll say. "She's looking toward where your voice is coming from, and she's listening." I'll talk some more, about the Trinity goslings about which I've heard but haven't yet seen, about the different trees that are flinging out green fire, about swimming in the college pool. Sometimes I talk about things that are just for her mother's benefit, but I keep my voice low and as melodious as I can make it, and I know I'm crooning my low song of comfort to the woman who placed the call as much as to the child strapped in behind her, and all the while we are realizing together though we never say it out loud that we never grow up, never ever grow all the way up, and oh what will it be like to start losing the people who strapped us in and drove us around, and oh what stories could possibly help us stop squawling inside, where we are very young and small indeed at the same time that we are fierce and proud and more capable than we might ever have expected we could be.
And the sky pinks around the west, the way I'm facing, and it is 5:17, and halfway around the world a baby should be going to sleep right about now.