Me and KFP when he was a baby
He drools on me, mouth sticky from milk, and I cuddle his compact body. At moments like this, I do not mind the fact that I'm stuck at home, on bed rest, after birthing him and his ginormous head (housing a big brain, I'll tell him when he's older). Trees wave green fronds at me outside my second-floor bedroom, where I'm marooned with my baby. My husband must bring me food, but our son has everything he needs, because at this point, most of what he needs is me.
Our first party as a family, held at a rambling modern home by some friends in the Philly geek community, and I'm sitting alone in a bedroom, nursing my son. Through a quirk of fate, I actually have video from this party, recorded to submit to the global film project "Life in a Day" (though ironically never submitted due to the pressing duties of Momdom). It was someone's birthday -- no longer remember whose -- and grainy video shows friends singing a birthday dirge for our newly 40-year-old friend. Other clips show a dear friend holding our bundle like the child she perhaps might have had, if her life had worked out differently.
But in this particular moment, I'm feeling lonely. Abandoned, even. My husband gets to socialize, and I'm stuck in a quiet room, out of consideration for our non-reproducing friends. A gentle knock on the door. A male friend pokes his head in and asks if I'd like company. I tell him sure, because even in this room I've covered my wiggly baby with a nursing cover for modesty's sake. The friend, big and bearded, perches on a little chair and talks to me as if everything is like it's always has been, and I don't have a tiny human latched to my chest.
My family gather together for a group vacation in a cabin by Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania, our home state. Everyone is there -- my brother, his wife and two kids; my sister, pregnant with her first child, and her husband; and our parents, even though they're divorced. The cabin needed extra babyproofing, due to wide-open central steps from the first floor to the living room, but between my brother's quick thinking, some moved furniture, and a couple baby gates we've brought, we soon have it toddler-ready.
My brother's children seem so independent, able to push their own food around their plates, articulate their wishes using language, and even read books to my little boy. He wants to follow them everywhere, and gets frustrated when they bounce down steps where he's not allowed to follow. When they leave the table early, he pushes away the spoon I proffer, wanting to play instead.
At bedtime, he resists going to bed, wanting to stay up with the adults and older kids in the living room. He bounces his head forcefully against the couch, trying to make himself wake up. I carry him off, crying, into the bedroom, where I know I'll end up falling asleep right next to him.
"I know how you feel," I whisper.
We sit in a darkened theater at the annual Japanese animation convention that I help run. My son is with me to watch the live performance of a very special event. For the 25th anniversary of the convention, some old friends have renewed a now-retired practice of writing and performing a live stage production consisting of making snarky remarks about a truly atrocious anime film.
Since I'd been a writer for some of their previous productions, they'd invited me back, and I'd subjected myself to the film enough times to be considered a card-carrying masochist. As the opening skit ends and the film begins to roll, I experience the delight of hearing audience members laughing at my lines. My jokes are landing!
But then, as I would tell my friends later, my son has a completely understandable reaction to this wretched movie. He starts screaming and demanding to leave.
Nothing encapsulates the experience of a parent better than what follows: Me, kneeling in a carpeted hallway in front of a cranky preschooler in a stroller, begging him to go back inside.
"Mommy helped write the jokes, honey," I tell him. "Can we just go stand inside the door and watch a little more?"
For the only time in his entire life, he reacts by saying, "No, Mommy. It's bedtime."
In bitter spring, I'm suffering from a never-ending cold. One moment, my head's stuffy, nose running. The next, I'm coughing so hard I get lightheaded. I'm sucking down cough drops by the bag, so that the inside of my cheeks pucker and my jaw hurts.
When my son comes home from school, I'm still the only parent present to get him a snack, insist he do his homework, cook dinner. I loll around, miserable, asking him to do a few things for himself. He really does try, but he still needs help that only a Mommy can give.
At piano practice time, I tell him that the plush animal friends -- Mozart Mouse and Beethoven Bear -- who like to make silly commentary about his lesson are sick, as well. He understands, knowing I'm the one who voices them.
"Poor Mozart and Beethoven. I hope they're better soon," he says, and pats me on the arm.
My son and I fill out his weekly dry-erase list of appointments and things to do. I refer to the calendar on my phone, reading off to him the items for each day, as he writes it in his fourth-grade handwriting, growing more confident and neater than even last year's.
When the little board is filled with blue writing, I look at it and declare, "You know, that's my schedule, too."
I'm sitting on the couch this evening, writing a piece about my son. He's on his dad's computer, playing a logic game where you play a mouse trying to capture cheese and avoid a cat in a maze. Stuck on one of the mazes, he asks me for advice. I look up, assess the situation, and suggest a move. It fails. I suggest another one. It fails, as well.
When he was younger, he would have gotten so frustrated he would have quit in tears. But this time, I suggest to him that he problem-solve it himself. "Just keep trying options, and eventually something will work," I tell him.
A few minutes later, he calls out again, triumphantly. He shows me his solution, brilliant in its simplicity.
"Good job," I say, realizing once more, today, what I've occasionally realized before.
The endless hours of support and nurturing, the times I feel more martyr than mother, the thankless days of pushing down misery so that I can protect and care for him, are paying off in a confident, kind, brilliant, funny boy. Good job, indeed. Good job.
Me and KFP at Philcon 2019