Caroline and Owen (Happy Birthday, Jordan!)

So Caroline’s engaged. Which is cool.

She seems a little young—she’s five—but, they say when it’s right, you just know.

He’s unemployed. He’s in school part-time. If she takes his name, she’ll be Caroline Blackburn.

He comes from a great family. In fact, I didn’t even hear from Caroline that she was getting married. Her fiancé’s mother, Jordan, sent me an email. Apparently, Owen popped the question while they were in kids’ club at the gym. Caroline said “yes,” that it would be “fun,” but that she doesn’t want to have babies because she doesn’t like getting shots. Read the rest of this entry »


Now I Know

Most of us secure the details of the day we were born early on. We hear the story and repeat it enough that we’re pretty confident about the specifics, even though we weren’t taking notes at the time. No shock to my siblings, I always thought my birth was an important one. I was a c-section baby. My mom was on bed-rest for weeks. I was a month early. Someone in the storytelling said that my mom stood up the moment she got the “okay” from the doctor, and that I was born immediately after. I pictured her placing her feet on the ground as the ambulance arrived for the escort. It all ran pretty smoothly in my mind. Paula, Dan, and Matt had unimaginable fun at our neighbor Lucy’s house, staying up late eating green noodles, while Mom and Dad welcomed their new little and lovable bundle on the 1st of April. Paula, the adoring big sister, thought it was a joke and that she really had another brother.

What I have come to understand is that no matter how smoothly things may run, c-sections are uncomfortable. The green of Lucy’s noodles was spinach-inspired, and what so captivated me about them was the pool of butter and parmesan in which they swam. As for Paula, the novelty of having a little sister has long since worn off.

**********

The couch I’m lying on is sprinkled with sliced almonds. The monitor beats and bleeps, practically dancing on the kitchen counter as Lexi voices little interest in sleeping, and the mommy moments continue past the PBS special I was meaning to watch, past the book I’m dying to finish. Dave’s hair is graying but his eyes still laugh as he rolls them at me from the brown chair: “What is up with this kid?” I was up with her, in her room, for much too long, and now all of the parenting books I’ve ever read glare at me from the bookcase: “What were you thinking?” I hear them say.

But, when Lexi was napping earlier that day, Caroline and I curled on the couch, listening to stories on cd. Caroline in her light blue ballerina dress, worn and washed so often, its tulle tutu a lot less puffy than it once was, its sheer overdress shredded with holes. A straw purse fell from her shoulder. Over that, sprung pink fairy wings; and somehow simultaneously over and under the wings, wrapped a practical green cardigan she’s just learned to button. Her hot pink tiara sat low like a visor, its sides secured with masking tape. She wore a sullied pair of pink tights and sparkly shoes having long since lost their luster, one pink and one red. She, my little fairy bag-lady, and I, as far from down-and-out as we could possibly be, resting together.

So tonight I spent equal time with Lexi, resting with her on the bed in her room, when really I should have given her the kiss and the hug and left her to fall asleep on her own. She was telling me all about her pink doggy, and how he can stay with us on the tow-blow (pillow), and she stretched beside me, her blue eyes approving as I closed mine tight then opened them wide. She lifted her head slightly saying “Shtopp, Mommy” but I knew she wanted me to peek-a-boo a bit longer. She left her pillow to share mine, and I thought how beautiful she is and how she and her sister do something to my heart—fill it; I guess it’s that simple. Simple enough to go from empty to full. Simple enough to dampen the sounds of a heart that once echoed and ticked like a motoring clock, with the soft, certainty of love for these busy little girls who’ve taken me over.

**********

As we crossed the walking bridge towards Mom’s hospital room, Dad told me they called me “Baby Grand” after I was born, because c-section babies were not cheap. I loved it—I’m the kid who plays the piano—how perfect. How did I not know this before? And he told me, as the hospital doors opened for us, about the idiot nurse who said something about not hearing the baby’s heartbeat as they were wheeling my mother in for surgery. She came out of the operation convinced I was dead. But my dad told her, no, what must have happened, the doctor said, was they were registering only one heartbeat because my mom’s heart and mine were beating at the same time.

I grabbed that image and tucked it away as we tapped on her hospital door.

Our visits were not long. I don’t remember if that was for her benefit or ours. As Dad and I walked out that day, I told her I loved her, and she said, “I love you both.” Then just as loudly, though in a movie scene I would have imagined this second part as a whisper only she could hear, she said, “You’ll never know how much.”

**********

Dear Mom, I know now.


Lexi, my little love . . .

(I wrote this last February and just rediscovered it. This one’s for you, Lexi-Loo!)

Lexi was up last night—started to cry around 1 a.m. She and Caroline have been trading viruses like baseball cards, even though the doctors have said that what they have is bacterial and not contagious. Three rounds of antibiotics later, and I’m a little suspect. Caroline’s cough seems to have waned, but Lexi sounds like a goose. She is 18 months old; she should be sleeping through the night. That’s one of the MANY things you don’t read in parenting books—that newborns aren’t the only ones who deprive you of sleep. It’s those toddlers. Lexi cried so loudly and for so long, that Caroline woke up from the adjacent room: “Mommy, I want Lexi to stop cwyyying!” (I’m right there with you, Caroline.) “Mommy, I want Lexi to stop cwyyying!” (Say it again, sister.) “Mommy, I want Lexi to stop cwyyying!” Dave caved in the direction of Caroline’s room, and I caved towards Lexi’s room, and eventually, we all met for a little pow-wow in the hallway.

To backtrack a bit, neither kid ate any dinner. To backtrack a bit more, right before non-dinner, the girls and I walked home from our neighbors as Caroline sobbed hysterically, “The WIND is going to BLOW me AWAY!!!!” Hers was not a cry of joy, but rather a cry of terror ringing through the Windgate Townhomes. I was carrying Caroline (Note: She’s the older one, the almost 40 lb one), while Lexi was waddling after us down the path, facing the wind, spreading her arms wide and grinning as her eyes watered. Lexi was Sunday driving in sub-tolerable temperature, and her sister wanted the fast lane home. If fresh air is actually good for us, then, we were good, but it took us a year and a half to go 300 yards, and when we arrived home, only Lexi was okay. She seemed to be searching the warm room for something—an après-ski cocktail?—but she was content. Caroline and I, on the other hand, were ready to rumble.

That gets us to non- dinner, how I boiled pasta, reheated a sweet potato, sliced carrots, and nuked some peas, and, neither kid ate any dinner. Too many crackers and grapes at our neighbors. I should have accepted that, but, when Lexi starting chucking veggies on the floor as I swept, and when Caroline kept crying for the yogurt that we just did not have in the fridge, I crossed broom to heart and made a solemn vow (at high volume) that “When your father gets home, I’m done! Mommy’s not giving you a bath. Mommy’s not reading you books. Mommy’s taking a little vacation!” That went over well on all accounts. The girls were pleased with my pledge and my tone, and Dave was tickled pink when he heard the news upon entering the house. He mentioned something about an elderly man almost plowing into his car outside of the mall, but, really, that wasn’t important.

All through bath time, I sat downstairs and “relaxed” with a cup of tea. I tried to check emails but was having trouble focusing. The wind was still knocking around outside, so I was musing about where that might put our trashcan come morning—that may have been distracting me. Or, it may have been the fact that I could not completely unclench my fingers to type since both my daughters were yelling “MOMMA! MOMMA!” from the top of the stairs. I could hear the baby gate shaking and had a clear visual image of Lexi trying to prison break from the second floor. Dave was actually enjoying himself—he must have been a Catholic nun in a previous life because he just kept talking over the screaming, “Well, next time you’ll listen to your mom and eat your dinner!” I gave in early—post hair rinse but pre-towel snuggle. I couldn’t do it to Dave, and really, I do hate to miss the towel snuggle.

Caroline’s current book of choice is Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, a classic, but a long one, especially when Caroline prolongs and repeats the name of the antagonist, “Henry B. Swaaaaaaaaap.” She’s also taken to saying the word “boobie” at random and then breaking into hysterics. Simply reading a book before bedtime has become less simple. I speed read; I diverted attention; I laughed; I grew irritated. All the while, as Caroline squirmed in my lap to get comfortable, I tried to tighten abs and suck in surrounding gut so I’d feel more like a chair than a pillow.

Caroline is not yet potty trained, but the seat itself has not been idle since it’s where Lexi sits while she brushes her teeth. “Sitting” is relative, though—a momentary thing. Lexi’s up and away, toothbrush in hand, running head first full speed towards our room. Even Caroline refuses a book when Lexi rounds a corner like that, with eyes ablaze, with all eight teeth lighting her way, with joy unbridled evident in her every move. Caroline’s eyes will dart from page to sister and then linger. If an adult fails to corral the little one within seconds, the big one is gone. It was just so last night when Caroline’s hand reached back for support so quickly that my stomach was caught—soft and unawares—as she sunk into me and then rebounded onto the floor to join her sister. I thought, “I have got to get to the gym.” I thought, “We need to get these girls to bed sooner.” I thought, “Where did I last see the Ibuprofin?”

Finally, I sat again on the rocker as Caroline faded to sleep. Mrs. Potato Head’s arm, alone, bent rigid beside the hamper like the striped stockings of the Wicked Witch collapsed under Dorothy’s house. Hoping for the best for the rest of Mrs. Potato Head, I made my way to my room, ready for a good night’s sleep.

*****

But, finally isn’t all that final all the time—just like a simple bedtime book isn’t always simple. We did not sleep well that night. It took us a few more nights to realize—as Lexi’s cough and mood worsened, and her breathing quickened—that she was awake at night for a reason. She’s okay now, but Dave had to take her to the Emergency Room and there she stayed in the Pediatric Ward of the hospital for three nights. Bronchiolitis, the doctors said. NO WONDER she was having trouble sleeping. NO WONDER she was grouchy and not eating. Such a wonder, my little love, that she–days before her hospital stay — was breathing in the best she could the crispness of winter and the comfort of her sister’s company. She did without them both for a few days, and boy was she fired up about that. She was hooked up to oxygen and IV tubes; she was stuck solitary in an industrial sized crib; she was as unsmiling as I’d ever seen her, but in the mornings she woke saying “CC”—her name for her sister—and her smile arrived just as Caroline, cheeks flushed and hair tousled, toddled into room #119 for a visit.

Viruses—just a start of what these two will be sharing.


A Picture of Alex on my 40th Birthday

This will be charcoal-drawn.
This image, if it is to last, will be smeared,
smudged,
textured.
Though the computer itself is warm,
these straight-typed-lines are too chilled and still
to capture Alex.

She discovers
she can move her own hands,
clenching the crinkly toy in her fatty fist
but it’s a delicate hold and then she moves on
to touch her finger to her tongue to meet her mouth to her thumb.
She’s delicious.
She kicks and tinny scales go up and down,
the baby seat responds to her every bound
and she delights in it all,
but not as much—
a windfall,
a beautiful tide turns bright eyes—
as when she alights
on me.

I scoop my hands under the small,
small of her back
and lift
her face to mine we have the same smile
and her soft breath sighs.
I laugh my head back
as she leans in to
gum my chin
And now,
I know what it is to want
What I have.