mama-baby stuff

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
MacBeth, Act 5, Scene 5

it doesn’t matter, of course.

it is only a website and if i am not here it is not the end of the world. i tell myself this.

it’s just a website. a collection of digital words and images in a genre that’s been declared regularly dead for the last four years. dead like the squashed slug on the bottom of my back steps…except, unlike the slug, the blog has a whole Jesus thing going on where it regularly resurrects itself.

or at least quietly continues on, dead or no. i like that about blogs. dead is just a state of mind.

i repeat this to myself as i stare at the trail of ants marching back and forth around the slug’s worldly remains, efficiently erasing all trace.

it’s only a website, i mutter. and dead is just a state of mind, anyway.

i look around and wonder if i am my own set of ants.

once upon a time, if you wrote something, you knew when you were done. the story or the book came to an end and then – if you were very very lucky – it passed the sanction of the gatekeepers and went off to the printers and that was it for that particular tale, that voice, at least until the anniversary reprint edition or the sequel.

print media have an inherent finite quality. they create artefacts, discrete objects. books can’t be 73,000 pages long. you run out paper, of arm strength. you are bounded by physical constraint.

digital media have no such clear lines. i’m in the midst of writing about this, on my theoryblog, for the Reading in a Digital Age class i’m teaching this summer. i’m in the midst of writing a bunch of things, one of which is my long-suffering and increasingly long-overdue thesis proposal. i’m writing all the time.

but i’m not writing here.

at the end of April, i marked Finn’s birth and death here, as i have every year but the first. i didn’t write of him that first year. the blog was three weeks old. Oscar was eight days new and still in the NICU. my very first boyfriend – he of the first sloppy kiss by the bricks out behind the junior high – had just died of AIDS. he was thirty-five years old. his funeral coincided with what would have been Finn’s first birthday.

i was so full up with life and death that everything was dust in my mouth. i sat at the hospital computer and opened up a post window and closed it again. i was not certain, yet, that this was a place i could speak of anything beyond the platitudes of baby poop. i left the hospital for an hour or two, with Dave and my mother, to dig and mulch Finn’s trees. i went back to the NICU to feed my baby. while my friend was laid in the ground, i sat in a hospital rocking chair, my shirt lanolin-stained and my fingers dirty with soil, crooning OMD’s If You Leave to Oscar. it was the best i could muster, for all of them.

that dust is gone from my mouth, now. i have written it out. and that voice has been precious to me. but this year, in the post for Finn, i said “there really isn’t anything else to say, anymore.”

and i realized that that i do not know what to do with this voice.

if this were a book, i would simply say done. rest now. and i would close the covers and feel immensely satisfied at a chapter closed, a piece of life’s work done, and proudly.

but if this were a book i would have said nothing yet because it would still have to go through the gatekeepers and the editors and there would be no thousands of comments and conversations and networks formed here over years, no traces of friends found and since gone and i would be the lesser. and i know it.

yet i think i am finished speaking in this voice. i think i am finished with this story, this piece of the narrative. i think its hour upon the stage is done.

i do not want to mark another birthday.

this August, in NYC, i’m lucky enough to get to host a BlogHer panel entitled Blogging for the Love of It. and i do love blogging, dead though it may be.

but i do not know what to do with this one.

it is only a website, i tell myself again, but i shake my head. i know better.


another part of me recoils and throws my arms around this space as if it were a living thing, because that’s what it’s been, to me: a voice, a network of relationships, a narrative, a precious, tenuous growing thing. an artefact, yes, for my children. but so much more. in the grand scheme of things ever written, a tale told by an idiot, indeed. but to this happy idiot, a life’s work. or at least the beginning of such. an enormous, beloved chapter.

i do not like declarations of done-ness. i am not done with the network, the relationships, the people. i’ll be around, on the theoryblog, on Twitter, in the too-many places i’ve had the privilege of stretching to.

but this voice has dwindled to a whisper, and it occurs to me that in this digital age of infinitely expandable and reproducible and extensible creativity, perhaps what we miss is the built-in sense of knowing when to stop, of being pulled up short and silent by physical constraints. i cannot run out of paper, here.

maybe i wish i could. it would be easier, that way, to say fini.

here, all i can say is see you around. and xo.


it was 3:20 when we all raced in from the park and scattered.

four people, six different directions. the calculus of families. physics probably says it’s impossible but i have always said pshaw! to physics.

physics wins, of course, in the end: thirty seconds after scattering the two smaller ones were back, pulling me in entirely opposite directions. physics will not allow me to split myself in two.

physics is a damn honey badger.

but i have my own secret calculus: three, not two. sometimes the invisible has its own demands. i said, i am going to the basement now. and then i disappeared. sha-zam. magic.

they followed me, both of them.

but when i pulled out my laptop, they pulled out Lego and Plasticine docile as lambs and there we sat the three of us companionable and so perhaps it was magic after all.

and i made it in time.

i saw the numbers on the clock. i blinked and there he was, small and splayed as they swept him away from me to the bright lights and the yellow gowns flooding the room. dark hair and a trail of blood and one perfect ear and then i could see nothing else, then or now. the window closed. gone again.

i typed into the Facebook status update: “3:24 pm. seven years. happy birthday, Finn.”

there really isn’t anything else to say, anymore.

we planted two new baby trees, at the new house, but that was mostly by happenstance. we went over to the old house to see the trees planted that first Mother’s Day, seven springs ago. they are thriving, strong. we bought some cupcakes on the way.

a regular day – life for the living. a cacophony. physics.

until i sat down late last night and opened Facebook again and saw the comments, the likes, the acknowledgements. the love.

for us, i suppose. but for him, too. for a child almost nobody ever met.

each time i write about Finn, i feel a bit skinless, even now.

not because he makes me sad. he never made me sad. his absence made me sad for a long time, but it does not, not anymore.

still. too effusive in my words and you might think me maudlin, unkempt and troubled by grief even after all this time.

too casual in my “liking” of your comments and you might think me crass and cheap and ridiculous.

i do not want to be maudlin, or crass.

i simply want him to be part of my story.

seven years ago today, i woke like a bruised thing.

he had been there. i had held him. and i looked ahead and i thought i might choke to death on the silence.

i knew i could not sit, seven years hence, in polite sane company and tell strangers on a park bench: i had a son. he would have been seven today. he’s dead.

in person, in our culture, you cannot do that.

but in the networks of social media, you can. thank Jeebus. some say Facebook acknowledgements take all the human connection out of sorrow and remembrance: perhaps they do, by some people’s definition. but i would say they add back in a whole other dimension of possibility. i do not need you to wail and gnash your teeth on my behalf, especially not anymore. i do not need you to hold me.

i just need a space to speak him, now and then.

Josephine is reaching an age where she is beginning to understand “dead.” Her great-grandfather died last spring, and she has come around to understanding that he isn’t coming back. She knows, vaguely, that she had another brother. Oscar has told her Finn is a star in the sky. I smile, and say maybe he is.

but the other night they were going to bed and Oscar mentioned the stars, and Finn, and suddenly, from her side of the room, a sob.

i don’t want to die, Mummy! she burst out, her voice small and cracked. even when i’m an old lady, Mummy! i don’t want to be lost!

my heart. i went to her and stroked her hair said, of course not, pet. you will never be lost, my love. you are tied to me, to Daddy, to a thousand stories. you will always be my girl.

magical thinking, perhaps. physics might object.

but i write of Finn to tie him to me, to weave him into the fabric of my life. to say, you will always be my boy.

you have given me that space. you have received him, and nodded back, and layered love and kindness where once there was only absence.

he is dead. that is what it is. it is surprisingly okay.

but he is not lost: he exists here. he has a record, like the rest of us.

and more than that, i cannot ask.

so what i wanted to write last night on Facebook was, thank you. just thank you. and yet so much more.

you are sleeping and for a minute, mouth open, curled small in your bed, you look again like the curly-headed toddler whom i still expect to see, some mornings before my brain entirely catches up to the present.

you are big, long now, leaner, solid. your Buddha belly is only a memory. you have a front tooth coming in. you will have been here six years tomorrow.

i believe it in the waking hours.

yesterday morning, i drove you to school and before Posey and i were even out of the car, you’d grabbed your dinosaur backpack and were running away across the spring frost, all badass in your new jean jacket, and i grinned before i called you back for a hug. you came. later, when you whinged “MumMY” for the seventeenth time in a minute and i barked like a fishwife, your resilience, your unto-your-self-ness, was a glorious thing to observe. i marvel at you, child, i do.

yet in the half-light of dawn, still sleeping, you are a different sort of marvel. i reach out my hand and my fingers in your hair tell me, yes, here. safe, mine.

you, Oscar.

six years later, i am still a doubting Thomas of a mother.

you were my unexpected child.

oh, you were planned, calculated, hoped for against thin and fragile hope. but never had i imagined you, until you came. and never did i bargain for all you’d be.

your brother was my firstborn, the child i’d invented and daydreamed of since i was the size you are now. i am a firstborn, my mother’s only. my father is a firstborn. my friends, all my growing up, were firstborns.

your sister is my daughter, my longed-for girl.

but the second-born son? was no one i’d been expecting, ever. until you came.

i forget now, how i was in our first days together, when this blog was new and i was still brittle from your brother’s death and the fear and the long months four hours from home in the hospital where he was born and died before you. it had not even been a year.

i was afraid you would not make it. i was afraid i was too broken. i was afraid i would want too much from you.

i didn’t know the term “rainbow baby” then.

but that’s what you are. the beauty after the storm, the covenant. the rainbow does not negate the destruction that came before, but it brings wonder to the process of rebuilding.

you are the rainbow that has not faded.

and still, six years in, i marvel and reach out to touch your hair, full of wonder, full of grace.

(Oscar, almost six: thank you, sweet | salty Kate)

you learned to read this year, to ride a two-wheeler. sometimes you to remember to say “please.” you try. mostly.

you can multiply, years ahead of your time, and your father and i half-hold back on scaffolding these worlds, knowing full well smart only goes so far in life.

you love music: you want to be Mick Jagger when you grow up. you play the spoons. you have a curious affinity for Scottish martial tunes that i confess to entirely indulging in spite of myself.

you are moving past your love of dinosaurs into a Star Wars and Star Trek and Space Oddity sort of phase, where each morning when we leave the house in the car you count backwards from ten when the ignition starts.

you are learning to draw. your rendition of David Suzuki at the art gallery the other day kinda blew my mind.

you’re still working on jumping with two feet.

tonight, before bed, i will dig out your hardcover Winnie the Pooh book and read you the poem below…or perhaps you will read it to me. and i will likely smile a little over-bright and some small part of me will wish it could be true, because i would keep you, Oscar, the way you are right now except that would only be for me and you are far too much of a marvel unto yourself to want to hold you back from rocketing out into the world.

and so i will just tousle your hair to remind my fingers again that this rainbow remains, and i will kiss you goodnight, and say happy birthday, my sweet boy.

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

– A.A. Milne (1927)

it is not-quite-spring but the snow is mostly gone, reduced to salt-and-pepper-crusted mounds.

we have no cherry blossoms here to herald the end of winter, only crocuses, the modest, cheery crocuses that pop up even before the mud loses its icy cover.

when the crocuses come it is spring, for me, and i am a child again after school at my grandmother’s house and each year when they first pop through she takes me outside, deliberately, around the edge of the house to where they grow and we smile upon them. or they – bright things in the gray of the long melting season – on us.

one year i saw them first, making my way from school towards the tall yellow house and their purple and yellow-orange buds were there, popping through, and i saw them and ran in and she got her coat and i was proud, for seeing, for noticing.

they are out again. in that same garden bed at the house that is now just across the street and Dave spied them last week, out for a walk in the half-warm of the evening and i felt my face drop thirty years and i beamed and waved and pointed to show my children, Look! Crocuses!

the same damn crocuses. well, not really. but kinda.

last night after supper, we left the house and dug the Radio Flyer scooter and the little pedal-less run bike out from the new shed for the first time. found the helmets. still glove weather here, and matching sets were procured and we set off.

they elected to go downhill first, snaking down a sidewalk and around and over a block, then back three, the long way to the Lebanese grocery that is the neighbourhood corner store in these parts. it too is a relic of my childhood, though its owner is thinner and whiter of hair, now. he knows the names of all the teenagers who come in; accepts that i know his, though mine has long receded for him.

i introduce the children. Posey chooses chocolate milk. Oscar hands over the bill.

we are on the way back when we spy crocuses on another lawn, a few blocks from home. we stop, like pilgrims paying homage.

and then the children right their respective wheels and start off ahead of us, both still stumbling a bit, learning balance, finding their feet.

Two or three years, i said to Dave, apropos of nothing. That’s all there will be of these walks, like this. he nodded. a hockey net loomed in the middle of the street ahead and it did not look so utterly foreign as it would have even a few months back.

when you have small children, their age and size is the measure of the world.

to the parent of a tiny baby, especially the first time ’round, even older babies – those round, crawling, laughing ones – are enormous and strange. the window of parallel kinship is narrow.

i have never been able to see ahead, very well, with my kids…i’m always only barely keeping up with where we are. and so children who are older than mine, even by a couple of years, have for the longest time looked to me like mini-adults. smaller, yes, but impossibly old nonetheless. seven and eight and ten have been unimaginable worlds, for me.

do they need parents, these giant children? they stay up late. they wipe their own bums. they go places independently.

they have seemed another species, their families built on entirely different structures than my own.

’til now.

suddenly Oscar is almost six. i pick him up and stumble to adjust to the weight of him, long limbs, fifty-plus pounds of boy.

even Josephine stretches up up up, the soft baby roundness disappearing. her hand snakes up for mine on the stairs rarely now, but when it does, i grab it and marvel at the delicate bones emerging from what was once the softest, tightest grip.

we are entering a whole new phase.

suddenly those big kids we happen upon? the ones i’ve been unable to see as children?  they begin to shrink like Alice in Wonderland, to look…like kids again. long, gangly ones, less cuddly perhaps, but still so very much…kids. logic and proportion.

this is what happens when your babies are gone.

i thought it would be sad. it is in the sense that i would like to slow things down and stay and stretch the time out in this twilight of what has been.

but there is nothing for it. we grow up, all of us. it is the way of things and the alternative is far more terrifying, yes. but there is more.

in the strange, surreal nostalgia of this return to the neighbourhood in which i was a child, i am confronted daily with the ways in which we do not leave our childhoods but we carry them within us, layers of sediment.

in my daughter, i see the last days of toddlerhood and the bright, fierce emergence of a big girl to be reckoned with, but i see more. my last baby, tiny fuzzy bird-limbs splayed against the skin of my body as she slept.

i look at my son and see the big, big boy who karate chops his way through his days and reads and does not want to hold my hand in the hall at school anymore. and still, in the tilt of his head, the same curious, open spirit we first brought home: our rainbow baby, joy after sorrow.

it would be a terrible disservice to my children to keep seeing them through these lenses as they grow.

and it would be a greater disservice to stop.

the best gift my grandmother gave me, i think, in all the years in which she was my extra parent and my caregiver, was that she continued to see in me the child i’d been.

oh, i grew older and too cool and there was that time i slouched in the front seat of her little Datsun as we drove to junior high because i did not want the ruling clique to see me with my – ack – grandmother, as if having one were some sort of mortifying embarrassment…and i was by turns surly and frustrated and enamoured by all that i wanted to rush to embrace. she saw that. she honoured some of it, critiqued my mother for some, i know. but she did not mistake that prickly, uncertain becoming-adult for the whole of who i was.

the spring i was thirteen i had big pink glasses and a Frankie Says Relax tshirt and my jean jacket collar and my shoulders were all turned up against the world most of the time. we lived there with her, that year, and it was a hard year and my mother did not know what to do with me and i did not know what to do with anything and my grandmother was nearly eighty-one and unused to having two extra people in the house.

but when the crocuses came out she met me at the door, as ever, and her eyes were bright and they did not say you told your mother to fuck off this morning before school.

they said, simply, it’s you. it’s spring. come see the crocuses with me.

and so we did.

it is April. twelve springs this year since i’ve seen myself reflected in her eyes, and mostly – even living here – she seems like memory. time does that. my children grow and i wax wistful and i know these early days will soon feel gone and historical and…simply done.

yet there they are, the crocuses, those same damn crocuses, kinda. and they remind me that my babies remain in the long limbs of the children in front of me, as the child who once welcomed spring flowers remains in me. and i suppose my grandmother does too.

and so we wave at the flowers, and some part of me is waving to the grownups in these tiny bodies still beside me, holding my hand.

they were away.

they pulled out of the driveway and i waved from inside the house though it occurred to me after they drove away that i could have stood in the driveway, waving until they could not see me anymore.

i’d like to be that mother. i’d like them to remember me that way, the way i remember my grandmother, standing in her pastel housecoat in her sunporch, waving until i walked out of sight of this very corner.

even into my adolescence, when i was otherwise too cool for school and riddled with the agonizing cringe of self-consciousness, i always waved back. the smile on her face as she watched me go sang, be well! i go with you!

i was one of the grand old ocean liners, an occasion every time i left.

note to self: start waving.

but Friday afternoon they drove away with their father, car piled high with plastic dinosaurs and cups of milk and the miniature Strawberry Shortcake with the scented scarlet nylon hair, smooth and glossy and eminently easier to comb than that of her three-year-old owner. hairstyling implements are weapons of torture when directed at Posey but delightful if aimed at ponies and Strawberry Shortcake. at least for a minute or two.

i threw in all the DVDs i could find. it’s a five hour drive to Dave’s parents house.

between the hair-combing and the dinosaurs and DVDs and the Read-It-Myself books that i placed conveniently by Oscar’s booster seat in paroxysms of proud motherly fantasies of him reading sweetly to his little sister, Dave probably got, what? ten minutes of quiet on the drive? fifteen?

i don’t know. i didn’t ask.

i was alone.

they left for forty-six hours because i had a writing deadline. half-way into it i’d completed a draft, based on days of work beforehand, all on a program i hadn’t used before but had been saving away on, diligently. then, whoops, i discovered that program doesn’t allow saving: when i’d closed the document to email it, i lost everything.

every word, gone.

cue swearing and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

that is how i spent my weekend alone, grunting like Sisyphus back up the hill of my own ideas, pushing the stone of my own chagrin and self-recrimination and disbelief.

still, i was alone.

alone. nothing but my work to get back to. reflexively, i sought out the children as distractions from the job at hand. nobody needs a bum wiped? my brain pouted hopefully, as i winced at the blank screen in front of me. i could almost see the old words. every time i looked for them they grew fainter in the rearview, and more and more beautiful.

that first draft has now become a verifiable lost Atlantis of Shakespearean proportions. may it rest in peace.

but i had time to recreate a thin shadow of it, because i was alone.

in my life as a parent, time alone is terrible and beautiful. beautiful for the unbroken stretches, the chance to forget the clock and the routine and mealtimes and the thousand tiny interruptions and really, truly throw myself into the flow.

terrible because alone? it is a devil’s bargain.

every time things go wrong in my life i am shocked by time’s irreversibility. really? i think. but i just HAD that. i can SEE it.

my hands flap and scrabble at the invisible clock, trying to turn it back. just a bit. a smidge. i blink, conjuring with all my powers that moment just seconds ago when whatever it was worked. or was unbroken. or Was. Not. Blank.

i am dogged and faithful in my magical thinking, my repeated beating of my head against the wall of time’s directionality.

it makes me irrational, fighting against my own reality in this tension of inbetween, in this life where deadlines meet snow days and trips to the ER because kindergarteners walk on the monkey bars, sometimes, and where i am always rushed and there is always something left undone and i am regularly convinced i am drowning.

my writing. my research. my parenting. all tied together in the constant push-pull of doing nothing quite as well as i’d like.

i stare baffled at the spectre of that alone time i used to have: the creative headspace, the flow. i still believe it’s out there, somewhere, not eaten by schedules and deadlines and responsibilities all freely assumed.

it isn’t, except on very occasional weekends when that car piled high with Strawberry Shortcake and plastic dinosaurs goes hurtling down the highway through moose country with the people i love most packed inside it.

and that is the devil’s bargain.

i could blink and find myself on the other end of a phone call, stunned and shocked and disbelieving. but they were just HERE. i can SEE them.

i do not let my brain go too far down that road. it makes me feel sick in my throat.

but standing alone in my kitchen, i see that the aloneness will come anyway, eventually. time moves only forward. and someday i will have long forgotten what the hell i was trying to write on Saturday and all i will know as i shuffle around my empty kitchen in a housecoat is how fast those kids grew up.

and so i mutter my secret mother’s refrain, a plea in two parts:

i want to be alone. just for a bit, though. just for a bit.

and then we all keep swimming on together, never quite going under, and i beam and wave until my arms hurt.


see, it can be hard work being a believer in our house. questions, questions all the time. but you gotta give the kid credit for trying.

if you celebrate tonight, Merry Christmas. if you don’t, but you hear some reindeer tonight who might be looking for food, send ’em our way. Oscar’s got ’em covered.

domestic scene: evening. Oscar, pretending to be a busker.

actually, he says he wants to be a bucker. my mind runs through a stream of adolescent obscenities before the waving guitar gives him away. ah. bussss-ker, i intone. not, uh, never mind.

he is shirtless with his tiny guitar in the kitchen, one knee up on a stool, case spread out on the floor. give me money, he says sweetly, and i explain you can’t ask for money, honey, if you want to be a busker. you have to pretend you don’t care about the money. you ask, what would you like to hear?

he catches on quick, this child.

what would you like to hear, Mom? i know, um…Take Me Home Country Roads. would you like to hear THAT?

lovely, i say, trying to swallow a laugh. clearly we need to have a talk about giving people options. and he launches in a cacophony of chordless strumming and mostly-tuneless caterwauling, but i will say, damn, that kid knows ALL the words.

Josephine drops change she’s ferreted from the couch cushions into his guitar case like she hangs out in subway stations, or something. she shimmies around the kitchen with her arms flailing like a chicken. their heads bop. i shake my tailfeathers to the racket. somewhere above the clouds, John Denver smiles on us, his fingers in his ears.

these are the moments i feel like a good parent.

they’re ephemeral, fleeting. i want to tape ’em to the refrigerator, like the kids’ drawings, all colour and joy.

then girl child howls because she cannot wear the shorts she’s picked out, even though it’s November. the umbrage of a thwarted three-year-old needs its own Bible chapter and verse. i sigh, pry plaid from kicking legs.

i ought to have put the summer clothes away by now.

it is my job, i say to her, to make sure you are warm enough. it SNOWED yesterday, child. it’s cold. wear pants.

boy child loses two coats in two days at school, because it gets warm in the afternoons and he sheds it during recess. i tense up and i hear my voice stop just short of shaming but i want him to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees, to value what he’s given, to be appreciative.

it is my job, i say to him, to teach you to be responsible.

(i glare sidelong at his father, who still trails lost items out behind him like Hansel & Gretel. sometimes. Dave blushes appropriately.)

they wake at 5:40ish two days in a row. Daylight Savings Time: a cruel joke perpetrated on parents by society.

Dave got up the first morning. my turn. it is my job, i mutter to myself through the bleary ire of hibernation interrupted, to get out of bed in the middle of the night without eating anyone alive. ahem.

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that you’re the parent.

that voice, the deadly serious one, saying if you don’t finish your brussels sprouts there will be no Hallowe’en candy!? yeh, that’s you. or at least, it’s Dave. and it’s me.

(and unless you’re a complete ass, then you too are stuck eating all your brussels sprouts, to set a good example. which is okay, because you’ve kind of learned to like brussels sprouts. and lost your taste for Hallowe’en candy. but those facts in themselves are A Trip, identity-wise.)

i school us all, keep things in line: myself most particularly. it’s not the disciplining the children i find challenging. it’s the disciplining myself.

i am my own private despot, repressing imagination and creative expression for the good of the system, the schedule. sometimes, it gets us to work on time. sometimes, it just gets us all worn out, staring at each other over hurt feelings and frustrations. Dave and i catch each other’s eye, vaguely bewildered, as if wondering when the real grown ups will come.

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that they ain’t coming. it’s all down to you, baby.

sometimes i hear my voice go UP in the act of shutting down the latest exercise in Dawdling or Not Listening and in the back of my brain i see Ally Sheedy, on break from shaking dandruff onto her doodled page. the black shag hair, black kohl eyes.

When you grow up, your heart dies, she says. and Anthony Michael Hall chirps out, My God. Are we gonna be like our parents?

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that sometimes the answer is Yes. because that’s the job. not just the moments you tape to the fridge, but the ones you’d happily shove under the fridge to mingle with the dust bunnies.

see, it’s true, really. you can’t care about the money much if you’re going to be a busker.

part of what we sign on for is teaching them how to function in the world, however we understand it. and modelling at least some of that for them, ourselves. which is the part that’s hardest. i don’t believe the system. i still think Judd Nelson is the smartest person in The Breakfast Club.

i still think it’s cool my kid wants to be a busker.

but if they don’t learn the rest of it, then it’s not much of a choice. not being able to function within the system is as much a cage the system itself.

i want them to understand enough of both sides to be able to choose, at least sometimes.

i want to foster enough agility of mind that they can think their ways around the binary and hopefully find paths i’ve never thought of.

i want them to be resilient and able to get out of bed and do what needs to be done, no matter which paths they take.

and so i stand there in front of them, those two small open faces, and i try. and mostly i fail to hit the mark, and i wish too many moments lost to the chasm under the fridge.

and that‘s the thing that sucks about parenthood. see, when you get old, your heart doesn’t necessarily die. but sometimes they’ll think it has, and yours will break but buck up and you will say, NO. you really do need to eat vegetable matter or sleep more than seven hours or not run across the street even though you think i’m horrible for saying so. i know. i get it. i own it. and then you smile at them and say, so can you play Take Me Home, Country Roads?

maybe, if you’re wild, you teach ’em to shake dandruff like a snow globe all over their kindergarten art.

or maybe you don’t. but you think about it.
(erm, tell me you think about it? even occasionally?)



you bounce, of course.

you always bounce, legs like Tigger and a spirit to match. but when we are forty feet off the floor and you are hanging partway out the viewing window cut into the cinderblocks of this old gym, i get nervous. my hand seeks purchase on your wiggling person: i grip the back of your Elmo panties as if they were a harness. my tightrope walker.

we are watching Oscar. your birthday coincided with the opening day of gymnastics, this year. you and i went to the kindergym. you climbed nimbly and walked the balance beam all on your own, and you sat on your mat this year, which surprised me most. on the rings you let me flip you upside and over and you laughed like sparkles and shouted AGAIN!

but Oscar, he is in the Big Gym with the big trampoline and the big beams and bars and we are in the gallery and you want DOWN. NOW.

i want to go THERE, Mama! you lean as far as the Elmo panties clutched in my deathgrip will allow and point down, at the marvels spread below us, the little groups of gymnasts hopping and swinging.

i smile. you will, love. next year, when you’re bigger.

that was the wrong thing to say.

i feel your outrage before i see and hear it. your body, sprung to bounce, tightens for the explosion. your face turns to me, wounded, plaintive, offended to your core.

i am the most bovine and unfair creature you have ever encountered.


you puff up like an indignant turkey and glare at me, daring me to contradict this Fact. as you should, really. your impending Bigger-ness has been impressed upon you for weeks now. you are proud of your Big. you look to me for reassurance that you are Doing It Right.

i have betrayed your faith in this bounteous inevitable.

the force with which you feel things always stuns me. someday this child will curse me, i think, a beat too late every time. then you forgive just as quickly, wholeheartedly, and i am again your sun and stars. i bask, and i pull back to breathe, all at once.

it will not be long, now. three years ago, on the day you were born, three seemed remarkably far in the distance for all of us. Oscar was just past two. toddlers and babies were all i knew. close, immediate, intimate. so needy. so sweet-smelling. and i thought i will get the hang of this eventually, find a balance, find ENOUGH of me for both of you.

suddenly he is in kindergarten, striding and stretching away from me into the world of cool and peers and independence, and you are hot on his tail and i look around me at this hectic maul where i cannot even pee by myself and i feel it slip like sand and i see, oh. there is no balance. there is too much. then not enough. you will bounce away, leap by leap and i will blink and find myself clutching a pair of ancient Elmo panties and waving, thinking how the hell did this happen?

it is as it should be.

yet…i see now why people have third, or fourth, or seventh babies. the promise of one more shot at balance. the realization that all those little old biddies were right, and it really does go So Fast. one more chance to do it better, because not one of us will ever get it perfect.

you are my last baby, Josephine.

i bend down to meet you, eye to eye. you ARE bigger, i say, and i beam at you. you’re SO bigger. but all those kids are four or five, sweetheart. when you are four, you can go to the big gym. you are three. Three. TODAY!

the chirp in my voice does not convince you, and your eyes well up. you are embarrassed. you were so sure.

next year, i promise. next year. but you don’t need to rush to be four, honey. three is GOOD. three is the bounciest, best thing in the world, okay? believe me. and don’t lean out the window like that.

i feel your small hand snake around my thigh. you lean in, and we stand together and watch the big kids below, my hand in your hair. the whole while i hear you whisper BIGGER, BIGGER, BIGGER under your breath. the eternal prayer of the younger child.

i pull you close to me and i try not to whisper, take your time.

happy birthday, my Big Girl, my love.

when we came back from California, the kids – courtesy of their grandparents – met us at the airport.

it is a tiny airport, smaller even than Charlottetown’s. no pretense of gates: they were standing by the chain link fence as we descended on to the tarmac. i heard the shouts of Mommy! from the stairs of the Dash 8. i was moving toward them before my feet ever touched the asphalt.

they piled into my arms and held onto me, the two of them, longer than i ever remember or imagined happening. a minute, maybe. i was unprepared.

there is video, and i am grateful. i doubt that ever again i will have the privilege of holding their small bodies awake and present and yet so fully contented, simply with me. even as babies, they were squirmers, eyes on the elsewhere.

i ruined it, of course. unbelieving, still waiting for the other shoe, the clamour, the competition, i tried to draw their attention to the camera and their father. away. they held tight. i shut up and let them wash over me a second and for that one full beat i was full of grace.

then we came home.

they call this Old Home Week on PEI. our provincial summer holiday falls at its end tomorrow, out of sync with the rest of the country. my body is glad to be home, deeply pleased by the softness of my own worn sheets, though i does not yet sleep quite on Atlantic time as i should. yet i am content in this quiet, tactile, homing thrall. i lie awake in the wee hours alert but peaceable, in my right space, taking it all in. like the children in that fleeting minute at the airport.

for them, though, it has been back to daycare – for Posey – and off to art camp for Oscar.

it was a preschool camp when we first inquired, then switched to a big kid camp. at the university. ages 5 through 12. he is the youngest by two years.

i pack him a lunch, a first we will soon make daily practice. he goes swimming. he loves it. all my fretting and worrying about him being too young has washed away: he looked like a tiny Owen Meany that first morning when i dropped him off, a head or two shorter than everyone else in his group, but when i picked him up that afternoon he left to waves and goodbyes and i thought i saw a swagger in his walk. i asked him what art they’d made and he told me breathlessly, the boys’ group made a Rainbow of Death! with horns! that dripped blood! and i noted that perhaps hanging out with older kids was kinda…scary…and he shook his head at me and said, proud as punch, No Mom. it was MY IDEA. they liked MY IDEA.

well. let’s hope he’s not giving any of them nightmares, those poor gargantuan 7 and 10-year-olds.

he is managing. but it leaks from him, too, the stress of this leap. he wakes in the morning needy and whiny, and has lists of demands and wants whose tide he cannot seem to stem. my guess is at camp, all his energies go into reading the emotional cues of the people around him. he is learning to decipher cool for the first time. he is built for it: he has the requisite capacities.

but when he comes home, there is nothing left. and we were just gone for a week. and his not-quite-3-year-old sister is having her own somewhat fraught journey back from that separation and anxiety, and the result is that whenever the two of them are with me now each pulls out all the stops in an effort to commandeer my attention and My Love and every moment is a zero sum game of Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy.

when they are in my arms this week, i tend to feel as if they are both about three seconds from trying to crawl back up inside me and nest.

tonight, Posey wanted me on the couch and Oscar wanted me in the back porch to watch his beaded gecko – the first creative spoils of art camp – sample the feast of grass and water he had prepared for it. with my Tupperware. i wanted to unload the dishwasher, myself, but had given over to the couch entreaties because i try to tell myself dishes can wait. i don’t believe it, but i try. and i had worshipped and admired at the gecko oasis already.

can you see us? we are a hundred mothers and their children, torn by the hunger of the heart to be First. first world problem, perhaps. perhaps no.

i sit between them. each tries to paw me apart with want and love and unspeakable need. i wait for King Solomon to show up with a sword, to divide me in two.

Oscar, i am sitting and snuggling on the couch. here. with you. between you both. we will go to check on your gecko soon. but not now. please. stop whining.

You Don’t Love Me.

i love you, Oscar. i love you with my whole heart.

you love Posey more.

his voice is like a small knife, flat and cold. it is not so much that he believes it as that he is a consummate role player, and in that moment he believes it and has a head closed airtight to anything i do or say. he is manipulating. but he is also speaking the secret fear of his own heart, and i hear the trace of that wondering in the words and so i try again.

this time his tone is more dramatic, like the go on without me of an overwrought community theatre star, but the dialogue is the same.

then, in the same tone, with the same lashings of self-pity, i want DESSERT!

Dave – who has been sitting beside us, utterly ignored in this passion play – gives up and goes to unload the damn dishwasher. Posey curls – remarkably patiently, if pointily – under my ribs, picking at my thigh skin.

Oscar and i discuss love. who we love. the capacity of love to expand. that love for one person does not take away from another. i tell him it’s hard being the elder child.

she fidgets. i tell her it’s hard being the younger. she grabs my glasses and tosses them off the couch: in days of destabilization and readjustment, she is a tiny rocket waiting to go off.

i hug her, kiss her, make her get my glasses and apologize. i hold him tight.

or i try, but he has already moved on, his emotional denouement sacrificed to the pursuit of sugar.

we go to the park for ice cream, because it may be one of the last sunny evenings of the summer and we haven’t been there even once. he gets chocolate with brownies in it. she gets vanilla.

on the boardwalk when their cones are gone, i let Oscar run ahead a bit. now that he is sated and our trust re-established, he listens, and stops whenever i call ahead to keep him in view. Dave is bringing the car around to the playground area, because the road by the park is one-way.

Oscar waits ahead with the sunset behind him. he opens his arms to his sister. Posey! my heart leaps. i let go of her hand.

she runs to him, wraps herself around him. he lifts her and i beam. i am a few steps behind still, catching up.

she runs into the road.

the SUV is ten feet away, then eight, then…stops. it is a scenic drive, a leisurely road. my running feet are the slowest thing in the world and yet i am sure my arms are whirling like the scene and all the colours centered around that one small body grinning in the middle.

POSEY! he shouts it. i shout it. unison. he is a good brother, really.

and he is wrong. i do not love her more. for all i can see nothing but her and the moving vehicle, some part of my brain registers exactly where he is, too. his spot on the boardwalk, safe. hers on the pavement. two dots. me moving.

this is motherhood.

i did not slap and i did not swear, both of which i am unduly proud of at this safe remove. i shouted, though, loudly and scarily and making-a-scenily. there was a taste in the back of my throat like all the blood that poured from me when she was born and i thought i might choke on it. but i did not. i swallowed. we kept walking. she did not get to walk.

she did not get to play on the new pirate ship playground equipment, either. but Oscar did. then we went home, and bedtime, for the first time since we came back, was as quiet and easy as kisses and goodnight and close the door and collapse on the other side, exhaling.

i almost ruined it by not believing.

but i didn’t. i said nothing. i gave over. i slumped on the floor of my upstairs hallway and thought, they are in their beds. safe. both of them. quiet. both of them.

both of them.

and i was full of grace, and it spilled down my cheeks.


i wake at three-something because i feel him leave the bed, and i wrest the earplugs from my ears. Posey. she has been waking regularly lately, a froth of nightmares of bats and cows. he comforts her. i am awake anyway, so i go in, pull quilts up around small chins.

we slip back into the warmth of bed. i wrap myself around his back, and try to convince my pingpong brain to ignore the fact that my biggest school presentation of the year is in a few short hours. or that i should still be reading.

we drift. i only realize i’ve fallen asleep when a child pads in an hour later and interrupts a dream. i am blurry, confused. Oscar. Oscar? strange. he crawls in beside me and i move to accommodate. his curly head fits under my chin, and sleep drags like a tugboat.

oblivi….oh shit.

he is retching, shielding his mouth with small hands.

the capacity of the parental body to go from 0 to 60 on the adrenalin-o-meter – even and especially from the desperate fog of sleep – is a blessing and a curse. it is the reason my own quilt is still vomit-free this fair morning. it is also the reason i can no longer sleep without earplugs, because my poor body has been conditioned to flood with cortisol at any bump in the night.

success. we clear the gauntlet of items-that-require-heavy-washing-or-dry-cleaning if spewed upon, and make it to the toilet. i send Dave back to bed, because when Father’s Day falls on the day before your partner’s biggest school presentation of the year and also is the first Father’s Day her father is without his father, well, you get to go bbq at your in-laws’ and that’s as fancy as your day gets.

but the gift of sleep from 4:30 to 6am? a price above rubies, right?

he can’t say i never gave him nothin’.

and yet when i find myself curled on the futon in the guest room with my clammy son, a bucket beside us, him snoring away and occasionally retching; me reading a critique of Butler and Foucault’s failure to account for the materiality of discourse by nightlight and wondering if my own guts aren’t a little iffy, my mind wanders to Dave in the next room and i remember how the light of almost-dawn used to find us still awake under oh-so-different circumstances and i send up a tiny song of mourning for what will not come again, those easy days we took for granted. and i whisper at the wall, in his direction, hey you. i remember.

and i add, i hope you are sleeping. Happy Father’s Day.

and this afternoon i present my thesis project in draft. a three hour meeting. wish me luck. send coffee.


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