April 29, 2013 by Julia
Fiona is about 2 ½, and still in her running-away-at-full-speed-in-public-places phase. So I’m not surprised when she runs out of the coatroom at our library play center. I take a split-second inventory and then run after her. When I turn the corner, she is out of sight.
I don’t panic yet, because there is a kid-proof security gate for the play area. A mom is standing there, chatting with a librarian, holding the gate open, but I think surely – surely – she wouldn’t allow a lone toddler to run out.
So I quickly, methodically search the rooms of the play area – the mini-kitchen, the pretend grocery store, the puppet theater, the Grandma’s attic up the staircase, etc. – it’s really a wonderful place.
Two minutes have passed, and I’ve looked everywhere. Two minutes is a long time when your kid is lost. An older man has been sitting on a bench near the gate. I shout to him, and to anyone else within earshot, “I can’t find my daughter!” I am crying. People start to look up at me, and then crane their necks around, stand up.
Finally I realize she must have gone out of that gate. I open it, and two things happen at once. I see a line of parents waiting in line to get into the play area, and I realize that not only did that woman STAND THERE WITH THE GATE OPEN AND LET A TODDLER RUN OUT, but the librarian at the security desk allowed it, and this whole cluster of parents watched it happen, and I am FURIOUS. At the same time that this fury grips me, I see Fiona’s little head through the window that looks OUTSIDE, and I realize that she not only made it out of the kids’ area into the main library, but she made it through the exit and outside.
She skips inside and comes straight to me, casually, happily. I grab her and start yelling and crying. Everyone in line is staring at us. A woman in line offers: “I saw her outside…she ran all the way down that ramp and almost into the parking lot.”
I am shaking. I hope every last one of them feels each of my tears like a burning coal of shame on their heads.
This is not rational thought. I can’t blame these strangers. This girl, my love personified, is my responsibility. But I have also absorbed the belief that it takes a village to raise a child. What kind of a villager watches a toddler run almost into the street, all by herself, with no sense of danger? I wouldn’t have. I would have taken her hand and found her mama.
I tell this story over and over to anyone who will listen, to help soothe the pacing lioness in me, to restore my trust in the parenting community.
I go into the hospital for my scheduled c-section. We already know his name is Jack. I am nervous, so anxious for everything to begin. Fiona is running circles in the waiting room with us; family is on the way. I am cautiously excited. There is a dull tension in my bones. It’s like restless leg syndrome. I won’t feel right until he’s out of me, and I can see him.
I am in the surgery prep room, with Dennis by my side. Everything is strangely calm.There are no contractions. I am rested, after a full night’s sleep (with the help of doctor-approved Tylenol PM). How is it possible that I can experience this so painlessly? Is it real?
I am on the surgery table. I’ve done this before – only last time, I was already dilated 7 cm, exhausted by almost twenty-four hours of labor, and mentally unprepared for the fact that I required a c-section. This time, I know what to expect. I wait for the nausea, the coldness in my veins, the pushing and tugging of my insides; I avoid looking at the reflection in the bright light above me.
He is out of my belly. Jack. I hear him screaming with powerful lungs, and it is music to my ears. I say, “I’ll have to remember how wonderful the sound of his crying is two weeks from now.” The nurses laugh and one says she likes that.
He is so mad. Jack. My son. He keeps crying while they check him over. I haven’t held him yet, and I love him already. I don’t care that he won’t stop crying. It doesn’t matter in the slightest.
When they give him to me, I talk to him. Jack, you are here. You are real. He calms down, lying on me, skin to skin. I am so happy. This is what it feels like to have a son. I am already jealous of the world that will eventually take him out of my arms. I forgive every mother who has ever doted on her boy.
It’s nice that I’ve done this before. I know what it’s like to have a baby. I am not adjusting to the overwhelming responsibility of parenthood. This time, the learning curve is not so steep. This time, I am not recovering from 24 hours of labor. This time, I will not be anxiously awaiting the next stage of development. This time, I am going to enjoy the baby part. Suddenly, I am a baby person.
Jack. Your arrival makes me happy. It’s as simple as that.
Fiona is in her room, getting dressed. “Why did you give me this kind of sock, Mommy? You know I can’t put it on right! Why? Tell me why!!”
I am folding laundry across the hallway, in the laundry room. “Just try, Fiona. You can do it. I know you can. I BELIEVE in you.”
Jack wanders into the laundry room, shirtless. He is looking to help me. I have to give him something to do, something that won’t undo my work. I let him throw some clothes from the dryer into wrung-out wet clothes in the washer. He does so with conviction, flinging each piece as hard as he can. Finally I let him sit on top of the dryer, next to where I’m standing and folding, so he can fiddle with the knobs.
“MOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!” Fiona wails. “These socks are terrible!” They are princess socks, and they have pink squares where the heels are supposed to go, which highlights the fact that she can’t quite get her heel into the right part. The pink square is bunched up on top of her foot, and Cinderella is underneath.
“Just twist it around until it’s in the right place…” I say, knowing it won’t be that easy.
“Aaaaaaarghhhhhhh!!!!!” She rips it off her foot. The offending sock lies across the room, inside out.
I sigh. “Pick it up and try again.”
“NOOOOO,” she says.
“Why not?” I ask, trying to stay neutral.
“I’m scared of it,” she says.
I ask, “You’re scared of a sock?”
“It’s inside out,” she says, by way of explanation. She is sitting on her bed, half-dressed, looking at that sock across the room.
“You’re scared of an inside-out sock?” I ask incredulously. I grab Jack from the top of the dryer and march into her room. I look down at the sock.
She can’t keep a straight face. I pick it up and scream with horror. She laughs. I put it on her foot for her, because we are running out of time, but I am also laughing with her. I am thinking I have to remember this one to tell Dennis tonight.
A couple of days later she puts on the terrible socks with pink heels all by herself, and I cheer for her from the laundry room. I am genuinely proud of her.