“I don’t wanna put my pants on, Mama,” he whines at me, plaintive, annoying. He is literally dragging his feet, and every other part of his body – hands slack at his sides, fingers stubbornly refusing to flex and grip the gray corduroys that slide down his lap onto the floor. I grit my teeth, bite back a flare of anger. Deep breath.
“Come on, Jack, you’re a big boy, big boys put their own pants on.” This is a variation on a daily theme – the struggle to get him to dress himself. In advance of my future single-motherhood (three days per week, while their father is working in his own city), I am trying to get my oldest as self sufficient as possible. I will do the mornings and the nights alone, three each per week, and lest I fall over dead from exhaustion, the four-year old has got to start pulling his own weight. We started this dress-yourself endeavor months ago, and – in the preschooler way – some days he just does it without complaint, and some days he emphatically doesn’t.
“I’m not a big boy, Mama.” He’s crying now. ”I am your baby. I wanna be a baby.” Jack is not above manipulating me, and I’m keen to nip such behavior in the bud – but this morning, this particular morning, his tears are genuine. He’s just gotten over an illness, he had a big birthday party weekend, his house is full of boxes, all the pictures off the wall. Everything’s different, everything’s a mess, and it will be months before it’s all put right again. We’re all going to be fine, but this summer of transition is wearing through all of us.
He turns four tomorrow. Four years ago, he was still only mine. We shared that secret, special parental relationship that a pregnant woman is lucky enough to enjoy. It’s not been so long that I have forgotten that I hate being pregnant – no amount of years can erase the memory of spending eight weeks not being able to breathe or sleep when Liam was still torturing me from within. But, especially on their birthdays, I remember the sweet part of pregnancy, that time when they belonged to only me. From the moment they are born, I’ve had to share them with others. (Been lucky to have so many others around that want to love them!) But before that, when they existed but didn’t yet breathe air, I was able freely to indulge in calling them mine, all mine. I didn’t have to share either of them with anyone, didn’t have to teach them anything, didn’t have to do anything but try to eat well and sleep enough and feel them moving around, performing their mysteries in the dark and comfort of their safe maternal home. There were other people’s hands on my belly, feeling a kick – the odd gift sent by mail, anticipating their birth. Others loved them before they were born, but I was the only one who got to know them. I don’t think you need this time to love your baby – we ourselves are thinking of adoption one day, and I wouldn’t love that future daughter any less than I do my birth-sons. It’s just a lovely gift, a special few moments in time when you don’t have to think about shoving your child from you with two hands, forcing him to go Live and Experience, to learn to live without you, since one day he will have to.
Jack is standing there in his underpants, tears pooling underneath his glasses, slipping down his cheeks, his ever-slimmer and grown-up cheeks. Four years (minus one day) ago, his whole body nestled comfortably along the length of my forearm. Now he is all gangly arms and legs. His shin-bones are long and slender, his tummy no longer a baby pot-belly. As I did in the hospital, in the dark, all those years ago, I marvel at the glory of this perfect body that I made, out of nothing, out of the air. I pull him to me, tall and slim and still weeping, in a big hug. ”You’ll always be my special baby, honey. Always, always.”
“Now put your pants on.”