Mom Badge, #32

My son is just over a year old, and over the past 370-some days, I’ve encountered a number of situations that seemed pretty gold-star-parenting worthy. When he was just a couple weeks old, I nailed the sorta-single parenting thing while my husband spent his waking hours on a combine and his not-waking hours, well, sleeping. At four months, I survived sleep training and was rewarded with a more independent sleeper. At seven months, I singlehandedly painted the little squirm’s feet and stamped a couple of canvases for his grandmas (note to readers: everyone should be naked for this process).  When he hit nine months and decided he hated baths, I found a way to get his hiney into the tub long enough to douse the bugger in suds. Hell, just last week, I taught the boy to accurately answer the question, “Henry, what’s the elephant say?”

I’d even — sort of — found a way for the tyke to cope during the four-hour car rides that constitute visits to Grandma and Papa Simon’s house on the other side of the state. Just a couple short months ago, I actually prided myself on discovering a healthy recipe for 75% scream-free roadtrips:

  • leave by 8:30 a.m.
  • hang a blanket from the window instead of a shade — instant fascination
  • keep a bucket o’ toys within reaching distance (and toss a new one back there every thirty minutes or so)
  • don’t ever stop — not even for cops (I kid, I kid . . . kinda . . . )
  • avoid talking too much (Hank gets angry when he’s tired and can hear Mom but not climb all over her)

These tricks, coupled with Henry’s recent discovery of the miraculous snack trap have made those lengthy drives a bit easier to manage, especially since we make the trip home solo most of the time.

Today, though — oh, Lordamercy, today was a game. changer.

Henry woke up crabby. He ran a high fever a couple days this week and only returned to his usual plucky self yesterday afternoon. I expected fussiness. I plopped his little rump down in the highchair at 8:00, played some nursery rhyme videos on YouTube, and shoveled some breakfast down the hatch. (We don’t normally watch videos while we eat, but did I mention he was a screechy demon this morning?)

He settled into the car just fine and we found ourselves on our merry way after a pitstop for gas. In fact, hubris hit hard about 60 minutes into the drive when Henry conked out, thumb in mouth. Like an out-of-body experience, I remember thinking, Gee, I make cute babies. Note to self: convince husband it’s time to add to the nest tonight. Wink, wink.

ELL. OH. ELL.

Forty-five minutes later, nearly halfway into the journey, we hit a stoplight. Henry woke up. I cursed my misfortune (a lot, really; look, nobody’s perfect, okay?) and waited for things to reach Threat Level Midnight. Again, I thought: Wow! He’s been awake for 20 minutes and hasn’t even cried, really. What a little blessing.

Ten minutes later, things started to escalate and it was clear he wouldn’t be falling asleep again any time soon, so I reached for my failsafe: the snack trap. As I began to reach back with the chalice of treats, I noticed he seemed to be playing with something in his seat. I arranged myself for a better look. (He’s rear-facing still, so if I want a good look, I have to push myself up from the seat a bit and twist back real quick.)

Y’all. THERE WERE BLACK THINGS ALL OVER HIS LEGS. (Forgive me, but this is where we enter a caps-are-necessary zone.)

For a hot minute, I honestly thought some sort of evil bug had somehow gotten in the car and hatched a bunch of tiny evil bug babies all over my baby. My sweet, innocent, rosy-cheeked baby.

I dry-heaved for a moment before I went back for another glimpse: I needed to assess the damage. (Would I need to call an exterminator? Was I being punk’d? Would I have to trade my kid out for a newer model?) And that’s when shit got ugly.

Henry had lots of dark spots all over his legs, it’s true. He also had spots on his hands . . . and his arms . . . and his precious little face.

And the spots weren’t black. They were brown. Greenish-brown.

And they were wet. Or sticky. Or something.

Wait a minute. I asked my reflection, Does it smell funny in here to you?

One more quick look confirmed my worst nightmare — no, wait; that’s not right. I could’ve never dreamed this up: MY KID WAS COVERED IN SHIT, GUYS. 

From this point on, I blacked out a little bit and entered a world of being that was really just full of cursing (amazingly, not aloud) and bewilderment and just this sort of blind rage that really defies all description. We were on a four-lane, divided highway with twenty miles to rest stops in either direction, and my kid was covered in poop of his own making.

And alone. Did I say that already? I was alone. In the car. With my poop-bedazzled offspring. ALONE.

At this point, I was still driving and sort of deliriously hoping he wouldn’t do the unthinkable. And then, because #MurphysLaw, he did. While I watched the road with one eye and his seatback mirror with the other, my darling boy looked at me, looked at his poop-covered fist, and brought the damn thing to his mouth.

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This. Is. SPARTA.

I had one hand on the wheel and my rump was hovering over the seat while I reached behind me with my other arm and started frantically half-shouting HENRY DON’T PUT YOUR FINGERS IN YOUR MOUTH! NO — HEN — HENRY, STOP IT! DON’T YOU DARE PUT THAT POOP IN YOUR — HENRY FREAKING CHARLES SCHAFFER!

At which point, he started wailing tremendously and I came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to swerve single-handedly across fifteen more miles while simultaneously goaltending my child’s poop-mouth.

I was going to have to stop. On the side of the highway. Alone. And then? God knows what.

True to millenial form, I had the presence of mind to snap a quick photo of the little feller; although, to be quite honest, this was more of a stalling tactic at the moment. We were entering uncharted territory and I hadn’t a clue where to begin.

He screamed the entire time I wiped down his extremities, all the while finding more feces to rub all over the beloved Mama he kept yelling for so pitifully. (Hello? Right here, buddy. Maybe you can’t see me through the poop smears on my face . . . )

Somehow, I removed his onesie (on its first wear, of course) and swapped the worthless sonofabitchin’ diaper out for a clean one. Cars were zooming by and I have no idea how much they witnessed, but I hope at least a few of them were like, Gee, that poor poop-covered mommy. She deserves a massage.

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Post-bath boy. He’s obviously pretty pleased with himself.

The expunging process depleted my wipes stash (diaper and all-purpose) and rendered my travel-sized bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer worthless. Against my better judgment, I nestled the little scoundrel back into his seat (on top of a blanket, RIP) sans-clothing, snack trap in hand. Given the vast amount of poop I’d just cleaned out of the car — and the two hours remaining ahead of us — I reasoned the boy couldn’t possibly lay another egg of such extreme proportions. So I gave him snacks, because positive reinforcement. Right? Way to poop! Wanna yogurt drop?

Two hours later, by the grace of God and Henry’s obedient bowels, we were home, with nary a toot between the two of us. Into the tub he went, a twinkle in his eyes, and I could’ve sworn the little sprite winked at me when his cheeks hit the water. Still in disbelief, I tore apart the carseat and threw its washable bits in the laundry before piling two packages of wipes, one industrial-sized bottle of Germ-X, and three washcloths into the Jeep.

I’m still recovering from the trauma, but Henry’s just finished a two-hour nap and I don’t think he’s got the slightest memory of the Great Poop Problem of 2018. Meanwhile, I’m scheming up an actual line of mom-badges for those many moments we survive with at least an ounce of dignity (if not a bit of grace). Today’s badge? It definitely looks a bit like this: ūüí©

The Mother

Brown strands of hair clung to the corners of her mouth before the wind blew them free, whipping her choppy locks into tangles that could pass for bedhead (if the person scrutinizing her hair had just crawled out of bed, and had yet to put in their contacts, she thought). The woman sighed. There is no such thing as “wind-tousled” hair when one lives on the plains of the Midwest; rather, there are fifty-mile-per-hour wind gusts that render combs useless and tease manes into something resembling the wildling ‘do of Disney¬†Tarzan.

Why bother? She tucked a few errant strands back behind her left ear — not for the first or last time, to be sure — and pushed the screen door open. As the woman surveyed the horizon for the first time this evening, she kept a firm grip on the door. It had been opened against the unrelenting wind, but in Kansas, one could never be too careful. At any given moment, the breeze would shift its course, pulling the door from her grasp and slamming it back against the siding — bending the inadequately spring-loaded door closer and forever rendering it somewhat-less-useful.

The sky was bleached a milky white, as odd a color she’d ever seen it. There was no hint of blue, nor sign of the sinking sun (it was, after all, nearly eight) — only the faintest trace of umber mingled in with the white. Tomorrow, the forecast showed yet another wind advisory; it was likely the dust particles that were whipped into a froth today wouldn’t even settle overnight, and tomorrow’s sunrise would be obscured behind a haze of filth. It was impossible to accomplish anything significant with the wind battering you at every turn; even breathing seemed inadvisable on days like this.

The woman’s shoulders slumped as the screen door banged shut behind her. The house loomed behind her, its ghastly shingled siding an eyesore against what would otherwise be a relatively unblemished (albeit dry and sparse) horizon. From within the walls, she could just barely hear the whimpering cries — her son’s Bedtime Blues, as she’d mentally dubbed them. Every night, without fail: the crying. She wondered if he would ever outgrow it. Surely, the woman thought, surely someday he would fall asleep without the wounded cries of a child whose mother refused to rock him to sleep every night. Surely.

I could just go, she whispered to no one, not even herself (who’d know she was lying). She took a step, toes crunching blades of grass long-dead. The cries were fainter — was the baby still crying, or was this her imagination at work? Often, she didn’t know; especially in bed at night, when the pitch black seemed to play tricks on her ears. How was that possible? It was as though the darkness blanketed sounds, muffled everything except the whirring of her thoughts.¬†Definitely fainter. Probably her imagination.

The woman took another step, and then fifteen more, stopping only at the cool bite of the barbed-wire fence. Now she could hear nothing of her life inside the barracks house, only the trilling of some bird that didn’t know it was bedtime and the distant thrum of tires on the highway.

She turned to her right, holding the top wire of the fence loosely in her fist — sometimes, the wire grazed the inside of her palm, other times it was as though she were grasping air — and closed her eyes. Methodically, probing the ground for holes and pinecones with her tentative steps, the woman made her way to the end of the line. Now the white of the sky had given way to a murky blue-brown, and a hazy blob of orange lingered where sky met earth. The woman definitely could not hear crying, not the child’s or her own. There was only the sound of daylight dying in the arms of Night. And the sound of her pulse, which had grown louder as she walked along the fence, as though the barbs that had torn open her flesh had also unleashed a voice: her heartsong.

Eyes open, she trotted to the car that sat miserably where she’d neglected it the last time she had left the house (six days ago), blanketed in chalky dust and roasting inside — hot air belched into her face when she jerked the handle, it rolled over her like a wave of ocean born in the bowels of an oven.

The baby was still inside. He would be sleeping now, the woman knew. His father would be home in a few hours; before midnight, most likely.

I could just go. There it was again! That lie.

With a grunt, the car came to life at the twist of the key.

He’ll be home in a couple of hours. Maybe even earlier, she reasoned. Sometimes he’s home earlier. The sun was no longer visible at all, the sky now nearly-indigo. The car’s air conditioner had sprung to life immediately, bathing the woman at first in a warm wash of air; but now, her arms were chilled, an odd sensation coupled with the slimy warmth of her thighs against the leather seats. She flicked the lights on, bumped the gearshift into drive. Slowly, slowly, the woman released pressure on the brake, allowing the vehicle to move forward of its own accord. It creeped maddeningly slowly toward the gravel road, but she could not depress the gas pedal. The instinct was there —¬†press down — but somewhere the neurons that transmitted the message from brain to foot were misfiring, or not firing at all, the lazy little bastards.

They rolled onward, the woman and the car, neither in much of a hurry. She wondered if the baby still slept; sometimes, he woke up after an hour or two looking for his mother. They could spend all their waking hours together and he still needed the woman in his sleep, she mused. How magnificent, the needing! — she wasn’t sure that any other creature on the earth required so much from their mothers as infant humans. She knew for certain that calves could be weaned from their mothers within a handful of months, and of course by then, they were already foraging for the greenest shoots of grass and wandering farther from the herd every day. She crawled to a stop several yards before the road, the car idling tiredly at the woman’s indecision.

I could just go, she repeated.¬†I could just go. But — the thought hung in the air before her, and her stomach lurched at the rest of the statement. The woman sighed — it felt like her first breath since she’d exited the house — and shifted the car into reverse. She didn’t quite run the handful of steps up the sidewalk and back to the door, but there was a renewed sense of urgency. Was that the baby, crying, or were her ears playing tricks on her again?

Her palm grasped the smooth metal of the door handle as headlights swept over the yard.

Everyone was home, now.

Review: The Perfect Mother

Before I became a mother, I had a lot of preconceived notions about the “proper” way to do many mothering things — how to handle sleeping, whether to breastfeed or offer formula, what kind of behavior was acceptable from women who were mothers. To an extent, many of my core values remain unchanged; but my understanding of variations in mothering has deepened exponentially.

For example, there’s not a chance in hell I’m going to bring a baby into my bed to sleep between my husband and me — I’d be up all night, fearful of rolling over the wee babe or smothering him with blankets — but I know that parenting is often merely about survival (yours + theirs) and if that demands bedsharing from¬†some families, so be it.

And while I won’t pretend to never pass judgement on other parents (c’mon, I’m human), I do refrain from publicly shaming parents on social media, because #NotMyBusiness. Unfortunately, not everyone adheres to this standard, and it’s almost always the mothers who take the fall for “bad parenting.”

In Aimee Molloy’s highly-anticipated debut work titled The Perfect Mother, readers are in for a tense ride when a mom-buddies group gets together for a night out on the town that culminates in the disappearance of one mother’s newborn and an investigation that becomes increasingly public as the mother — and then the group of mothers — are put on trial by the court of public opinion. Winnie, Colette, Francie, and Nell are part of the May Mothers — a group of first-time moms whose babies arrived in the same month and by accident or grand design, happened to become friends in the process. The four (and some other, less important mom-characters) met at a park in NYC a handful of times leading up to the birth of their children and continued to do so after their births.

It’s Nell’s idea, to start with: a night out on the town. The mothers are frazzled with the fears and nerves and sleeplessness that constitutes early motherhood, their social lives have been reduced to the marginal park visits with one another, and their careers have taken a backseat to diaper changes and growth charts. Winnie seems particularly discontent, and the mothers have just discovered she’s doing it all alone (an unfathomable task, to be certain). So Nell makes arrangements for a sitter, wheedles Winnie into joining the girls for a few drinks and some dancing, and everyone’s life goes to hell in a handbasket within a matter of hours.

When Winnie arrives at her expansive Brooklyn home to discover her son missing, she’s heartbroken — though it seems, at times, not quite as much as she should be. (Like there’s a standard expectation for mourning mothers, right?) Colette, Francie, and Nell take an immediate interest in the outcome of Baby Midas’s disappearance and soon find themselves engaging in suspicious behaviors and inserting themselves into conversations and situations they should really remain distant from.

The novel moves fairly rapidly forward from the events leading up to and following the baby’s disappearance: I devoured this 300-page thriller in less than two days. There was a lot to appreciate in this debut work, though¬†a few components left me dissatisfied.

Here’s what worked:¬†Molloy’s real treat for readers lies in her mostly spot-on portrayal of the rigors of motherhood: the unforgiving pressure to breastfeed rather than formula-feed; the struggle to maintain a sense of personal identity, separate from one’s new identity as Milk Cow and Primary Caregiver; the unfairness of a constantly-judging (& publicly posting) society. At times she got a bit preachy (there’s a section on maternity leave in the US vs other countries at the start of the novel that, though absolutely accurate and on point, feels hyper-clich√©d and drawn out — most of her readers are likely to be women and have heard the facts and felt the fury themselves; ultimately, it felt like a tirade for the author’s sake, rather than the reader’s) but the majority of Molloy’s commentary on what it means to be a modern mother was on point. Molloy also has this very strong mob-mentality vibe going throughout the novel (re: judging public) but it’s a bit different from other books in which the reader is part of the collective we — in The Perfect Mother, the reader is part of a smaller collective we, the mothers group, which is less focused on burning a witch at the stake and more focused on the horrors done to one of their own. The mothers in this group have only known each other for a few months, and most of their friendships are far from deep and meaningful; but Molly effectively captures the immediately-tethering relationship among new mothers who are so ready to welcome others into their wobbly (& sometimes capsizing) boats of uncertainty.

Here’s what didn’t: The narratives are messily pieced together, leaving the reader confused about which character is the narrator at any given time. It’s like Molloy wanted to deviate from the now-traditional method of starting each chapter with a different character as the heading/narrator, but didn’t quite succeed in creating seamless transitions. There are lots of red herrings in this book, most of which worked for me; but a couple that I felt could have been trimmed. And mostly, Francie: oh, Francie. Her character was a hot-mess express and almost always unbelievable. Molloy isn’t wrong in that postpartum mothers have been known, on occasion, to effectively “lose their minds”; however, I don’t feel that Francie’s character had an adequate resolution, nor were her issues fully addressed. At several junctures, characters indicated they were “worried for her,” but never were definitive steps taken to correct these problems; instead, Francie was simply absorbed into the sweeping conclusion of the book and her borderline-psychosis was just accepted for what it was. Didn’t work for me.

Overall: 3 stars. This was a *pretty good* domestic¬†thriller and one that many mothers — first time or otherwise — will certainly appreciate, though organization was wobbly at times.

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I received an advanced copy of The Perfect Mother from Harper Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts above belong to me, myself, & I. Thanks to the publisher for the free review copy!

Motherhood, No. 3

You are playing on the shag carpet, the fat of your milky thighs spread luxuriously while you sit erect, spine rigid, arms waving erratically. It’s great fun to your ten-month-old self, this arm flapping extravaganza: every so often, a shrieking squeal tumbles up from your throat and you look at me with glittering eyes — See what I did, Mama?

You’ve begun to suck your thumb at odd times — no longer just for naps and bedtime — and as I watch you examine a battered wooden block, you suddenly pop your right thumb between your pink lips and begin slurping while the other fingers of your hand reach up toward your nose, feeling, and your left hand immediately floats up to your hair. With an open palm, you sweep your left hand across your scalp, ruffling wispy silver-blonde locks in that comfort-seeking manner of small children. Our eyes lock — your unfathomably navy blues trained on my deep chocolate browns — and you slurp a few more times, content. I’m suddenly struck: there is no greater stage in life, I am certain of it. Your every moment is somehow both remarkably simple and exhilarating. Children must be so generally joyous because they live in a constant state of discovery.

Still watching me, your lips part and curve upward, thumb sliding out as you break into a toothy beam. I smirk back at you, incapable of resisting your wily charms. I brush aside the faint echo of a thought I’ve had more than once: we’ll have to fend off teenage girls with a stick, someday.

“Henry-boy, hello! Can you wave hi to Mama?”

At the lilt of my voice, your face takes on a look of concentration and you wave your left fist in my direction.

“Hi there! Hello, baby!” I proclaim, wiggling my hands to your delight. You raise the right arm now, fingers spread wide, and flap at me. I think, not for the first — or last — time: I would give ten years of my life to preserve these unremarkable moments forever.¬†

In a blink, you’ve twisted around, back to me, as you blaze a trail to something more interesting and stimulating than just plain ‘ole Mama.

The Mom Admission Nobody Wants to Make

I’ve been in the heart of baby season for a year now — my own firstborn arrived last June, and the calendar has been peppered with the arrivals of various friends’ own first children since that date. I don’t want to say that Zack and I “started something,” but, it’s possible, right? . . . (I kid, I kid. Pun intended.)

The year has brought an onslaught of firsts and in the early months, I found myself bombarding two of my longtime gal pals (and seasoned moms) with daily texts about poop, nursing, rice cereal, poop, fevers, poop, bath time shenanigans, travel solutions, poop, and more poop. (Side note: there aren’t enough resources in the world about the weird stuff that comes out of babies’ bums.) Time and again, I thought:¬†Damn. I’ve got a great mom tribe. I am so lucky.

Before I knew it, I was the one getting texts from new moms, desperate for advice (despite my¬†clear lack of what one might call “expertise”). I guess, at least, there’s something to be said for having gone through the same experiences just months previously, rather than decades earlier like our own moms. So I tried helping the best I could.

Travel during nap times.

Use Aveeno bath products for sensitive skin.

Try Selsen Blue for cradle cap, if it’s really bad. But be careful! That stuff will burn through their eyeballs like acid.

Make your husband go with you to get your child’s vaccines.

Don’t apologize for not letting everyone and their mother hold your child in the heart of flu season.

And then I got a text, a few weeks ago, that was filled with remorse and pleading and probably a bit of shame: Do you sometimes resent your child?

Oh. Oh. This text made me stop in my tracks for a few moments before I fired back —

YES.

Plus some other stuff, meant to reassure my friend that she isn’t a garbage mom (because she’s not) and that she isn’t a weirdo (because she’s not, at least not in this particular sense) and that she isn’t alone (because, let’s get real — she’s definitely not). This was a question I hadn’t been brave enough to ask my own girlfriends in the frustrating, tiresome early months of my own motherhood; in truth, it wasn’t a realization I could even admit to myself. So I knew the courage it took to ask and I knew it was something I wanted to write about later, at the risk of being mom-bashed on social media by friends who¬†don’tevenhavekids and moms who won’t admit the truth to themselves.

Hi. My name’s Renee, and sometimes I resent my kid.

There. I said it.

I find myself experiencing bitterness when I’m run ragged, firing on a few measly hours of sleep and in a state of self loathing because #mombodprobs (which, of course, never keeps me from eating more chocolate . . . ). The resentment grows when he wakes up every night for weeks to cry inconsolably, even though I know the appropriate emotional response should be only compassion. It doubles when my husband lifts weights in the evenings — just steps out of the shop, gets in his car, drives to the weight room, lifts for a couple hours — while I have to fight guilt to ask my mother-in-law to watch Henry for another hour this week so that I can go for a run or meet the girls for a workout. The resentment deepens when I can’t drive three hours to meet a friend who’s passing through Kansas because Henry hates the car and it wouldn’t be fair to drag him all that way and I can’t ask Cindy to watch him again this week. It grows exponentially when we travel to my parents’ house and he screams three of the four hours in the car. It sneaks up on me when we’re with family for the holidays, and everyone wants to go to a movie or out to eat or stay up till 3 playing games and I’ve got to wreck their plans —¬†I’m staying in with Henry — or go to bed at ten, because he’ll be up at midnight, anyway.

I don’t remember the first time I was hit with a wave of nauseating resentment toward Henry, but I know I haven’t experienced the last — and I’m forgiving myself for each of those times and the moments to come, without hesitation. Here’s why:

  • Momming is friggin’ hard work. It’s often thankless, and the constant state of being needed but not appreciated can wear away at a girl.
  • It doesn’t mean I don’t¬†want my kid. I just don’t want him to cry all night, dammit.
  • I’m human, too. I’m selfish, even when I don’t want to be. I can try to repress the feelings as much as I want, but being a mom is a transition and it’s ridiculous to expect my own selfish desires about how I want to spend my time to just fade or disappear —¬†poof! — overnight.
  • The resentment always,¬†always melts away. Usually just as quickly as it’s come.

And here’s the big one:¬†for every moment of bittnerness or childish resentment I feel toward my little guy, there are a thousand moments of boundless adoration, overwhelming love, and sheer joy.

It’s a challenge, admitting this sort of truth to yourself; especially when you tried for so long to become pregnant or when you acknowledge that these feelings are directed toward a helpless, ten-pound squish. These rare moments of bitterness overwhelm me with shame. They make me feel lesser, even though I¬†know I am a good mama. They make me feel embarrassed and unnatural and cruel — and human.

In the past year, I’ve grown to appreciate just how much struggle, devotion, and sacrifice it takes to be a good mother. I’ve seen old friends with new eyes, regretted my years of teenage jackass-ery (sorry, Ma & Dad), and generally come to accept that motherhood demands nothing short of superhero status on a daily basis.

I’ve watched Batman, though, and I know that sometimes, even the best heroes have moments of darkly humiliating weakness.

It’s what makes them human.

Motherhood, No. 2

It is early morning — somewhere between the hours of three and four, when my brain is too fogged with interrupted sleep to comprehend things like time — and you have awakened me with your intermittent cries. Yelps, more like. Between outbursts, a pause of several seconds — long enough for me to think¬†Sure, he’s okay then and sink back onto my pillow before another cry wakes me from my sleep-drunken stupor.

Grumbling, I untangle my legs from the winding vines that the sheets have become overnight: your father doesn’t believe in sleeping like a normal human being (under the covers), so he is forever bringing a blanket to bed and hunkering down in it, pushing the sheets and bedspread to the side or foot of the mattress so that I end up in some sort of twisted pile of bedding that seems intent on strangling me as I sleep. You cry out again — I think you’re probably mostly asleep, the cries are so far apart — and I murmur reassurances that I know you can’t hear as I blindly walk the familiar path from our room to yours.

Your room is awash in the eerie glow of a too-bright nightlight that casts shadows on every wall. The worst is a spidery looking apparition that covers half of the room, mostly over your crib: the ghastly result of light striking your woodland-animals mobile. I secretly shudder at that leggy shadow every night, certain that your cries must have something to do with its looming appearance above your resting place. Can infants fear spiders? I’m sure any child of mine must.

On tiptoes, I lean over the top edge of your crib, my gut — still not recovered from carrying you, seven months later — creased in half by the hard walnut edges smoothed by your father’s shop machines.¬†Shhhhh, shhhhh, shhhhh, Mama’s here — you stop the instant my hands grasp your torso and I lift you gingerly from the confines of your bed. You’re hungry, though, and begin to grizzle feverishly as I carry you to our chair. I brace myself against the shocking chill of polished wood against the backs of my thighs and shoulders. In the dark, your mouth works like that of a little milk zombie: open, shut, open, shut, open shut — until finally, you find what you’re searching for and your eyes fold shut in a mixture of relief and ecstasy.

As you feast, I close my eyes and lean back, wondering who you will become. It is three-something in the morning and I am awake, picturing you twenty years down the road, always with that cheeky grin and creamy, smooth skin. You stroke my hand with your tiny plump palm, occasionally pausing to wrap a finger in your fist, as if to tell me¬†Thank you, Mama or — I like to pretend —¬†I love you most. Not that it’s a competition between your father and me; just, I am your most beloved now, and I will savor that, because later you will have friends and classmates and girlfriends and lovers and I will surely lose the privilege of that¬†most as I drift along in the wake of your expanding horizons.

Looking down at the rounded nub of your nose, I think of my teacher’s son, David, who took his own life a few months ago. Tracing the soft curve of your cheek with my fingertip, I pray.¬†Please let this child grow up to know he is beloved and help him to find fulfillment. And¬†Please always bring him home to me, whole. And¬†Please make him need me always.

You’re through with the midnight snack, your head has lolled back onto my forearm and your mouth is agape, a stream of milk leaking from the corner where your lips meet and trailing down your neck: you are one satisfied little boy. I’m not tired any longer; I’m wide awake with the kind of fervent panic I can only assume all mothers experience at one time or another. It’s a futile panic: you will get older, you will grow up and out, you will leave me for a different life. These are certainties, and though I hate the leaving, I know that it is better than the alternative.

I am not tired anymore, though, so I will hold you a little longer now. I love you, I love you.

I love you.

Motherhood, No. 1

You’re clambering across the wood floor now, undoubtedly picking up stray hairs and particles of God-knows-what as you slap your hands down and drag your belly forward — the undusted floor beneath a bookcase teetering with stacks of beloved prose beckons you. It’s just you and me, all day every day, and you turn as you hitch your rump to one side and tuck your hips up underneath you, propping yourself up on one arm to look at me with a wry grin before resuming your destructive path to a Not-Play Area.

Two teeth jut up from your lower gums, neat and perfect and unchipped by any sort of toddler disaster, tiny white Chiclets in an otherwise gum-and-tongue world.¬†Slap, swish, slap, swish, slap, swish — this is the music of my days, the thudding bass of your tiny body exploring the corners of our increasingly crowded living room. Peppered in among the thuds and scrapes, the excited pant and grunt of Baby Magellan en route to the Strait of Unclean Floor.

You watch me for a moment, lying on your back in all that filth that accumulates in forgotten corners beneath furniture, your head twisted to stare at me as you gnaw on a big toe with the dexterity of a contortionist. Saliva is pooling on the floor near your soft cheeks, and I think briefly — I should attach my microfiber mop to you, take advantage of this perpetual state of slobbering exploration. My own personal Roomba. I shake my head at the thought, and at you, with your body twisted in some sort of unnatural pretzel-ball while you make the kind of sucking sounds that would drive your father crazy if it were coming from someone at the dinner table.

Eyes still locked on mine — so steely blue, so unlike my chocolate browns — you release the foot from your firm grasp and purse your lips together, the tip of your tongue just barely visible before —¬†pffffthhhhffffft¬†— a raspberry, your favorite. Now I can’t help but laugh aloud, a quick¬†Ha! that only encourages you to blow another and another. In these moments, I cannot deny the thought that you want to bring me joy, that you desire my happiness; and the very generosity of that from a seven-month-old baby is startling to my untrained self.

You turn your attention back to the dust-furred floor for the sparest of moments before the edge of a blanket hanging down from the couch captures your attention and you’re off again,¬†thumpthumpthumpthumpthump. Through the belly of the coffee table, not around —¬†So smart, I think — and in the blink of an eye, you’ve crossed the room and the purple blanket has an eggplant corner, already soaked in your saliva. As you examine the possibilities of this Other Region, I edge closer on my hands and knees, bellying up to you on the floor, placing my face nearby your fattened feet. Di-uh-beet-us feet, your father calls them; swollen and pudgy like mine were when you’d been in my belly for nine months. I know it’s likely I’ll take a foot to the face, but I want to be near. I want to be able to breathe the air that you expel, as if there is some sort of magic in just that — the act of breathing. I suppose there is. I suppose I had a hand in making that magic, now that I think of it.

While you fumble with the yarn in the deep red shag rug, I marvel at the callused pads on the tips of your toes which you maintain with regular intervals of kicking the floor in your belly-down position. At the whorls twisting inward on either side of the crown of your head, forming a spiky peak of silvery blonde. At the fingernails that never seem to be short enough, despite several weekly trims. You emit another string of raspberries, tongue proudly thrust forward as bubbles form and rivulets of spit follow the curve of your chins toward the base of your throat.

I wonder, not for the first time — is it possible that I love you too much?