From the first time you hear it, there is nothing that can compare to that sound. It’s like hearing his heartbeat for the first time all over again. It’s like falling in love. It’s like every single amazing first and so much better than all of them. That first laugh, from deep within his belly, lodges deep inside you forever. You hold it like a seashell, and you think, if someone pressed an ear to you, his laughter would echo to the surface in all of its splendor. And you think, there is no sound you’d rather hear. You think, this is proof that magic is real, this laugh. This tiny mouth spread wide and happy, this tiny human making an anything but tiny sound that can only be described as pure ecstasy, pure love.
But when this same mouth bites down, into your shoulder or arm or thigh, and you writhe from his teeth sinking deep, and you scream, making a sound that can only be described as pure agony, and this same mouth, laughs. He laughs at your pain with that same laugh that made you feel so loved once. And you wonder what you have done wrong, because you always blame yourself. And you reiterate, “Nice, nice,” you try to show gentle touch and kisses and hands. But his hands, with their small, slender fingers, are much stronger than you might expect, and when they pinch just the smallest fold of skin, you can’t help but cry out, and again, he laughs. And your heart breaks. And you still hold and hug and kiss him, but you feel so broken by his laugh. And your skin is bruised and red in places, and you remind yourself, he doesn’t understand, but deep down, you fear he does. You fear that there is something about your pain that he finds pleasurable.
Then you recall, the first time he bit down on your nipple, his two front teeth sharp with hunger, and when you screamed then, he cried. He cried loudly because you were in pain. And for the most part, he learned not to bite you, he learned to suck nicely. But now, with a mouth full of pearls, he wants to bite everything. He bites the dog, and the poor animal three times his size, squeals and runs away. He grabs and pulls at the fat cats and they do the same. And no matter how many times you explain, “nice, gentle,” he finds joy in the rough and aggressive.
And you think, this is innate in us. This is natural selection, the strong and violent have survived over the weak, and you think, how much you want your son to be kind in his survival. You think, violence isn’t worth it. You think, he is full of so much love, this aggression must be a phase. It has to be. You hold on to the wise words of other moms that everything is a phase, it all passes, for better or worse. And this will pass. This will change and his laugh won’t bring you to tears.
That night, as you rock and sing to him before sleep, and he presses his face into yours, his drool and lips finding a home on your cheek, his mouth, mumbling “I do do,” as close as he gets to saying love for now, his mouth, letting out that magical laugh as you stroke his back, his mouth, soft and gentle and full of only love, you think back to his first laugh, back to all the laughs that followed. You remember, they are all borne of love, made of love, all of them, even the ones that hurt, especially the ones that hurt. You imagine you are a seashell full of love-laughter, so that the next time he bites and laughs—because there will be a next time—you can remind yourself, there is love behind this pain, and once this phase passes—because it will pass—only the love-laughter will remain.