I lie on the bottom bunk with Benjamin. As reluctant as he is to go down for a nap, he is never in much of a hurry to wake up afterwards, and I like to lie down next to him, taking full advantage of his lethargy to cuddle him in safety. In a half an hour, he will be bouncing, high on the exuberance of being almost-three, and his affection will turn considerably more hazardous for all those in the path of his running-start hugs. Right now, however, I am lying on my back with an Ugly Doll behind my head, several stuffed animals under my butt, and a very wet giraffe blankie pressing up against my chest as Benjamin snuggles into what Carrie Bradshaw referred to as “the nook.”
Giraffie is wet because it spends a lot of time in my son’s mouth. Benjamin doesn’t just suck that thing, he nurses on it, tongue-thrust and all. Fortunately, we have four of them, so we can wash it daily, but it never stays dry for long. When given a clean blankie, the child protests, “I want a wet Giraffie,” and then immediately sets to work turning the freshly laundered blankie back into what we fondly term “The Source of All Staph Infections.”
“Honey, Giraffie is getting me all wet,” I whisper, pushing it off my body and burying my nose in Ben’s hair to escape the rotting-carpet smell of his lovey. Brown waves brush over my face, and I imagine my own mother, looking down at a very similar head of hair thirty-four years ago. She knew she would be dead soon, but what did I know? Was there any discomfort in cuddling with her, or was she the same source of love Ben feels with me? How did she feel looking at my hair when her own was long-gone?
There are my thoughts as I lie with my middle child as my elder son reads books with our au pair in the other room. I also feel guilty, because I am lying here, enjoying the hedonistic delights of nuzzling with my ever-so-affectionate toddler, when maybe I should be reading with Zachary, instead. Maybe that’s the harder job, so I should do that one, instead of the pleasurable task of gently waking Benjamin with kisses and back scratches.
“Do you want to get up soon?” I ask him.
Of course, if I were reading with the other son, I’d feel guilty that I was not in the bedroom, waking the littler one, who after all deserves to be awakened by his mother. Because maybe that’s the harder job, and clearly as the mother I should be doing the most unpleasant tasks.
But, why? I ask myself. After all, I do plenty of the miserable stuff. My kids poop in sequence, so I wipe their asses one after the other all morning long. I wash their dishes and discipline them, which, let’s be honest, is the crappiest part of parenting. So, why should I necessarily always assume I should do whatever is the “worse” job, instead of simply enjoying the reward.? The best part of parenting is reading to your kid or holding him as he drowses towards alertness, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying it.
Lord knows why these kids want me. Most of what they see of me is managing their lives – applying sunblock and remembering to pack a snack and spare underpants. Hell, I would have given up on any meaningful emotional contribution ages ago if I were they. But, they seem to know it’s there, seem confident in understanding that I adore them, even if I growl way too often. There is a security in my love that I think they have, a security that totally baffles me.
I lie there pondering the peace of mind that they possess, one I never even knew existed as a child. They are full in some way I cannot comprehend because they are certain of parental love. I think back to my own childhood; I had no idea something like that was missing. Yet, I must have known because I continually sought love, adoration, anything to fill that empty place I did not even know existed. Is that why I grasped at those who flung any scrap of tenderness in my direction? My need was huge as a child and adolescent, yet I had absolutely no idea that not everyone feels that aching and destitution.
What finally filled it? I would like to think it was my husband, but he kinda just filled the normal need for a partner. I stare out the window at the palm trees and realize that the kids supply the love I once sought. What I had needed was maternal love, and, since I will never get it, giving it will have to do.
I lie there, and there are things I need to do. I ought to be getting up and sending those emails, making those calls, because Lilah will wake soon and I need to nurse her and then there will be three kids up and I’ll never get anything done. And I feel so guilty for thinking that way, because I am supposed to be letting go of the mundane and reveling in the waning moments of Benjamin’s babyhood.
So, I will myself to remember my lesson of last summer: we don’t get to keep the babies. And I give myself permission to lie there. He turns, grunting as he aggressively wedges his head into my collarbone, and Giraffie comes dangerously close to my face. I push the offending object away as best I can, but I don’t want to move for fear we’ll never fit together this well again.
“We can stay here as long as you like,” I tell him, although I know it is not true because he would like to keep me captive on his bed all afternoon, and my breasts will be needed in the next room shortly. I can already hear the baby stirring.