4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
It begins like this.
My alarm goes off and I get out of bed. My husband is already awake, because he is an early bird. I get out of bed, and I go to my youngest’s room. Her hands are thrown up over her head and her face is turned to one side, just so, and she looks like an infant, although she is five.
I kiss her, and I crawl over her in her bed so that I can nuzzle her delicious neck, and I say it’s time to wake up, baby, it’s time to wake up. And as I move away she reaches up her arms and pulls my face down next to hers. She is warm and her breath smells sour, and I can’t stand how much I love her. And then I tell her to get up out of bed. I will be back.
Then I go to her oldest brother’s room. He is asleep, and perhaps he has his favorite snuggle near his face although I would never say that because he is An Eight-Year-Old Boy, practically a grown-up, and An Eight-Year-Old Boy doesn’t sleep with green stuffed frog snuggles.
I sit next to him, and I stroke his cheek because his skin is lusciously warm and soft. I rub his ears, which I call his goat ears, because at the end of his first day at farm pre-school I touched his ears and they were so puffy and soft I wondered if there was something wrong. And then I realized that his ears had grown into that soft goatness months ago, and I had never noticed until I’d sent him away for his first day of school.
He gets out of bed because he is responsible, and he limps into the bathroom and then comes right back out and immediately sets to work getting dressed.
I go to the twins’ room last. They lay in opposite repose. One is cuddled up wearing footed sleepers, covered entirely by his blankets and large stuffed animals, and he is curled around himself like a nautilus shell, the sharp features of his small face barely peeking out from behind Suspenders, the lion.
His sister is across the room spread across the bed like a starfish, arms and legs exposed at every edge of her ever-shrinking nightgown, no blankets anywhere nearby. Her Raphael-esque face is turned to the side, rosy and warm, and her panda named Cocoa or Bamboo is strewn on the floor. There are markers without caps staining her bedspread and a journal with a lock and key at her feet.
Their room is an ice box. Shivering slightly, I bend and pick up the bundle of blankets that is my boy, and I carry him out into the hallway, scooping up his clothing for the day as I go. Then I unzip his footed sleepers and peel them from his warm chest while he is still curled up tightly. (Stripping him naked is the only way I stand a chance of getting him out the door in time.) His twin sister rolls out of bed, and plods past us slowly towards the bathroom.
I go back to my youngest’s room, lift her from her bed and dress her and she tilts and leans sleepily. Then out in the hallway I help snap snaps and get small neck holes over surprisingly large heads. Along the way I move the wash into the dryer, put a dirty load of clothes into the washer. I throw the snow clothes downstairs that dried overnight in the dryer, including inexplicably, one black boot that somehow clunked along for hours on tumble dry. I dress in whatever clothes I laid out for myself late last night and head downstairs.
I start the stove, get out the juicer, find the yogurt. I line up four plates and four small bowls and four spoons and four forks. I heat up the griddle, start the toaster, crack some eggs, scoop out some yogurt, peel bananas, slice an avocado. For my husband I make an omelette, and I juice whatever vegetables and fruits I can find in the refrigerator.
This is what I do.
But somewhere between getting dressed and putting a load in the washer this morning, I looked out the window, and I noticed the way the snow contrasted against the two naked, black trees in our front yard. I suddenly wondered what the view from my bedroom window was growing up. We had two trees in our front yard, a crab apple and a maple. I remember them from the crab apple fights I had with my siblings, but mostly also from old photos, but I don’t remember what they looked like from my window.
I don’t remember my mom coming in to wake me up. I think it was my brother’s morning screams that pulled me out of slumber. I think my mom made instant oatmeal from small packets or we had cereal. Probably we didn’t have orange juice because it was too expensive. And I was allergic to milk, so maybe I had nothing to drink in the morning. I don’t remember though. I don’t remember.
And when I think about my children’s mornings before they were school age, when they were just infants, I don’t quite remember that either. Did I get up and breast-feed the baby first? I think I made waffles a lot, but I’m not sure why. I didn’t make them eggs though. I know that. Did I dress them first, or did I let them eat breakfast in their pajamas? Was Mica always the hardest to wake up?
I do remember heading into the room some mornings and seeing the twins at 18 months old standing at the ends of the cribs, lined up end to end, facing each other just an arm’s length away from one another. They would throw all their stuffed animals into each other’s cribs until all the animals had missed the other’s crib and lay in a pile on the floor in-between them.
I remember that.
And maybe childhood stories don’t matter, the specifics of a fight I had with my sister over whether or not I was keeping our shared bedroom clean enough, or the night I was passing her my glow-in-the-dark Jesus, and I fell out of bed and sliced my hand open on the edge of my canopy bed. Does it matter what I remember and don’t remember?
But I have already forgotten exactly how most of the routine went for my children just a few years ago. And since to me now they seem all grown up, I think that maybe this morning’s routine isn’t special at all. Maybe this is how it will be forever. Until I realize that in a couple years we may have a whole new morning routine, because they will be entirely different children.
Each day will be just slightly evolved from the last. One by one they will outgrow their booster or no longer want an egg for breakfast, or will pick out their own clothing, or will be able to wipe their own butt or do their own hair. Each day will change a tiny bit and each year will change in large ways, until my morning is nothing that I would even recognize.
This whole ritual will somehow disappear as if it never was until I am a woman living with her husband having her own schedule in the morning, checking to see if I got an email or text from my kids. And what will they remember of this time?
This morning they sat at the counter, and they ate the breakfast that I made them. Mica only had to eat four slices of banana, because he hates them so much. I sent my oldest upstairs to bring down toothbrushes and toothpaste so that everyone could brush their teeth after breakfast because our pediatrician asks them every time she sees them if they brush their teeth twice a day. I yelled at everyone to get their socks on, and then I lined up the girls, first one and then the other, and I put their hair in bunches and a braid. I added a ribbon and a headband with flowers. They cried and pulled away but I sang them a sweet song about a mother’s love, and they stopped.
Then my motley tribe headed to the mudroom and they pulled on boots and packed sneakers, then ran back out to the living room to check the pile of dried coats and snow pants and mismatched mittens and they shoved them into backpacks or put them on heads or hands.
And then I started the car from inside, because my new minivan has a remote-starter, and I checked my Fitbit which had nearly 2000 steps, although I have done almost nothing. And my oldest ran outside first because he is the most responsible. And everyone else dawdled, and I herded them out cajoling and yelling. They threw their backpacks in the passenger seat, tumbled over each other into booster seats and car seats, struggling to get seatbelts around puffy coats.
I ran out in a flurry carrying my cup of juice and started the car for real and turned on the radio.
That Vance Joy song, Fire and the Flood, was playing, and I nodded to myself. Because this is what my morning looked like today.
Anywhere I go there you are
Anywhere I go there you are
There you are
There you are
And maybe that’s all that any of us needs to remember.