4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
Last night we went out to eat at a favorite restaurant with my in-laws, my hubby, and kids. Which seems more like an expected kind of birthday. But the one photo my husband took of everyone shows the moment immediately after one of my children who shall remain nameless (or maybe his name begins with the letter J) ripped the loudest fart ever. And not on purpose. But that’s 48, a mistakenly fart-ripping birthday. So we all started laughing or grimacing or grabbing onto each other, and now this is the picture that captures the birthday.
48 is waking up in the middle of the night a few hours later and sitting bolt upright in bed, gasping for breath because you think the house is on fire because you left a tea kettle boiling on the stove even though you haven’t had tea all week. Because there seems to be a considerable amount of worries and concerns and sad things and losses in this world these days. Which clearly manifest themselves in dreams about burning tea kettles. And also a dream right as the alarm rings about a goat eating all my felting wool.
48 is stumbling downstairs bleary-eyed to work out with your husband on yoga mats in the living room and forgetting it’s actually your birthday until he wishes you a happy birthday halfway through your third exhausted downward dog.
48 is driving your kids to school but forgetting for the first time in decades to listen for your birthday gris-gris, the first song you hear on your birthday that describes your next year. It’s forgetting because you’re too busy reminding your kids for the fiftieth time that you can’t be responsible for reminding them of everything for the fiftieth time. Because mama can barely remember her own stuff for the first time. So if I remember to remind you of something even once you actually have to pay attention because that third, fifth, fiftieth reminder might not come. SO BRING YOUR PIANO MUSIC TO SCHOOL ON MONDAYS!!
Then 48 is sneaking off to the beach for a really quick run because running on the beach each day is your way of saying thank you to the earth and to god and to everything bigger and more powerful than you for this day, for this gorgeous world, even if it’s below freezing and there are wind gusts of 50 mph and some of the beach is still hard and frozen and some of it is surprising sinkholes.
48 is returning to school to paint the sets of the school play even though your kids aren’t even in the play because you used to paint sets 35 years ago back in high school, lumping around the pretty singing kids in your paint-spattered overalls. Because as much as we change, really, we mostly stay the same.
Then it’s meeting up with a friend because she has to take you to Costco (because you’re not a member but she thinks there’s some stuff there you might really need for your family vacation) but then you tell her you have to go to the DMV to get your license renewed because… duh. Birthday. And the two of you sit on your plastic chairs laughing your asses off because you realize that you’re probably going to need to get your photo taken (which will remain on your license for ten more years) and you literally have paint on your face, no makeup, raggedy 50-mph-gusts running hair, and no earrings. So you borrow her earrings and take off three running shirts, and fix your hair the best you can.
Then you go to Costco and buy huge bags of things you maybe don’t need like dried chickpeas, an enormous rotisserie chicken, and twelve avocados (we actually do need those.) And then you run into another friend at Costco, and it’s like a perfect, crap 48-year-old surprise party, two friends who don’t know each other and you right in the middle of Costco! Then later you sprint through the parking lot to stop a cart hurtling towards your friend’s new minivan on the wings of 50 mph gusts and the two of you are bent over laughing at the ridiculousness of your 48-year-old sprint.
It’s going back to corral your kids from piano lessons, walking through the library saying, “Hey, guys. Time to go. Also, time for you to grab your stuff. Don’t forget your bag. No, YOU need your bag, too. Get off the computer. You too. Also, you.” And then suddenly remembering it’s your birthday (because you haven’t remembered since the DMV) and saying loudly, “You know what? It’s my birthday. I don’t need to help any of you,” right in front of their school librarian. And then walking out. And them all running after you contritely like not-very-smart lambs with gaping backpacks dropping shirts and papers falling out of books, and really, it’s the sweetest damn thing.
48 is getting back in the minivan and forgetting again that it’s your birthday (amid stories of their days and cup stacking and puberty talk in science and so on) until you’re almost home and you suddenly remember it’s your birthday so you turn on the radio for your birthday gris gris finally and it’s literally Bob Dylan singing Rolling Stone.
Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime,
And as you turn into the driveway you start to laugh. Because that’s such a funny trash song a man would sing about a woman, that would feel fitting if you just looked at the funny trash day I had, what with dirty paint pants over stinky running tights, old lady face at the DMV, the 50 mph gusts, the annoying kids and all.
People’d call, say “Beware doll,
you’re bound to fall,”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
But really, it’s the opposite of a trash day.
48 is knowing it was a really, really good day. 48 is letting go of the ideas 24-year-old me (and maybe even 43-year-old me) would have had about how a birthday day should be.
48 is feeling like my kids watching me paint this enormous set, or the laughter at the DMV, the wind propelling me down the beach like I’m five years old again and have wings to fly on, that these things all matter. It’s knowing that yoga in the darkness next to my husband as the sun sneaks through the window, even as we creak and moan, is mystical. 48 is feeling that those messy, forgetful, no good, four rotten kids of mine are so pure and bright and transcendent that they fill up every part of me, and my god, honestly what more than that could I possibly have a right to ask for, birthday or otherwise? Friends, husband, children; a vocation and two legs to run on; a Costco rotisserie chicken and less than a 20 minute wait at the DMV. At lunchtime!
The end of the day of 48 is making the kids chicken soup with the rotisserie chicken and getting them to all read quietly on the couch while you cook dinner. It’s baking your own crazy cake (six ingredients all mixed right in the pan) and them sweetly singing Happy Birthday to you, then, “Are you 1? Are you 2? Are you 3? Are you 4?…” all the way to 48 while the candle burns low.
It’s reading to all of them in your son’s bed, and then tucking them each in, giving medicine, laying out clothing, answering puberty questions in the darkness, and then heading downstairs to scroll through dear birthday wishes in texts, emails and on FB, waiting for my husband to make it home from work to kiss me good night. It’s feeling full and satisfied and solidly, gratefully, in this very place, 50 mph winds or not.
How does it feel
How does it feel
How does it feel indeed.