4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I woke yesterday morning to the mystical, warm smell of my husband ‘s white undershirt. I was half-asleep and he was half-asleep, and I curled up against him, my head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat.
“Happy Fatheth’s Thay,” I mumbled through the stinking plastic of the mouthpiece I wear at night to keep from grinding my old-lady teeth. He pulled me nearer and we listened to the padding feet of our youngest as she walked across the hall from the kids’ bedroom to ours.
I couldn’t help but think of my father, who wore almost those same exact white crew neck undershirts my husband now wears. I distinctly remember curling up on my father’s chest, absolutely bathed in the dull thumping of his heart as he watched Patton or MASH. I was maybe five, the same age as our youngest. I remember offering to refresh my father’s martini or get him a chocolate chip cookie, and then returning to my splayed perch on his mid-section, ear pressed to his heart.
I’ve been thinking of making a woodcut- a man’s white undershirt with two tiny preemie onesies spread across it. It’s been on my mind for years, an ode to fatherhood, a neutral illustration of my husband’s adoration for our children, even in the face of such inexplicable challenges as two spindly preemies like our twins once were.
With every new birth, each crusted, slimy, mewling birthling, my husband swelled up with such father-love, such ridiculously delicious father-pride, that it would leave you awestruck. With each fresh newborn, my husband could be found napping on a couch or bed, cuddling an infant on that same white undershirt. Like my father once did, no matter the strange new baby my mother presented him with, no matter the failing health or worries or pain.
My father wore those undershirts around the house even after he became ill. Especially after he was ill… for eighteen years my Dad wore those undershirts, over tubes and scars, under flannel shirts and heavy quilts attempting to keep his ailing body warm. My father wore those white undershirts under the dress shirts he wore every day when he dragged himself to work and finally to my college graduation and my sister’s weddings. Even as he lamented the fact that he knew he wouldn’t be around for my wedding, just a few years later.
These two fathers who never once met, wearing their parallel universe undershirts, cradling the blonde-haired, blue-eyed DNA-related offspring that filled their beating hearts, it’s enough to make a wife and daughter sigh. Ah, those white men’s undershirts. Such sweet timeless memories.
And so yesterday morning my daughter crawled into our bed, book in hand, with her feet curled on my husband’s white-shirt-clad belly.
After a breakfast of omelets and bacon we all painted the addition to the shed my husband was so excited about.
All the kids were excited to be right there, a part of his happy Father’s Day. By the end of it all they were ready for outdoor showers and scrubbing from Dada in his paint-stained white undershirt.
We went for a long walk, ate filet mignon with our fingers for lunch, fed the kids banana and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.
And later in the evening, my husband and I returned to the shed to finish painting the ceiling, laughing as we screamed the words to 80’s Billboard Hits, high on paint fumes, mojitos and joy. The kids lay in the far reaches of the shed watching a movie on the iPad, curled up on a blanket in their pajamas, propped up on elbows, shoulder to shoulder, toes intertwined.
We celebrated our own hail and hearty Father’s Day, rife with laughter and whining and a paint-stained white undershirt.
Mother, artist, daughter, wife, and friend: with four children in three years things get pretty crazy. Finding time to reflect on motherhood, identity and making art, brings me back to sanity (or as close as I’ll get in this lifetime.)