Each morning in groggy and muted colors, your small voice awakens me and whispers clumsily strung together words into my ear. Hi Mama, morning Mama, what’s up? I feel your fuzzy white hair brush against my cheek, soft skin that papers the wall of my heart. Your little hands desperately tug on my breast as I struggle to open my eyes.
Some days you sing to me in charming gibberish versions of your favorite songs, but mostly you demand breakfast or ask impossible questions. I love our mornings together, before the day truly begins, though since I was as small as you are now I have never cared for sunrises. I walk down our dark hallway, my bare feet making light thuds as yours pitter patter to keep up. I mechanically start the morning coffee, eyes drooping slightly and I begin make your breakfast. You chatter away at me in our tiny kitchen, the dog at my feet hoping to catch a scrap, in my way as usual.
As my eyes open a little wider with each sip of murky coffee, my thoughts begin to flood in; another day, the same routine. From time to time, I am filled with dread and the question, How can I possibly do this again? Our days blend together like watercolor. In parts they are bright, speckled with joy and laughter, full of crisp orange fun and vibrant yellow adventure. But the colors turn cool and bleary, grey and blue, ordinary and listless. Chasing after you, the boundless questions of Why? Time outs coupled with sharp tears and frustration. My stern, unfamiliar voice asking in exasperation, Do you understand? Doing the teaching and being taught in the most unexpected of ways. If only I could sip my coffee in an empty house, write, read a book, crawl under the covers and sleep, sleep, sleep.
But sleep is rarely the option, so I muster up the strength from somewhere that I didn’t know existed and continue on. Your wide grin, new phrases and insatiable giggles are fuel for the incredibly mundane, and the constant buzzing in my mind, the energy spent trying to relieve the guilt. Not too many cartoons, it’s time to turn it off. You’ve had enough juice baby, no you can’t play with my phone right now. I’m too tired to go outside, we’ll go a little later. At the mere mention of the word, the dog looks at me eagerly, his tail wagging as they both wait at the door, the same expression on their faces. Okay, okay let’s go. My bones are heavy, my stomach growls, and I look at the morning chaos around me. Off to the park, and I lock the door behind us.
The impossible notion of traveling four blocks in a reasonable amount of time is almost comical; I stand there with a smile trying to move you along. Oh the joy it brings you to inspect each and every flower, rock and bug that crawls along seemingly far faster than us. You make an earnest attempt at climbing a tree, though you’re still too little. I hoist you up to help and you look at me in wide-eyed wonder. The leash yanks my arm impatiently and you shake your legs in protest as I bring you back down to Earth. It’s summertime, we are slow in the heavy heat of nearly noon, but we finally make our way to the park. The dog runs freely and so do you, chasing each other and laughing as you fight over sticks like brothers with toys. He steals it, and you cry a deep and frantic wail, your feelings genuinely hurt that the dog won’t share. I try to stifle a smile and explain to the best of my ability, handing you another stick. Your eyes sparkle and you run from me. I swiftly jog after you and scoop you up easily, kissing you while you laugh as though you'll burst.
You play alone on the square with wood chips flying, waving at me occasionally as my mind spins. I think of what I can make for dinner that everyone will happily eat, and watch you with pride as you try to make a friend. Finally, I gather the both of you, strapping your little body into the stroller swiftly despite your frenzied pleas and flailing limbs; I can see that your eyes are exhausted. We meander back towards the house and I drift to a time of little responsibility, wondering if I will ever write again. I feel a pang of guilt for going to the tiny playground near the grocery store rather than the large cascading park with ducks and ponds, other dogs and rows of trees just south of us. We haven’t been there all summer. I’m just too tired most days.
I begin skimming through the calendar in my mind, pondering a childless date night on the horizon; schedules and eternal workweeks make time for just your dad and me seem unreachable. The dread of finding a babysitter with account balances blaring has me shoo away the idea; a swift wave of loneliness washes over me. The dog snaps me back to reality with a hard jolt, he saw a cat. You’ve fallen asleep and I carry you up several flights of stairs to our floor. I lay you down in bed, I clean the house with deep determination until you wake up, and our day continues on in the same fashion. A world that is colorful and sparkling for you: drawing pictures, dancing, making silly faces, playing with blocks and toys and reading stories. There are snacks and more questions, new words and discoveries. Underneath all of the joy, I feel a dull pain I don’t care to address.
Your father walks through the front door beaming to see you no matter how tired he may be, and you squeal with contagious joy. I stand and stare in awe as my boys squeeze each other hard, the dog doing his best not to jump up in excitement. Your dad makes his way over to me with a kiss and just as he drops his things, he takes over for a while as I cook. I can hear you both laughing hysterically in the other room and my heart tingles with tenderness. Your father swings you around, never tiring the way I do, despite his cruel, long hours away from us. He is always more patient with you, and I love him for it. But you are a slightly different version of yourself with your dad; so eager for every moment you have with him. Your bond with one another is just as strong and unwavering, but different than ours.
I try not to feel overwhelmed in the kitchen and I set the table methodically. As we sit, I’m desperate for adult conversation, but through the duration of dinner we are stuck trying to convince you to eat with bribery and funny airplane gestures. It dawns on me that the other grown up in the room wouldn’t have wanted to talk to me anyhow and that any kind of extensive dialogue must sound exhausting to him. I’m grateful for you, our sweet boy who always makes us laugh. We finish eating, and put you to bed in your own room where you stay through the night now, an astonishing milestone I couldn’t fathom just a few months ago. Every evening you slept sprawled in bed between us from the moment you were born. And here you are, asleep in a big boy bed in your room littered with books and toys. I miss our shared bed, but revel in the fact that I can kiss your damp forehead and leave you to sleep and thrash in your sheets alone. I sneak out the door, silently move into the hallway and into my own quiet world, though I usually don’t know what to do with myself once I get there.
Your father tends to the dog, taking him out for their long evening walk. They are gone for what feels like hours, and I try to occupy myself through glowing screens, articles or comic relief, hoping he will come home and look at me. A small part wishes that he would tend to me as well as he cares for that damn dog, and the other part knows that they both need their solitary twilight time together. I can’t help but think about what it is that I need, what my identity is without you all. A day full of considering three fourths of our whole is over, and I am left alone, bewildered and confused.
When Dad returns, he drifts to sleep fairly quickly; twelve hours of long and grueling work makes little room for much else. I’m fulfilled but melancholy all at once and relieved to have my family sound asleep, for the rare moment of quiet. I secretly long for the nights of whiskey and staying up until dawn with your father, engulfed in our own little cave, no one needing a thing from us. I am nostalgic for a time I don’t truly want for, a strange sensation I feel lost in. I romanticize that time, but know that our life was filled with meaningless struggle. Becoming a mother, and nearly a wife, has me swirling in a life full of laughter and sadness. The high is unimaginable, I could have never guessed everything would be so beautiful once I got here. But the low can be so deafening. Mourning the loss of a person I will never know again, one full of selfish dreams and nothing but time to achieve them.
I’m tired and worn out, but cannot sleep. I am unbelievably happy and in amazement of my life, but lonely too. I can see a light gleaming at the end of this tunnel, our dark and twisted journey that boasts fulfillment towards the end, wherever that may be. We made it through the tortuous beauty of infancy, a baby who suckles and shits and cries, finally smiles and then transforms into everything you’ve ever wanted in his slumber. You stare and stare and think how could someone like me ever produce something so magnificent. Soon they toddle with glee and you laugh until your face hurts, gawking in awe at each step they take. You are gnarled with pain at the loss of your independence, knowing that you must care for this other life with fervor and intensity you never knew possible. Each stage comes and goes, but it never leaves, that unfathomable love. But with it comes resentment, loneliness, boredom, wishing and dreaming of a time you could make love any old afternoon, with no one to wake.
I stare at your father, sleeping next to me, breathing heavily finally at peace from his long day. I allow my limbs to sink down, and come to a deep sense of gratitude amidst it all. I know that these long days we spend together will be over soon, and your father and I will come together again with relief. We will soon stare in amazement as you enter school, have homework and extracurricular activities, friends and drop offs. Someday, you won’t need us quite the way you do now and I will long for the time you would crawl into our bed, hammering at us with affection. Your little body spread, making sure a limb is placed on each member of the family, the dog too.
Soon these moments will be the air that we breathe, invisible, despite their clear and undeniable existence. You may not remember these days that blend together, but I will hold them close to me, your soft baby skin still papering the wall of my heart. When you are lanky and long, with a screechy voice and teenage complexion, I will remember your plump little arms wrapped around my neck and clumsy words as you discovered language. These days are soon to be over, I wait in anticipation yet I know that I will grieve the loss of our time together. This role of mother is deep and watery, profound and even shallow at times, as I stare with confusion in the mirror at my changed self. You have transformed the course of my life; you have made me into someone I am proud to be. I am grateful for every step we take together, the three of us (and dog.) I am forever grateful.