It’s creepy, really, the way I stare at babies in Market Basket. If I didn’t know me, I’d be, at the very least, uncomfortable. Fat babies, especially, get me. How to look away from those cheeks? Those sausagy upper arms? The layers of fat that make up their thighs? When your own daughters are well muscled, when their faces have noticable cheekbones, when their feet are flat and not the impossibly round, handful of feet they used to be, how can you help but stare at other people’s babies? When you remember how sweet their milk breath smelled, how soft their hair used to be, how heavy they could be when they fell sound asleep against your chest, well, is it any wonder you can’t look away?
And, mostly, when you wonder if you appreciated it when you had it — those baby bodies, the warmth and the weight of those people you love most in the world in your arms, on your lap, beside you in bed as you read to them– it makes sense, doesn’t it, that, though the deli line is ridiculously long, and the dairy case is out of your favorite yogurt again, and the aisles are clogged with people who don’t understand how much more convenient it would be if they moved their cart to one side or the other, that what fills you is not frustration or boredom or impatience, but a profound sense of longing.
After an exhaustive search (in the days before babies), I finally found the sofa of my dreams (yes, this is what I dreamt about): an overstuffed, floral cloud of a couch. You fell into it and resisted ever dislodging yourself. And when the girls were babies, we wallowed in it — under an afghan for movie nights, piled together for storytime, stretched out across one another mornings when I drank my tea and they in feetsie pajamas, sucked juice cups full of milk. I remember one day as we sat there, one of them crawled into my lap and I thought: Will I always have a kid on my lap whenever I sit down? At the time, it seemed a legitimate question. I attached no emotion to it. I wasn’t fed up or worried or, even (especially), nostalgic. I just couldn’t imagine people not assuming my lap was fair game for plopping themselves down on. I remember them saying, “I want to sit here,” as if choosing a seat in the theater. Together, we sank into the endless pillow that was that couch.
Bath times it was rub-a-dub-dub, three babies in the tub. We had a system. face to toes, one at a time, hair last. Dennis dried them off and in they came, naked and warm, to lay on our bed so I could give them their massages with vanilla-scented lotion. Later, as we sat and read, their wet heads left spots on my pillows, spots I thought I’d just have to get used to since they were always going to be part of the ritual.
I remember once in graduate school, someone said, “Isn’t it odd to think that there is a last time you’ll hear a certain song?” Graduate school with poets required too much of that kind of thinking as it was, precious and useless and held up to judgement, so I said nothing, walked silently along wondering if any fiction writers would be at the bar yet.
But I think about that now: there was a last bath time, a final crawl into my lap. One day, we didn’t use juice cups anymore. There was the final night we gathered, four in a bed, to read a book from each of the girls’ choosings.
Today, however, I was also reminded by my friend Holly that those warm, snuggly, sweet-smelling babies were also the people who burst into tears at the dinner table when they didn’t like the menu. They were the ones who tortured us on long car rides, who spilled nail polish all over the side of the new vanity and then, in a rush to get the hell out of there, crunched your glasses underneath the soles of their light-up sneakers. They were plan destroyers. They ate possibly toxic mushrooms and choked on plastic Easter eggs. They spent several particularly grueling years clogging the toilet. They wandered away in crowded places just to see how long you could survive with your mouth open in a silent scream.
One day, I decided the morning outing for my three darlings would be the half mile walk up the street to Rowley Country Gardens where we might be able to feed the fish in the ponds. The girls decided to push their babies in strollers. What a picture we must have been: a parade of tiny people with their dolls dressed up in clothes Nana had knit for them! A proud and obviously highly effective mother, following after them with a benevolent smile on her face as she counted her blessings. Except Justina ran ahead, veering into traffic, and Beatrice thought she was the oldest and should go first so she ran to catch up. Apphia lagged behind and didn’t want to push her baby after the first house we passed. Beatrice flung Justina’s stroller into a neighbor’s yard. Justina decided to leave it there; it only slowed her down so I grabbed it, forcing it back into her hands. Everyone ran up on everyone else’s heels. They bawled and screamed and demanded I push the damn things — which I could only do if I completely doubled over. We had only gotten halfway there when I stopped and lit into them. It was one of those moments that, before you have children, you swear you will never resort to.
When I’d finished, I looked up to see my new neighbor paused over the car that he was washing in his driveway.
“What are you looking at?” I said, wondering how fast I could put a For Sale sign on our house.
He grinned and said, “Lady, I been there.”
This was more helpful, by the way, than what my therapist said when I checked in with her later that week. She told me I needed to lower my expectations.
To what? I wondered. Staying home and watching Bear in the Big Blue House on continuous reel? We went for a half mile walk for Christ’s sake. We weren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, LewisandClarking it.
Ah, but those Market Basket babies. They make it easy to forget, don’t they?
Or maybe, they make it too easy to remember that no days last forever.