Friday, July 30, 2010

Renewing My License

I went to the DMV to renew my license on my 32nd birthday because that was the date it expired, and I like to wait till the last minute. The air from sky down was blue and balmy, which was a pleasant change from sticky. I took a tree-lined route that canopied vividly without all that haze. Simon and Garfunkel's Cecilia came on and I belted out the words to the thunky beat as I revved my car close to the red line just because I could. There was too much congestion on the semi-country road to keep up any speed for long. With the kids back home with The Partner, I enjoyed the solitude, the green and gold, and the snarl of my engine on the ride to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The front lot was full as I pulled in. I drove around to a spot behind the building. I got out of the car, still feeling free, which was a remarkable feeling considering my destination. I hiked my purse over my shoulder and walked along 70s-era bureaucratic bricks that climbed high with no windows to let in, or out, such things as light or sanity. As I was about to turn the corner, a whistle emerged from the car passing by. "Niiice!" the driver called out.

If my car had been closer or if I had looked as straggly as I usually do, I would not have assumed his comment was directed toward me. As it was, my guy-magnet vehicle was nowhere nearby, and I had actually taken some effort to put myself together that morning. He wasn't appreciating my ride; he wasn't mocking me. There I was, 32 years old, being cat-called. This was a birthday gift. I resisted the urge to do a jig and settled, instead, for pushing my purse back up on straightened shoulders. I purposely avoided looking at him, or even at his car. I didn't want the probable reality of what such a cat-caller would look like (or drive) to chase away my warm fuzzies.

I hummed a tune--probably Cecilia--as I pulled open the metal-lined glass door that marked the entrance to the DMV in grime. On the other side of the vestibule, a man held open the next door, balancing a large Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and a sheaf of forms against the handle. I smiled and said thanks.

Then I got in line and waited for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gift Giving

Happy birthday to you. I shuffled all groggy and froggy into the Boss's bedroom, the detritus of sleep sticking in the corners of my eyes and in my throat. Happy birthday to you. A smile pushed all her facial features upward as looked over at me from the book that was open in her lap. Happy birthday dear Boss, happy birthday to you. Tossing the pages aside, she slid off her bed and landed, in a few strides, at my side.

"Thank you, mom," she said, ever mannerful. She held my gaze with eyes that I still maintain are the only thing she got from me. The artful gradations of blue were framed by a blond bob. The changes weren't sudden, exactly--I had been aware of something creeping up on me--but she seemed striking in her growth. Her legs and arms dangled with a distinct lack of baby fat from her solid core. She leaned into me. "Even though it's my birthday, I have a present for you," she said. "Do you want it?"

"Of course I do!"

The gift was a hug. She enveloped me where I stood, wrapping her arms around hips that were much wider than they had been just over five years earlier. My hipbones fit into the bend of her elbows as she squeezed. I crosssed my arms over her back and tried to meet her strength with my own.

She tells the story, you know. I only write it down.


The thing that sticks with me is The Boss's breath when she was just-born. Holding on is no mean feat, considering the amount of Morphine coursing through my veins at the time. Forever and ever, the scent of rubbing alcohol will make me think of pure baby girl. I didn't expect her to smell like that when I put my face to hers the first time. I hurt everywhere. The pain, drugs and lost time conspired to take away all of the primal exhilaration that is (supposed to be) childbirth. But then I saw my husband's tears, and I smelled my daughter's breath like muted isoproponol on wet, red lips, and I knew that something monumental was happening. I knew it, and I almost felt it. But mostly I felt bad, my arm limp around the swaddled mass that exuded perfect newness. I couldn't stop shivering. I was glad when my husband took her away so I could lose consciousness again.

I fell into a sleep void of all senses except her breath on my face.


She toddles. Almost fifteen months from the day she first set foot on Earth, she began making her own treads. I know she's no trailblazer, but the implications in her own small sphere are enormous. My daughter is making her way in the world.

Her gait is precarious. Each step seems too light to hold her, but the halting weight of one foot against the ground, then the other, pushes her forward in a baby gust. I stop counting the movements; it seems as if she will go on forever. Then her confidence falls out from under her as she folds to a neat stop on her knees.

This is how she will get where she's going. It's literal now, but soon enough the baby steps will mean something different. It's careful exploration. It's tentativeness. It's the way one feels out a world where solidity, texture and layout is uncertain. Her first day of school. A part in a play. A sleepover. A test. This is how she will learn, by pushing herself on her own terms.

I am proud of her pacing. I thought early on that I wanted her to be the first at everything. I wanted her to be precocious. A fat, walking, talking bundle of joy. And don't get me wrong--she's joyful. But she's also small and comtemplative; calm and observant. I am so enamored of her unexpected personality that any desire I had for her to be something other than she is vanished in the gray fog of so many pre-parental ideals.

Now I know that her whims are her own. Her timing is impeccable. She is exactly right.


Roughly three hours before the first labor contraction of my second childbirth hit, The Boss had a precognitive existential crisis. She was sitting on our bed as The Partner and I nested our way through a much needed pick-up of the bedroom. Maybe it was witnessing this act of cleaning that shocked her system, so foreign was the idea of seeing her mother with a duster in one hand and vacuum in the other. Maybe it was the intuition of the imminent arrival of a sibling. Whatever the cause, it's safe to say that The Boss freaked out.

"It's not fun being bigger and older!" she shrieked suddenly. It came out of nowhere. She rose to her feet on the semi-firm mattress and threw herself prone. "It's not fun!" She was screaming again, and rising again. Then she threw herself back. She was crying.

"What's wrong, honey?" The Partner and I climbed onto the bed with her, patting and consoling and wondering. We had hazy notions of what troubled her, but we wanted her to articulate it. We wanted to say the right things back.

She probably wanted words, too. But all that came out was I don't know.


It might've been spilled milk, or the fact that that dinner got cold while we were waiting for The Partner to finish a conference call, or maybe that someone ganked the last of the banana bread. The cause doesn't matter as much as the admission.

"It's all my fault," The Partner said, throwing up his hands in martyrdom. "It's always my fault."

The Boss looked over at me. "It's his fault," she confirmed. "Not ours."

I laughed. I had to. But the chuckle lost depth as I thought of growing up in a house where my mother would drop a glass in the kitchen and immediately blame the wreckage on someone else, even if the nearest person was minding her own business upstairs in my bedroom, reading Judy Blume through spectacles as thick as magnifying glasses.

"It's nobody's fault." I spoke more for The Boss's benefit than to validate The Partner's histrionics. "We don't need to blame anyone."

The Boss's eyes were wide with knowledge that belied her three uneventful years. She looked from me to her father before settling back on me. Her voice was a blend of confidence and whisper. It was as if she didn't want to burden me too heavily with the truth. "But sometimes people have fault."

So I conceded. How could I not? I marveled at our daughter with a headshake and a shrug, then I dismissed the issue from the table. "You're right. Sometimes people do have fault. You're absolutely right." I was sure it was something we'd be able to discuss in more detail for the rest of our lives.


From the moment she was ripped from my gaping abdomen while I laid there unconscious, The Boss has been the one in charge. Three years of experience only rendered her more effective.

At three, The Boss is benevolent. She drops lispy words of encouragement like candy: "I really love you, Mommy" or "You're beautiful." She says "please" and "thank you" and "may I use that when you're done?"

She only breaks down occasionally, though you don't want to be the one called into her office to witness that harangue.

She is a people person, too. She chats with strangers in the supermarket about subjects ranging from her weekend plans to bodily functions to her upcoming pre-school matriculation. These strangers are usually charmed by her voice and passion. I am always proud. Okay, well, sometimes--in the case of the exclamations on functional anatomy--I admit to being a tad bit embarrassed.

Her thoughts and emotions are vivid. They're right there. She's a magnifying glass that uses sunlight to ignite everything in the line of sight. Without her, I wouldn't notice half of what's around me, and there'd be no fire.

I told The Boss that her birthday was also my anniversary. "You made me a mom," I said. "Before that, I was just Binky."

She laughed, like that was so silly. "You're not Binky. You're Mommy Binky." She threw everything into the giggle that followed, the sound coming from her diaphragm and emerging deeper and louder than one would expect from a just-turned-three-year-old. She always laughs like that. "You're not Binky. Nope."

"That's right," I agreed, matching her laugh. "That's exactly what I'm trying to tell you."


The Partner was home all day with no big plans to fix all that was failing around him. We ate breakfast first, which he cleared as I nursed Number Two. Then the baby napped. The Partner and The Boss played a board game. I shut the door on them all and ran a bath.

Later we watched home movies of The Boss when she was the age Number Two is now. I had no recollection. Was she really ever so tiny? I looked down to where she sat, nestled in my arm on the love seat, and I found it hard to see her as anything other than what she was at that very moment. The past, though vivid on the screen, was faded; the future, a blur. I patted the solid bend of her leg next to mine.

The Boss's bath came before dinner. I lined up foam letters in short word formation on the wall of the tub. I held my breath as The Boss sounded out the first one."Puh-ah-duh. P-a-d. Pad!"

I screamed and clapped. I ran to get the Partner, who wore mechanics' overalls as he worked under my car in the garage. He followed me up the stairs to the bathroom."You've got to see this," I said.

I arranged three more letters in front of The Boss, who was splashing slap-happy as the center of attention. "She can read! She can really read!"

She studied the word. "Buh..."

The Partner and I stared down, nodding her on. My eyebrows were high in my forehead. I still wasn't breathing. "Yes?" I sucked in air, prodding.

"Buh...ah...guh. B-a-g. Bag!" The Boss fell forward like a seal, splashing water over the side of the tub, sending the letters sailing away. We were all spastic.

At the end of the night, after the dishwasher had been loaded and the kids' beds filled, The Partner and I sat down to a movie. I don't like to be sad on purpose, but I suggested The Bucket List anyway, thinking that an uplift would prevail. And it did. We've never been immune to schmaltz.

Toward the end I cried so hard that my face hurt where the tears clogged my sinuses.

"It was the little girl that got me," The Partner said. She was the new found granddaughter Jack Nicholson kissed on the cheek; she was the most beautiful girl in the world. "I can't see a little blond and not think of our own adorable kid." His eyes were puffy. He sighed beneath the weight of pride. That breath propelled him into the star-struck addendum that follows almost any mention of The Boss: "She's the best." It takes a little more air away each time. "The best."


Even though it's my birthday, I have a present for you. Do you want it?


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Recollections From the South of France

Our arrival at the Nice airport was heralded, if not by The Boss's immediate declaration that she had "to go potty," then by the one she made minutes later when she was finally and firmly entrenched in the bathroom stall: "It smells like horse poop in here!" My own keen sense of observation honed in on the lack of hand soap and paper towels. We scrubbed our hands under the running water and then wiped them on our thighs.

Back at the baggage claim, a greeter (not unlike those stationed at the entrances of WalMarts back here in the States, except that she was thin and French and pretty) had pity upon our poor hunchbacked party and wheeled a baggage buggy in our direction. We loaded four suitcases in excess of 160 pounds onto the cart and made our way across the glass-lined building, through Customs, and into the direct sunlight.

"France is so beautiful!" The Boss enthused, all traces of horse poop erased from her nasal memory. The scaly, sharp-fronded glory of so many palm trees made my four year old gasp; she watched them wave in the Taxis' wind. Small cars darted all around us, puttering into traffic circles or detours forced by airport construction. The Partner's two French uncles led us to a set of outside elevators below the parking garage. From there, we were delivered to the family compound.

The eldest of The Partner's uncles--il s'appelle Attilio--presided over a swath of property only two or three miles from the Mediterranean. On it he had built homes for his three sons, each modern villa connected by Attilio's green house, where, at the time of our arrival, tomatoes, green beans, and zucchini flourished. The three new houses and Attilio's old one, where he lived with his wife, Colette, sat at the base of the city of Biot, which climbed in blocky, stucco steps up a seastruck mountain.

A straight path led from the house in which we were staying (it belonged to the youngest of Attilio's sons) to the home of the patriarch himself. We would walk that small hill--just a asphalt tease before the steep cobblestones that could take us to the city if we wished--each noontime and night. Meals were served in an extended outdoor banquet that spilled over with meat and shellfish and wine. On our first day there, Number Two fell asleep at the table, his forehead pressed against the wooden lip. Nine of us shared one bottle of champagne and five of wine.

I stumbled home soon after for siesta, leaving The Partner and the kids with their long lost family. I prepared for the welcome release of afternoon sleep with a tumbler of gaseous water (it sounds better in French). The bubbles effervesced 24 hours, 2 continents, and approximately one liter of alcohol into the stuff dreams are made of. I lowered myself onto the bed of white linen, letting the down of duvet and pillow swallow me. The breeze, trapped between mountain and sea, whirled at my back.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Kiss Keeper

Number Two, despite being put together of mostly inscrutable parts, is straight-forward in matters of the heart. He is a kisser. He puckers whenever the urge strikes, thwack-ing toward me with mouth and legs working in concert. He will continue to suck his bottom lip into his bottom teeth, with the top lip breaking the suction loudly, over and over until I lower my own face to his. Then he'll smile into a turn. Then he'll waddle off. Then he will be, once more, the cryptic kid--but only until he kisses again, with the generosity of a soul that knows just how much to share and just how much to save for later.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Moment of Weakness

Today, in my cleaning closet, I realized there are people whose entire homes smell like that. I took a deep breath, savoring the toxic odor of clean, before I stepped back into my hallway. Humid air hugged me. It was eau de grass clippings and last night's dinner and dog, with just the slightest hint of diaper. I thought of slipping back into the closet, settling on the floor amidst detritus of the kind that collects on closet floors, and letting my head fall back on the inhale. Cleanliness. Purity. Starch and bleach. I stared at the blond wood whorls on the door as I fantasized about what lay inside. Then I shook myself back to reality.

That stuff'll kill you.