Today Little Friend started wondering about future candy windfalls in her life. As in, “When will it be Easter again?” The Easter candy pile, carefully doled out a piece per day, has dwindled to a sorry lot of yellow and orange jelly beans, a few forgotten M&Ms and the legs and feet of a chocolate bunny. Clearly, she’s trying to plan ahead.
I inform her that “Next Easter” will be a year away.
“But I do not think I can wait that long. How old will I be then?”
I add a year onto her current three and say, “You’ll be four.”
“Nooooo!” the wail begins. “I do not want to be four. I want to stay three!”
That makes two of us, Little Friend.
With a mere month left in this pregnancy, a day can’t pass without the minutes and hours reminding me that our family number of three will soon be expanding to four.
Can I confess something?
I do not want to be four. I want to stay three.
At the risk of revealing myself to be the selfish, frightened, change-shunning monster that I am, I really, really don’t want to lose the “normal” life I have today. It’s a life that happily revolves around a triangle of Mama, Big Friend, and Little Friend. I shudder to think what will happen to those sides of the triangle when we rearrange into a square. Will we break, crack, bend, or split into permanent stretch marks? Will all that is beautifully balanced in life be cracked on the sidewalk like Humpty Dumpty?
Once upon nine months ago I was tempted by visions of candy: the gold-spun heads of two children huddled at play, four blue eyes flashing with mischief at the dinner table, the round, solid heft of a baby bum cupped in my palm. I wanted more of that candy.
Having a sweet, lovely, scrumptious daughter like Little Friend will do that to you. You can’t stop at one bite–you want to devour that chocolate bunny from ear-tips to toe-tips. And then you want seconds.
But like Little Friend, who wants to have TWO piles of Easter candy while she’s still three, I wished for the impossible. I wanted to add a human being to the midst of our family without changing a single, precious dynamic.
It’s impossible to have two Easters when you’re three. It’s impossible to grow to four but still stay three.
I know what I’m supposed to be saying at this point in the pregnancy: I’m so excited. I can’t wait. I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m ready for it. Grin. Squeal. Gush.
But I can’t say those things.
I can say the following: I like full nights of sleep. I like no diapers to change. I like being able to run out to the store to pick up two things and not have the errand take three hours plus a breastfeeding session in the middle of a parking lot. I like being able to cut up, instead of purée, a dinner. I like having a child who can put on her own underwear, even if one of the leg holes becomes a waist hole. I like the way things are right now.
I don’t know if I’ll like four.
So while it seems that every expectant mother around me is just that–happily expectant for the change to come–I’m feeling a bit morose about the unknown.
Isn’t it a tad silly to be morose about the unknown? Especially if that unknown is being defined by the incomparable, miracle-working blessing of a new baby?! Most of the life events that I’ve tiptoed up to with reluctant steps (marriage, motherhood, career changes, to name a few biggies) have all gone so well, I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for anyone else’s. So when do I learn my lesson? When will I learn not to quake at the unknown but instead to love and embrace what is known while also leaving some room in the bear hug for future potential?
The one thing that’s pulling me onward toward four, like Little Friend accepting the inevitable fourth birthday if it bribes her with another bulging Easter basket, is the sheer joy of knowing Little Friend. The way she arranges birthday parties for her stuffed animals. The way she makes up nonsense words and then giggles as we try to repeat them. The way she goes “squeak, squeak” in the morning pretending to be a Baby Koala wrapped around Big Friend’s neck. The way she directs me to be Princess Snow Fairy Snow White while she’s Princess Snow Fairy Cinderella. The way she directs me to be a mean step-sister when she’s in an impish mood and set on destroying Cinderella’s dress. The way she asks if every single bit of food is “healthy or not healthy?” The way she insists that each package that arrives on our porch is for her. The way her footsteps thunder at “nap time” as she chants “Jack Be Nimble” at the top of her lungs.
I’m not excited about being four…I’m anxious. I know it’s going to hard, and I really don’t think I’m ready for it. But, bottom line, if I get to know another Little One who turns out to be as intoxicating a human being as Little Friend, then I guess maybe, just maybe, I’ll be okay with four.
There are enough unsweet moments of motherhood. The goldfish crackers crumbled all over the backseat of the car moments. The potty dance that ends in soggy underwear tragedy just steps away from the toilet moments. The baby vomit in your hair that goes unnoticed by you (but not everyone else) all the way through the grocery store moments. The high fever in the middle of the night doctor on speed dial moments. The I miss my once upon a forgotten time of full night’s sleep moments.
Then there are the sweet moments. Sweet moments that are so overpoweringly intoxicating that they cause immediate and irreversible selective amnesia of each unsweet interlude.
Sweet moments, like when Little Friend wakes up early and finds me still in bed, eyes barely cracked open to accept the first light of day. She pads in, hauls uncoordinated toddler limbs onto my bed, tucks herself in next to me with her back against her daddy’s still-warm, recently-vacated pillow.
Her tiny hand stretches out to rest on the top of my belly.
“That’s MY baby” she announces with a certainty unique to someone who is three years old, a first-time big sister, and of fixed mind on just about everything she says, thinks, or does.
The baby bats at her hand playfully (of course “playfully” because surely sibling rivalry can’t start in the womb?).
Little Friend feels the wallop and her eyes flash with wonder-sparkle.
Little Friend’s hand looks so minute resting on that mound of baby body. Her hand still has those baby dimples puckering the knuckles. But it’s about to look gigantic in a few weeks when there’s some hand even smaller to compare.
The sweet moment continues.
“When my baby is born,” her plan begins, “I’m going to bake her a cake and blow up balloons for her. And if it’s a girl, I will put a picture of a baby girl on the cake, and I will write ‘HIJKLMNOP-It’s A Girl’ so everyone can see. Then I will take it to the hospilator where I was cut out of your tummy, and my baby sister will smell me and think, ‘Hey! It’s my Big Sister!'”
And if the baby is a boy?
“I will write ‘HIJKLMNOPQRSTUV-It’s A Boy.”
That’s my girl. My sweet moment to end all sweet moments girl.
And just so no one missed it, that’s HER baby!
I’m now officially two days more pregnant than I’ve ever been before. Little Friend made an early entrance into the world at 34 weeks and 5 days. This time around, I’ve made it to a whole 35 weeks.
I can say I’m actually happy to experience–finally–the third-trimester woes I’ve only heard recounted secondhand: exhaustion, aches and pains, bruised ribs, heartburn, swollen feet. I even like rolling out of bed like a mama-walrus. I lie. I don’t like that part at all.
When you don’t have it (whatever “it” is), it’s all the more precious when you finally get a taste of it.
So hello third trimester. Hello stretch of pregnancy I’ve never met before. Hello delivery date waiting just five weeks away.
35 weeks today, and all is well.
“What? Say it louder!”
Her voice hurtles down from her upstairs bedroom door. It seeks me out on the couch where I’ve collapsed with the energy gas tank blinking empty. It seeks me out over the volume of Downton Abbey or Friday Night Lights or whatever other brain soothing show has agreed to offer reprieve for the hour after bedtime.
“I said go back to bed,” I toss back upstairs toward her.
I picture her squatted in the dark rectangle of her bedroom doorway. She’s a good kid, my Little Friend. She won’t trespass beyond the boundary of bedroom carpet to hallway wood. At least her body won’t trespass.
Her mind and will and voice desire nothing more than to be with me.
So she commands attention. Asking for drinks. Needing to go potty. Wondering where her rubber green frog has gone. Asking if it’s morning time yet. And when I refuse to budge my own body from the boundary of the couch, she demands that we continue communing for the day. Just at a louder volume.
“Say it louder, Mama!”
Half of my mouth smiles. The other half frowns. The frowning part is the good-Lord-I’m-exhausted-and-do-I-really-have-to-get-up-and-do-it-all-over-again-tomorrow part. The frowning part is the I’m-going-to-cry-if-I-fold-one-more-basket-of-wash-or-make-one-more-meal part. The frowning part is the dreaming-of-California-sun-red-convertible-with-no-diaper-bag stashed-or-goldfish-cracker-crumbs-in-the-seat part. It’s the part that grits teeth while yelling (oh, such a mature woman am I that I don’t go back up to tuck her in again), “I said, IT’S BEDTIME! GO BACK TO BED.”
But there’s also the half of my mouth that smiles. The smiling part is the motherhood-in-context part of my brain that floats detached from the nitty-gritty of life and hovers somewhere above my head like a trusty weather balloon. That smiling part of my mouth realizes that sleep will come, the laundry will be folded–or not, dinner will be eaten and enjoyed–or not, and all these other nitty-gritty frowny things in life will, someday, pass. My evening will be quiet. There will be no “Say it louder” command tumbling downstairs to keep me company or drown out my TV volume. And I might miss it. Just a little bit. That smiling part is the remember-what’s-important-and-cherish-it-now part.
So what I should be yelling back upstairs, as loud as my lungs and vocal chords can package it, is the following:
I LOVE YOU.
YOU DESERVE TO BE CHERISHED.
AND SQUEEZED TILL YOU GIGGLE.
AND TUCKED BACK IN BED AS MANY TIMES AS YOU NEED.
YOU’RE WORTH ALL THE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS…MISSED TV SHOWS…UNFOLDED WASH.
YOU MATTER TO ME. SO. VERY. MUCH.
YOUR THOUGHTS ARE IMPORTANT.
YOUR FEELINGS ARE IMPORTANT.
YOU ARE IMPORTANT.
(And I’ll say it even louder:) I LOVE YOU.
Now go back to bed.
I’m grateful to The Gypsy Mama for today’s inspiration and place to share some 5-minute writing with other inspired writers.
If a pharmaceutical company found a way to synthetically reproduce whatever cocktail of hormones sparks the pregnancy nesting urge, I’d be one year-round happy, productive woman. And I’d have one exhausted Big Friend on my hands. I’ve lost track of where the “brain off” switch is, and we’re humming away like whirling dervishes around here painting rooms, rearranging pictures, optimizing space, creating solace, planning big. And there’s something about this need to get-it-all-done-before-the-baby-cyclone hits in May that has driven me to stumble across some lovely favorite finds that I just have to share with you today.
(Of course, looking over this list, you’ll wonder how anyone ever found anything of note prior to Etsy and Pinterest. I wonder, too. Because I just can’t get enough of these sites.)
By the way, if you see the UPS man lurking in my bushes, everything’s a-ok. He’s probably just avoiding me, because I want to give that man a big, squeezy, nesting hug each and every time he walks up my steps with a package. I love favorite things.
This canvas Easter Basket (can be customized with color and initial)
These Easter eggs (a crunchy mama’s replacement for the plastic doohickeys)
These French sneakers (swoon)
This flag bunting for party or room decor or both
This Pittsburgh print (other cities offered as well)
This decadent cookie recipe
This artwork for nursery or home
And more artwork for nursery or home (how will I ever choose?)
This baby hat (it’s coming home from the hospital with us, with baby inside)
This birth announcement
This little girl’s dress
This Easter garland
These tempered glass plates for baby and toddler (not a single plastic chemical in sight!)
These mason jar planters for herbs in the kitchen
This home/life organizer
Oh, and this kid, too.
Have you got any favorite things to recommend while I’ve still got my UPS man at my beck and call?
She woke up at midnight as soon as Big Friend’s hand touched her back. She sat up. Palmed her bangs out of her face. Said, “Oh hi. We need to go into the bathroom.” Big Friend, home from a week’s business trip to Denmark, rubbed her sweaty back. Tucked her back in. Promised a trip to the bathroom in the morning. “No, Dad,” her groggy voice insisted. “I saved a goldfish for you. I left it in the bathroom.”
Things Little Friend likes: squishy balls, rubber things, gummy things you can eat, and goldfish crackers. Yesterday a package arrived from her savvy grandparents with a veritable sheet cake of rice krispie treats sprinkled with shamrock sprinkles. Tucked at the bottom of the package was a milk-carton box of rainbow goldfish crackers. The rice krispie treats were shoved aside, and that darn milk carton went everywhere with us for the day.
At lunch time, a sole orange fish was separated from his rainbow brothers and placed in the middle of Big Friend’s placemat. Right in front of his empty chair. A chair waiting as patiently as a Little Friend for him to arrive home. “This one’s for Daddy,” she pronounced. Then, a bit later, “Maybe I should keep it in here for safe-keeping.” The fish went back into the milk carton. That darn milk carton went everywhere with us for the day.
I thought I’d heard the last of that goldfish.
Until bath time. That darn milk carton went everywhere with us, including the bath. I finagled it out of Little Friend’s hands just prior to the bath plunge. Setting it on the counter, it felt suspiciously empty. We did bath time. I forgot to throw away the empty carton.
I forgot all about the last goldfish.
But Little Friend didn’t. “We have to go to the bathroom, Dad,” she insisted. Because she knew she had stashed something precious there. Something not for me. Not for her. Something saved. all. day. long. Just for him.
Overhearing midnight conversation, I peeked in the bathroom. Rattled what I thought was an empty rainbow goldfish milk carton. Something small scuttered around inside. I tilted it at an angle to catch the light, and saw it. There. In the corner. The last goldfish.
I think I know why Baby Jesus’s heart would have warmed at the Little Drummer Boy’s gift more than all the caskets of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that cracks a smile on the face of the universe. That offering of the last goldfish has tattooed a smile on my heart that heals the scratches of the normal stresses of my day. I hope it brings a warm-fuzzy glow to your heart today, too.
I stubbed my little toe the other week. It broke. It broke in that kind of blood blister-purple-yellow-green-red polka dot kind of way. I wore my crocs everywhere for ten days as I limped from place to place and desperately tried to dodge smashing blows from other people’s feet, namely feet the size of scurrying mice.
Even now, after the multi-stage bruises have faded, my little toe still aches from time to time.
I’ve restubbed it a few times here and there, each time with a mental scream of panic over how bad it would be to re-break that teeny bone.
I’ll bring this little pity-party anecdote into some kind of context, I promise. Bear with me on this one.
I dropped Little Friend off at preschool minutes ago. I should say I peeled Little Friend off at preschool minutes ago. She was that kid who suction-cupped to her mother’s tree trunk of a thigh until the teacher gained a sloth-child around the neck when the mother left. Little Friend’s not a crier or screamer. I’d call her a “brave griever.”
Last night my brave griever was climbing everywhere she shouldn’t on a chair. Moves which ultimately ended in a spectacular tumbling display as she toppled over the arm of the chair to wedge between chair wall and radiator. I braced for the gasp-wail-scream scenario. It didn’t come. Instead, from the vicinity of the chair leg, I heard, “That was just my trick.” The last word trailed off into a tightly stoppered bottle of tears. Then Little Friend collected herself from the floor and shuffled behind the chair, stuck her nose in the wall’s corner, and silently communed with her fear, surprise, and bruised ego.
So this morning, the brave griever peeled away from me with clenched jaw, white knuckles, and a mute appeal in her blue eyes: “Stay Mama, stay.” I have a dull ache in my own heart from leaving her. It’s easy to see why–no mom wants to see her kid in pain.
When I pick her up from school, her pain will be nowhere in the picture. She’ll come flying to the door with a teacher trailing bearing various crafts, back packs, and half-munched snacks. She’ll be grinning, calling “Mama.” She’ll fling her body against mine in an all-heart hug that will knock me back on my heels. She’ll laugh, giggle, chortle, shout, and race back and forth along the hallway with her equally excited preschool cohorts. She’ll grab her craft and stuff it in my face, “See what I made you? It’s a craft!” She’ll dance and cavort through the door as she yells, “Bye! Thank you!” over her shoulder to her teachers.
I’ll watch her joy, and my heart will ache anew. This time, with no threatened tears or parting in the picture, it’s not so easy to see why.
The first step of becoming a mother is stubbing your toe. (See? Told you I’d get back around to it.) Something in you breaks. It’s not an essential something. It’s not a something that changes how you look. Or a something that cripples permanently. It’s a something that might change how you act in small ways. It certainly changes how you feel. It’s a something that leaves behind a tender ache. An ache that can be triggered when you stub your heart against a child’s tear or smile of joy.
An ache that’s remembered when you watch feet whirl on pedals away from you along a sidewalk. An ache that’s felt keenly when you brush a sweaty, fevered brow at 4 am. An ache that hits you when you open a book of pictures and gaze not at the face you beheld yesterday but a face you remember memorizing once-upon-a-time. An ache that flares when she laugh-chokes under a barrage of her dad’s tickles.
The ache isn’t happy or sad. Motherhood is just a permanent weakness. A never-quite-healed injury. An injury that can sometimes barely be felt or that can be broken afresh with waves of agonizing pain. It’s the weakness that allows us to be ready to explode (when the carefully prepared meal gets rejected simply because it “smells funny”) and later that evening crumble with aching joy (upon seeing a cheek nestled in the crook of a vulnerable elbow on a pillow.)
Motherhood is a never-quite-healed injury that’s susceptible to all moods, emotions, and triggers. It’s no respecter of person, place, or thing. It’s a part of us we can never run away from, totally ignore, or fully heal. It’s a permanent weakness for that precious, breath-catching miracle of a child. We reference, in part, our mom-ache each and every time we say, “I love you.”
To become a successful mom, we have to learn to become brave grievers. We have to take the aches as they come, limp along as best we can, be wary of stubbing the toe on big things, and smile forward. That ache’s there to stay in one form or another.
What I can’t help is the mute appeal in my eyes as I watch Little Friend make her way into the world: “Stay Little Friend. Stay.”