The Story of Today

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I wrote this short essay earlier this summer (hence the references to the blazing-hot weather) and felt it deserved a home here on this blog. 

When I woke up, I did not want to attend to the screaming baby. Actually, she’s a toddler now, but whenever she screams like that I still think of her as the baby, because non-babies do not normally, upon waking, begin shrieking at the top of their lungs as though they had been stabbed in the eyeball with a letter opener. Then again, non-babies are capable of getting themselves out of bed, and let’s face it, the letter-opener-in-the-eyeball scream is what normally propels me into her room, to rescue her from the crib.

            In any case, I didn’t want to get out of bed at all today. I’d been having this dream. The details of it are fuzzy now, but it was one of those dreams in which I was a completely different person, who lived in a different place and did not have children. And when I woke up, I did not want to have to mother my baby. I wanted to go back to the dream, which seemed like it was probably going to have a delicious ending before her shrill voice came crashing in.

If I was forced to wake up from the dream, I wanted a day where I did not have to mother her anyway. I wanted a temporary transfer to a parallel universe. In a parallel universe, I perhaps would have been someone who played cello in an orchestra, or who made a lot of money and spent it on shoes and wine, or who lived in Italy. In a parallel universe, I would not need to choose between yoga pants and the one pair of maternity jeans that fits me right now. I would not have to go through the exact same tedium every single day, whether weekend or holiday or whatever: get up, soothe, change diaper, fix breakfast, eat standing up, clean up, sweep, do toddler’s hair while she does an advanced form of toddler gymnastics on the bathroom floor.

In a parallel universe, I would probably get to shower.

This morning, I laid in bed a long, long time, wishing I could go back to sleep, wishing she would just go back to sleep, daydreaming about the childless life. I even prayed and asked Jesus to just make her go back to sleep, which I realized was a completely inappropriate use of prayer, and God was probably up there going “Does she think I’m some sort of genie?” and responding kind of how I do when my daughter asks me to produce more cookies from thin air.

Finally, I extracted myself from the sheets and went in to my daughter, who by that point was kind of ballistic.

“I know, I know,” I told her. “I’m sorry.” But I wasn’t sorry; I was grouchy. I did not offer the explanation that I essentially did not want to see her that day, and I was kind of hoping that if I waited long enough I could at least get another 20 minutes of sleep. I wiped the snot out of her face and brushed the hair out of her eyes and changed her sopping diaper. She put her head down briefly on my shoulder, crying, and then lifted it up when she had the revelation she has every morning: “Eat!”

Except then she wouldn’t eat. She only wanted to lick the grape jelly off of the English muffin that I’d spread with PB&J and then wantonly demand “more,” like a manic despot. If you have children you know that she took my reasoned decree—that she could have more if she would first finish what was already on her plate—about as well as Veruca Salt being told she couldn’t have a goose who lays golden eggs. So, eventually, her breakfast went in the garbage, which meant that she would be hungry all morning, which meant that she’d keep on being a pill.

After breakfast I asked her what she wanted to do, and she replied quite firmly, “Animals. Zoo.” It was the first time, actually, that she’d ever come up with her own plan for the day. Normally, I ask what she wants to do and she says nothing, because it’s kind of an abstract question anyway, and then I suggest what I want to do, and we do it. Personally, I wanted to go swimming, because we haven’t been in a while, and because it was so hot. We’d just been to the zoo two days before, and it seemed like yet another zoo trip was just a tad bit excessive, even though we have a membership.

“Well,” I said, “the other option is the pool. Would you like to go to the zoo, or to the pool?”

“Zoo,” she dictated. I sighed. ‘So this,’ I thought, ‘marks the first day of the rest of my life.’

I couldn’t exactly deny her, considering I’d asked her and everything, so we packed our stuff and did our hair and I asked her yet again whether she was sure she didn’t want to go to the pool and she said No Way Jose (basically), and we went to the zoo.

It was super hot, and I thought longingly of the pool, of cool water on my head, of tan lines that didn’t resemble a Nebraska farmer’s. My daughter was fussy, almost immediately, her legs dragging until her pace became excruciating. I sighed and pulled out my baby carrier—advertised as sufficient for children up to 45 pounds, a claim we’re probably going to wind up testing—and strapped her in. It wouldn’t have been quite so taxing if I were not also pregnant and asthmatic. Pretty soon I was dripping with sweat, panting like a dog.

Finally, we found an oasis: a covered area filled with benches. On top of that, we were just in time for the elephant show, which would mean 30 solid minutes of pachyderm-provided entertainment. ‘We’ll just sit here and watch elephants for the next hour,’ I thought. ‘And then go home.’

The elephants perked us up. So did the ice-cold water we sipped. She stopped whining; I stopped seething with frustration.

The show ended. We pulled out our lunch. We ate quietly, and I looked around. The woman behind me pulled her baby in to her breast to nurse. She looked so peaceful and present about it, stroking her baby’s cheek, the baby clutching her shirt. And I thought not of the baby on the way, who soon enough would be breastfeeding, but of how much I missed nursing my daughter, how I wished we could do it then, because it was always so calming to both of us, the touching of skin, the way she would put her hand on my breast, the way I would put my hand softly on her cheek, looking into one another’s eyes, the giving and filling of one another’s needs.

I looked over at my daughter. She looked so suddenly big, in the way only your baby can look big. I felt startled, a bit, by the length and strength of her legs, by the way her hair flopped into her eyes, by her capable hands fiddling with the Tupperware.

Suddenly I just wanted to touch and be closer to her. Wanted to grab her in both arms and smother her with kisses. Wanted, even more strongly, to nurse her as though she were still a baby. Instead I reached under her chin and tickled. She giggled, kicking her legs. Like a child myself, I gave a little squeal and tickled some more. And then we were both laughing, tickling, squirming. I forgot about the morning, and I forgot about my dream. I forgot everything. It all evaporated in the warmth of that moment, how my daughter tilted her head back and scrunched up her nose when she laughed. And I thought: If I could keep only one memory in my heart forever, I would choose this one.

And so it’s funny, isn’t it? The way your mother’s heart can turn, so quickly and completely, so softly on its heel.

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