This year I dreaded my children’s birthdays like silence from a toddler.
I knew I needed to prepare myself for the unknown calamity around the corner and there was a good chance it involved excrement. February and March loomed as a reminder of the one year mark for the pandemic and our lockdown. It was a choice we made and began on my daughter’s ninth birthday as of last year. It took two months into the pandemic before my son lost his proverbial shit and it took my daughter four months. He marked it by reverting in his potty training and she marked it by turning her closet into her fortress. You can guess which form of protest was easier to cope with.
Seeing the same walls every day, all day, can erode your sanity faster than the grind of working within them or the toll of potty training. I hold onto what little shred of it I have and try to keep the spirits of my kids buoyant despite it all. It doesn’t mean I succeed all the time. In fact, they succeed at cheering me up more often than not. Owen who sneaks into bed in the morning and regales me with his wild plans for “when the germs are all gone” and Leonora who recites her detailed sagas of “Mr. Bunnykins” and “Lady Carrot”.
When the pandemic started, I immediately thought back to my first days of motherhood and being alone with a newborn. The shock of being at home full-time with an infant filled me with terror in those early days. I thought I had known what to expect but the realities jarred me as the colic set in, the hours of isolation sunk in, and the sleep deprivation peeled away my patience. I clung onto the reassurance that I would be going back to paid work outside the home and would find help somehow. That expectation fell away as the needs of my child became apparent. I found ways to see the humor in the absurdity of it all and joy when I could. Something I’m still learning to do.
Locks of hair, photos of the moments I was quick enough to capture, videos of firsts and comedic spills, pasta necklaces, sculptures of unidentifiable nature, the many pieces of artwork. I feel like an archeologist of my children’s childhood that is still in motion. Past heartache and tragedy has taught me to hold onto what matters most of it all. The memories are all that we’re left with when the world takes everything else away. Photos to me are more precious than any of those possessions because they hold the key to retrieving them. I look at them to cheer myself that things have improved, that I’ve survived worse than the present, and reassure myself that things will be different even when they feel as if they won’t get better.
More than all of that, I like to look at the pictures of their faces at their most embarrassing and awkward moments to remind myself just how comically beautiful life can be even in the lowest moments. The first time Leonora tasted lemons, the crazy hair on Owen when he would jump out to surprise me, and the many colorful poop faces. The straining as they leaned on furniture, the look of shock as they were in the Johnny Jump-Up, the “oops” face as they bounced in the carrier, the determined look as the train jiggled their insides into action.
The baby days are gone. Hoping desperately for pregnancy as opposed to dreading the idea. The anxious wait over a plastic stick filled with urine for the news. The mysteries and fears of growing a human and then the blind panic of birth. The maddening vigils over little breaths in the early morning hours through a fever from mysterious maladies that breezed in and out without diagnosis. The countless hours of agonizing over what amounted to meaningless minutiae to outsiders of your world. Then there were two of them. Two sets of ludicrous, heartbreaking adorable imps.
That sense of responsibility that sinks in when you’re at the hospital and they tell you you’re safe to take your baby home. That fear never leaves and the only way I’ve ever coped is to find a way to laugh despite the hypothetical scenarios that run through my head like nightmares when the panic seeps in. The monsters aren’t real if you don’t believe in them and the best way to chase away those fears is to laugh. Even when a doctor pronounces judgement over your child’s future health like a specter of doom.
Yet through it all the moments of tender ludicrousness. The one kid that chewed on the coffee table and had a penchant for eloping silently out of venues to wander down busy streets. The other that tried to run up escalators going the wrong way and jumped into someone’s open car in a parking lot the same day he tried to run away on the elevator. There’s still moments where my throat squeezes shut in terror when I think they’ve crept away or ran to hide. There’ve been so many years now of remaining as hyper vigilant as I had to be since that first day in the hospital as I dreaded taking her home because it meant accepting that I might fail to protect her. No one told me the secret then that I would learn so harshly. We all fail to protect our kids because we can’t all the time. Yet I have succeeded at loving them every moment even when they drove me mad or I let them down. Before my children existed, I was told they were impossible. To have two rainbow babies seems like I have tempted fate to dash my rare piece of luck after so many misfortunes of my past.
So I hold onto the images in my mind that remind me that my bit of good luck is in those faces that wake me at all odd hours still. Them grasping hands when they walk. The way they cuddle even after bickering. The disco dancing inspired by Elvis footage. Their tiny voices reciting musicals by heart. His soft lilt when he counts to himself as he swings. Her performances to no one in her room for her stuffed animals.
All the while in amazement that they could be in existence at all. My pregnancies were a shock to my doctors and one I fired on the spot when she told me she “didn’t want to deliver a dead baby” because she believed that I was incapable of safely carrying to term. The fear they instilled in me created a heaviness even now I remember grasping my abdomen in the shower, crying, singing, hoping against hope that this time everything would be ok. Then it was. Not without obstacles or effort but you, my babies, you are here.
For all of the aggravations, I still (even today as I took this photo) am in awe of you both. That my body could create two beings so wonderful, maddening, strange, obstinate, kind, magical, and capable of so many poop disasters. I love you both more than you will ever know and will possibly pass over in shock the moment I’m ever left alone in the bathroom.