When this one was less than an hour old — fierce and feral and very much there, immediately — I was filled with hopes that had no words. I looked at her and loved her, instantly.
But let’s face it, those first days with a newborn are tough. I’m not talking about our time in the ICU, which is still crystalline in my mind, all that brittle fear and trying to breathe for her. I mean everyday life with a newborn. Hours without being able to eat, enduring the horrifying sound of crying in the car seat for the entire ride, days without a shower — those days are a blue-hour memory for me now. There’s a part of me that’s nostalgic for the simplicity of it. Or maybe that’s just my brain preparing me for another new kid somewhere in the next year. (More hopes without words.)
However, most of me isn’t one bit nostalgic. These days, Lu and I hold hands as we skip through puddles after I pick her up from preschool. As we drive along, she points out words on buildings — “Color, Mama! They have color!” And then I turn my head to see the word color on a hair salon as we drive through the intersection — and sings her ABCs with such gusto that I have a hard time not laughing. The other day, she danced at a Caspar Babypants concert here on Vashon, jumping and spinning and doing some weird little dance with her hands as she walked backwards into the darkness with entire confidence.
Those newborn days, when she was all reflex and little grunts, feel like another lifetime now.
She’s a great kid. But it’s not all easy. People, I don’t know why anyone talks about the terrible twos. Three? That’s something else. Three is determination + command of language + pushing all the boundaries because she realizes she’s a separate person = one exhausted mama sometimes. This evening, she turned all her toys out of their brightly colored plastic boxes, just because she could, and then walked away. Crayons were strewn on the floor. Books lay open on the couch. There were clothes made sodden by the rain by the door, wet paint on the table, and a little puddle in the hallway. That was five minutes’ worth of work. In the midst of this, she asked for pasta for dinner. When I told her we were out of pasta, how about some soup instead, she simply and firmly kept asking for pasta.
When does the age of reason kick in?
Now I know why I had the word breathe tattooed on me. It’s for three.
And then she looked up at me as I stood in the kitchen and says, “May I cook with you, Mama?” That may I that comes out of her with nearly every sentence these days, even deep in the night when she asks for a cup of water, it gets me every time. Every puddle and clutter, small battle and exhaustion? It fades away when I see that face asking so kindly. So I dragged a chair over to the kitchen counter. We pulled down some dried gluten-free lasagna noodles and broke them up together. (We figured out a way to have pasta for dinner.) I chopped up some of the meatloaf leftover from Danny’s late-night dinner the other night, then I taught Lu how to grate the chunk of white cheddar left in the fridge. Putting my hand over hers, guiding it slowly over the grater, and stopping it when the cheese grew too thin to grate anymore — this was such a small act. But doing this made me forget the clutter on the floor, the load of laundry to be done. We cooked together.
Lu pointed to the olive oil with lemon in it, the balsamic vinegar. I let her pour some onto the “pasta” dish, then I tossed in the meatloaf and the cheese.
And then we ate together, talking about her day: playing with Cisco, drawing turkeys, talking about Daddy’s new hours at the restaurant and how sad we both are we aren’t seeing him as much now, the sound of the rain. (“Mama, the rain is pounding outside! Listen to it go!”) There I was, having dinner with my daughter.
She asked to climb up into my lap, snuggled her head into my chest, and promptly fell asleep.
That’s why she had been so ornery earlier in the evening. Poor tuckered kid.
I tucked her into bed then stood watching her sleep for a moment.
When I was a kid, my parents took a bunch of Polaroids of me and my brother sleeping. At the time, I was sort of horrified. Why? My mouth was open, my arm flung out, a dozen books on the bed next to me. Who wanted a picture of that?
Now, I wish I could take a photograph of her sleeping every night.
She’s so damned big. Three. Man, I can’t believe she’s three.
* * *
Here will be my Thanksgiving this year. There will be a turkey we bought from a farmer on Vashon, roasted sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with creamy butter, shredded brussels sprouts in brown butter with bacon, dinner rolls, stuffing, gravy, and three kinds of pies. We will certainly eat well.
I’ll be eating in a warm house full of food with my family, whom I love. Andy will play the banjo. Dana will tend to the dogs and read. Elliott will play with Lucy and show her the toys in Grandma and Granddad’s Amazing Toy Cupboard. I’ll hug my parents often. There will be board games, a crackling fire, and ridiculous jokes.
We don’t know if Danny will be able to join us for the dinner. He probably has to work at the restaurant this year. We’ll raise a glass of sparkling cider to him, then send him photographs on the phone. I’ll come home with Lu asleep in the car, bring her in (shielding her head from the rain with my jacket), and tuck her in. Then Danny and I will sit on the couch together, maybe with my feet in his lap. There will be cold turkey sandwiches with cranberry chutney, along with conversations late into the evening, catching up from the day.
And then, before bed, we’ll go into Lu’s room, holding hands, and watch her sleep for a moment.
This is my thanks giving.