As I read over this post after finishing it, I realized that it is nothing more than an account of the ups and downs of a typical afternoon. The kinds of afternoons we all have and will have tomorrow if we are so lucky. And there is nothing extraordinary in it at all except for the fact that it is all extraordinary.
Sophie has been complaining she has to go to the bathroom all the time and that her tummy hurts after she goes. Even this generally simple description of her ailments took about two days of whining and moaning to coax out of her. She left both school and karate early only to return home to play puzzles and read books as if nothing was wrong. We took her to the doctor and there are no signs of a bladder, urinary, or yeast infections. Google said it could be anxiety that causes something like this, which is not very reassuring. (Google searches are supposed to be reassuring, right?)
So Sophie has been “sick” and I have been very tired and there were decisions to be made like there are always decisions to be made, and that is where the afternoon begins:
A few days ago I walked in from work and I sat down on the couch and I cried. And Jacob was there and he said, “What’s wrong? Can you tell me what’s wrong?” like we had been asking Sophie over and over again for the past few days, but I couldn’t really tell him anything except that I was tired. And I was sore. But mostly tired. And there was just this general, heavy feeling that the tonights and tomorrows looked like they were just going to be more tiredness and soreness. More of me saying “Maybe later…” to the kids’ constant requests to play and “counting to three” some more.
That afternoon I got in the car to drive to a meeting that I discovered was canceled. I sat in the empty parking lot and contemplated going to the library to work on the paper I had planned to work on at the meeting, but something in me knew I couldn’t handle staring at a computer screen any longer. I decided I would go home and do one thing with each of the kids– something one-on-one. I would go home and actually see them. That was the plan anyway. My glorious, visionary plan.
It worked at first with Ellie. We did the Anna and Elsa puzzle (only 3 missing pieces!). She continued to ask to do puzzles, but that wasn’t in my plan, so I went up to find Cohen sprawled on his floor with his star wars figurines. “Can I play with you?” I asked. “Nah,” he said, “I like to play this by myself.” So Ellie and I did another puzzle on his floor (this one missing almost half the pieces). My back ached as I arched over the puzzle.
I moved on to Sophie’s room and asked if I could play something with her. She quickly found a book and things were looking up! I could feel her head on my shoulder and Ellie’s warm arm around the back of my neck. I read with expression. I didn’t skip pages! But after we finished the book, Sophie started swinging around her pink, sparkly poodle purse. She swung and she swung and she accidentally hit me in the face. “Ow!” I cried, immediately wrenching the purse out of her hands. I had warned her (hadn’t I?) and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had this serendipitous opportunity to come back home and be purposeful with my suddenly free afternoon– I was trying to be present for crying out loud– but that poodle whacking me in the face was just too much. I scared Soph with the gusto with which I ripped it out of her hands and I saw her lips tremble. I was tired. We’re all tired. And I was one sparkly-poodle-whip away from crumbling under the weight of it all.
I didn’t know what else to do so I went into my room to lie down. I don’t think I even got a chance to pray “Help” before Ellie was next to me with an I Spy book. So we looked at the book together; her chubby finger pointed to Thomas the Train and his tickets and his helicopter friend, and my heartbeat started to slow a bit. (Heartbeats will do that, eventually.) I rolled over on my side and smelled her hair and kissed her cheek. I felt the babies kick as we combed over the pages together, scouring the scenes for roosters and trains and cows. Later on that night the kids wrestled with one another; they flung each other around in circles, squished one another in giant noogies with their healthy arms and legs, shouted triumphant, obstinate cries from their formidable, strong lungs. Shortly after, the girls piled into bed with me and Cohen nestled in a cove of blankets in a fort in our closet he has dubbed “HQ”. As I read my own book, the girls drifted to sleep beside me, Sophie’s hand on my stomach, her own pulse echoing against the new pulses of Everett and Mae.
I closed my own eyes and breathed in the atmosphere through my nose– the sheets and the toddler breath and the about-to-snow-air from outside. I felt my tiredness– nudged up against my joy and my pain and my gratitude and my vulnerability– and the Tiredness told me I was alive, and it wouldn’t always trump the other parts of me forever. Energy, like light and sound and sadness, comes in waves.
Cohen continued reading from his nest in the closet, his voice testing out new tricky words like absent-minded and bicoastal, and I felt myself drift to sleep.