I’ve not been out of the shower for more than ten minutes when my youngest son Oliver wakes up. “Can someone get me up?” he yells from his crib.
I walk into his room, hair still wet, and pull him up and into my arms. “Hi buddy,” I tell him through kisses. “Is your pull up dry?” I ask the question with absolutely no hope that the answer will be yes.
We’ve been potty training for a week and a half now and the results have been inconsistent at best.
“I don’t know,” he answers with that smirk of his that would make me move mountains if he asked.
I take him to the potty, an affair that has become far more of a process than I would like. Before I pull down his pants, I line the seat with toilet paper otherwise it’s “too cold” for him to stay on there. I feel like I’ve wasted a forest full of trees in my attempt to gain a diaper-less existence for my husband and me.
I help him slide his pajama pants down around his ankles and laugh a little at how his belly still pokes out like Winnie The Pooh’s, full of everything honey-like and soft and sweet. It’s still rounded and full of baby fat even while he tries to do something so grown up. I tickle his tummy and am rewarded with a giggle that bounces off of the porcelain in the bathroom, grateful that we won’t be leaving every part of babyhood behind all at once.
I sit him on the potty and keep him distracted so that he’ll relax enough to go. We play with the action figures that are still on the bathroom floor from the same ritual before bed the night before. We sing, we giggle. He finally goes. I cheer for him and give him a sticker from the half-used sheet lying at the ready next to the sink and tell him to go tell his Dad.
We go into my bedroom and I look at the clock with a sigh. We have to leave for school in just over an hour. My hair is still wet.
The morning chaos has long since swept me up.
I’ve spent the last twenty minutes preparing meals for my kids. Breakfast lays half eaten in front of their sleep-lined faces. Lunches lay half packed inside their insulated lunch boxes. Both meals are peppered with my best intentions. Intentions that include multiple food groups and hopes that the healthy items won’t remain untouched like the day before.
I sigh as I throw out a bag of uneaten apple slices left inside my son Judah’s lunch box from yesterday. He insists that he can’t find the time to eat them because his friends make him laugh too much during lunch.
“I can’t take bites while I’m laughing, Mama. I might choke,” he offers in his own defense.
“You had no problem eating the girl scout cookies, though, huh?” I reply with a smirk.
He smiles back at me and takes a bite of his banana.
“Mama! My tooth fell out!” Judah exclaims.
“Finally!” I say with a smile and a little clap. The thing has been blowing in the wind for weeks now. He turns to me and smiles. It’s a landscape that’s unknown to me now, that toothless grin of his. He hands me his tooth and I cradle it in my palm, unable to stop my mind from remembering how I cradled him there in that same palm while he cut that very tooth. I remember feeling proud of myself for a witty comment I posted on my Facebook page that week so many years ago. “Orajel, take me away!” I had written under a picture of him and I cuddling.
Those days of teething had been tiring and now here we were, saying goodbye to that very same tooth on a regular Tuesday morning.
He looks old and proud and somehow, seeing him sans one tooth makes the thought of him laughing through lunch with a bunch of other toothless, first grade boys makes me glad that he ate his girl scout cookies. Glad that he’s growing and laughing and doing all the things that little boys do.
The morning marches on.
“Not pig-tails,” Annabelle says with a groan. She feels the comb slide down the center of her head, dividing her dark hair into two equal parts that swirl and curl back towards each other at the ends.
I love how her hair curls in pigtails. It forms itself into two gentle ringlets that dance towards her chin.
I tell her so in less poetic language but she pushes back like I knew she would.
“I want my favorite thing, Mama,” she tells me. She means half of her hair pulled back into a ponytail. It’s simple but she loves it so I comply.
What I don’t tell her while I comb through the part I just made is that I wish I could put her hair in pigtails all of the time. That when I do, it makes my heart squeeze and comforts me in a way that is almost silly. What I don’t tell her is that when her hair is pulled into two even sections framing her breathtaking face that has grown and matured I can see her at two again. See her with the same two strands of hair while she clutches her blankie up under her nose and dances in the dress that she refused to take off for days on end.
I finish her hair and she runs off laughing. Movement and giggles are her native tongue and I smile and shake my head. She’s left her blankie next to me. Left it lying alone as she races off towards the next minute.
Somehow, I’ve managed to arrive at the breakfast table. My bagel and yogurt sit before me and I look at the clock. We need to leave in ten minutes or we’ll be stuck in the very back of the drop off line at Judah’s school.
I take large, hasty bites, knowing that Annabelle will walk up to me at any second asking for a bite of my bagel. The day before she asked in song form and I gave her two because it made me feel giggly and joyful in a way that only she can.
She doesn’t come, though. She’s too distracted with the game that the three of them have begun playing. I can’t make out what it is, just that it makes them giggle. It makes them huddle together on the stairs. It makes them build a memory of each other that will carry them through their day.
I smile and bite back the reminder on the tip of my tongue that it’s almost time to go. Instead, I pick up my coffee with both hands. The porcelain is warm beneath my skin and it invades every last nerve ending. It startles and comforts me, that warmth.
Usually, I hold my mug by the handle, hold it with one hand and gulp down the coffee while I’m doing something else. Signing a piece of homework or rinsing off a dish or pointing someone in the direction of their toothbrush.
Now, though, by some sacred fluke, I’ve grabbed it up with both hands, grabbed it up and slowly sipped.
The kids laugh in the background and I take a drink of coffee. I close my eyes at the potent, poignant combination. It’s all there in that split second, the pay-off of the morning.
The bolstering presence of home and childhood and family and laughter. The work and the hope and the memories and promise. What has been and what’s coming. The warmth that comes from holding life and love in both hands.
It’s all there in the chaos of the morning.
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