On the eve of my son’s 11th birthday I can’t stop thinking about what a woman said to me in Target when he was about nine months old. We were walking along the bread aisle, one of my favorites because as you know my first true love is Carbs. Anyway, we were walking along and I was singing the alphabet song and he was laughing and giggling and pretending to sing along. I stopped to contemplate kaiser rolls vs. pretzels rolls—this was when I could still tolerate white bread, oh those were the days—and a cart came screeching around the corner of our aisle and a very fast-paced, older woman was walking toward us with a smile. I was nervous at first because older women scare me, generally, because they usually say whacked-out things to me like, Why don’t you wear make-up more often? and Ladies shouldn’t use the F-word. I thought, Oh for fuck’s sake, what is this about? She sped up to a stop right next to me and grabbed my naive, fat arm, and exclaimed, This baby! Oh my goodness! He’s a doll! Look at this hair! (He had those blond, wispy baby curls then.) And his laughter! I heard him laughing two aisles over and just had to come and find him! I was a little taken aback. I mean women are usually drawn to babies like Jackson, this wasn’t the first time that I had experienced this, but this woman, she had more to say and she was talking to so fast trying to get it out before the fear in my eyes made me smile politely and wander away.
Listen to me, she started, gripping my arm tighter, this goes so fast. So fast! And I know you’ve heard this. I know you get sick of hearing it, but you hear it because damn it is true. It feels like one day you put them down for a nap and the next you are taking pictures of them at their high school homecoming. Between the practices, the long school days, the arguments over money and taking the car out at night, the piano recitals and the sleepovers, somewhere along the line it speeds up and you don’t want it to, but there is nothing you can do. Nothing! But to enjoy every, single moment. Even the hard ones. Even all the years of puberty. Be grateful. Promise me?
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just nodded blindly. I may have mumbled a I promise, but honestly I was thinking who is this woman and what is her deal? Is she mentally unstable? Is she trying to steal my baby?
Then she looked down at him once more, gave him a little tickle. He smiled and gave her another adorable laugh. She laughed too, with tears in her eyes, and she told me to have a good day and she walked away.
I’ve never forgotten that lady. She’s made appearances in my writing over the last nine years. She’s appreared in my head when I’m trying desperately to be grateful, but it just isn’t coming easily. She’s come to me in dreams and nightmares. She’s always been there. I wish I would have asked her name, or how many children she had, or grandchildren. How many she had lost, or gained. How to keep them close, even if I can’t keep them little. But I didn’t ask her any of that. I just watched her walk away, grabbed my kaiser rolls, and smiled down at this nine-month-old sweet, monster who had wrecked havoc on my body and was currently wrecking havoc on my home, my life, and my heart.
Last night I laid in Jackson’s bed with him and recounted his birth story. We do this every year. We all do right? Even well after they don’t want to hear anymore. He amuses me. He asks me questions, he laughs when it is appropriate. He knows by now that I need to share the story with him once a year, just as much as he needs to hear it. But this time the Target woman was with us too. Because Christ, she was right.
She was so right.
Hold those babies tight. Rock them to sleep while they still let you. Let them linger in your arms even after your arms are prickly and pained. Let them watch that second episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Watch it with them. Laugh and yell: Mimmie Musse, Mimmie Musse! Cause damn it, one day that will all be gone, and you will wish for just one more time.
And one day, when we are those old ladies in the Target aisle, don’t be ashamed to grab the arm of a naive mommy and tell her to enjoy it, because honestly, honestly, she has no idea.
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