How the smells encompass! The smell of sour milk and soggy diapers. Witch hazel and mustard-yellow pooh. Body odor and my two-year-old’s breath. Then the weekends come with a whiff of night-blooming jasmine and orange blossoms. I’m baking fresh bread, and Philip has just wiped down the counters with our lemongrass spray.
Back to the plow and the sounds of motherhood. Her fake cough seconds before she latches on. His three-toned imitation of a sentence. His pushcart rolling over the hardwood floor. Then his cars crashing. The songs from the CD “If You Give a Moose a Muffin.” Again and again and again.
“Iek. Iek.” (Milk)
“Ail. Ail.” (Mail)
“Ash. Ash.” (Crash or grass or trash)
“Bebe.” (Baby or naked)
“Oh. Oh.” (Blow or throw or mow)
Despite the noise, she’s cooing. Talking contentedly. She bursts into a happy shout. Then she won’t stop crying because of the gas that tightens her stomach, so I put her down and vacuum her to sleep. The machine’s roar neutralizes all noises. It’s peaceful for five minutes, for ten. Lee watches the roaring machine from his perch on the couch. I’ve run out of things to vacuum. I enter the ruckus again.
This is a life that touches. She kicks against my stomach, jumping to demand a change of position. She bats me in the face with her fists. And thud, while I burp her, her wobbly head knocks against my ear. I’ve got scratches like paper cuts from her nails. And her warm spit-up runs down my arm. She is not capable of a gentle touch yet but Lee is.
He drapes his fuzzy blanket over me and puckers his snot-encrusted lips to kiss me. He lays across my legs while I nurse so that he can be close to me too. He holds up his hands in preference to being carried as opposed to walking himself to his crib for a nap.
At 12:45 I’ve reached the eye of the tornado and the wind stops. They are both asleep. I can hear the mockingbirds outside and a neighbor banging a hammer. The refrigerator buzzes, and my Oolong tea has the perfect bitter to sweet ratio. I regroup and count the casualties.
There’s potty on this rug somewhere. I know it. But where? My water bottles need refilling. What are we eating for dinner again? I could take a shower, but no, I’d rather write. I’d rather paint the sounds and smells and sights, so that one day when I’m old, and I long for these days again, I can remember what they were like.
Relief comes at 6 pm. I hear Philip’s car alarm honk twice and soon the kitchen door rattles open. Lee frantically crawls between the sofa and the footrest. He hides beneath my legs while he whispers, “Ide. Ide.” Then Phil stomps in. “Where’s the Lee boy?” Lee’s laughter makes me forget the strain for a few short seconds.
Dinner is delicious. I’ve roasted beets and served them alongside a salad of fresh greens foraged from the side yard: radish tops, spinach, kale, nasturtium blossoms, and dandelion greens. Lee helped me gather them. He loves eating his greens when he has picked them himself. I washed the leaves one by one this morning. I’ve sliced up some leftover pork too and served it cold over the salad. The entire dish is drenched in a vinaigrette dressing and shoveled down the throat in less than five minutes. Chug the orange juice. Drop the dishes in the sink. And feed the Waa-Waa!
Such moments of chaos and distress juxtaposed beside such moments of beauty and awe and laughter.
Phil spreads a blanket out on the front lawn, and we have a picnic lunch after church. Lee sits quietly and eats his bread and lettuce while Rose kicks and gnaws on her fist. The spring breeze, the cool shade, the warm sun.
Rose has bouts of eating properly. She’ll take no more than twenty minutes, actively sucking the entire time. And Lee will find some new way to play with his toys. He’ll put his beaded necklaces on and off, on and off, on and off. He’ll drive his cars and trucks over the couch cushions and make little tunnels for them.
After dinner Phil suggests we walk down to Mimos for cannolis. We make it an adult-paced walk by carrying the children. Phil carries Lee. I carry Rose. The sun is setting pink. The temperature is just right. The air smells like jasmine. We talk about SketchUp and landscaping our backyard and disciplining Lee and owning a dog. Rose falls asleep.
Then there are the surprise visits from my mother mid-week. They’re like rain in the desert. She asks to take Lee to the park or the library or her house, and for those few hours I feel like a queen. I haven’t more time, but I have silence and my thoughts.
Phil has sent me out thrice now. He’s taken charge of both kids and sent me out with Lois Thorpe. We have girl talk, church talk, philosophical talk, practical talk, adult talk, talk that jumps from subject to subject in a natural flow, talk that gives and takes, your turn, my turn. How sweet and precious such talk is! Uninterrupted. Curious. Skeptical. Thoughtful. I take a full two hours to eat the meal that I didn’t prepare and that I won’t clean up. How delicious it tastes!
Such moments of respite are made so much sweeter when they’re put between those hours of work.