Patton is six years old. He has grown tall and lanky, and I’m so pissed that I didn’t start marking the wall with his height sooner. I spend days in silent cursing that the day before is already over and that I won’t get it back. I look at him, becoming a boy instead of a baby, and in my mind realize that I’ve only got two more of these six year periods before he’s supposed to be a grownup.
Charlie is still feral. I say this, and I hear Tim say it, and sometimes I’m worried that we are speaking it into being, or that we are seeding our own minds with some kind of future resentment that she’s such a handful. But I wouldn’t have her any other way. She is absolutely defiant, and unafraid of anything. I really hope she never learns how to take anybody’s shit.
March is a jolly baby. He wants to be close to me, and I welcome the feeling of his soft skin on mine. He’s the only baby I’ve ever had who is content to cuddle with his head in the curve of my neck. He wraps both arms around and just relaxes into me, gripping tighter if he thinks I’m about to put him down or hand him off to someone. That’s perfectly fine with me. I’m pretty certain he’s my last baby. I’ll let this stretch out for as long as I can.
I think all the time that I should be writing everything down. I want to freeze-frame my life and never forget all the tiny things about them that make up who they are right now. I remember being so impatient when Patton was small, wondering who he would be. And then becoming a mother of two, I just thought if I could get them both out of diapers then I’d have time to breathe, and so I rushed through Charlie’s infancy, too. And now suddenly, Patton is lanky, Charlie is headstrong, and March doesn’t crawl anymore.
I spent the last year of my life purposefully putting my phone down. When they’re around, I want to take them all in and imprint the images in my mind forever. I’m afraid of only remembering what they look like through a camera lens. But then I look back at the pathetically small number of photos I have over the last year and wonder if March will be upset that there aren’t as many of him as there were of Patton. And I wonder what the hell I’m going to look at when I’m sixty and lonely.
Right now, Patton loves Minecraft and Roblox, and he loves to make me happy. He says, “Mama, do you think when Daddy comes home he could take care of March, and we could play War or something, just you and me?” We lay in bed next to each other at night, and he asks me to tell him how many dreams we should have together. I come up with topics, and it’s his job to weave them together so that all these unrelated storylines become one surreal dream that we’re supposed to meet inside each night. I say, “okay, tonight we’ll have three dreams. Puppies. Rainbows. And… Riding skateboards.” And he’ll light up and say, “okay, okay, okay. So first we’re riding skateboards, but we’re riding them down a rainbow, and then the skateboards turn into puppies!”
Charlie can’t stop pretending. I am home for literally no more than 2 minutes before she is climbing on top of me, “Mama, you be the Sea King and I be Ariel,” or “Mama, you be Ana and I be Elsa.” Tonight she handed me a baby, and said, “you be boy baby and I’ll be girl baby.” I held up the doll and in my distracted haste, forgot to make any kind of a real baby voice, much less the one she wanted. “NO! You are BOY baby! You hasta talk like BOY.” I knew what she meant, but I wanted to ask her anyway, “oh yeah? How does a boy baby talk?” She lowered her chin until it made a double roll under her neck, lowered her voice, and moved her mouth like a chewing fat man. “Talk like dis.”
March designed his own game to be played at diaper change time. I toss him on the bed, and he lets me take off his diaper. Then, just once, he flips over and tries to crawl away from me as fast as he can. He lets me catch him by the ankles and drag him backwards, and then lays there happily until I’m finished. When we’re done, he stands on his knees on the bed, and slams his hands down into the sheets, his way of asking me to do the same. We go back and forth until he reaches up to cuddle again, signing ‘milk’ and laughing when I wave ‘hello’ back.
I feel guilt about my inability to be a mother to three only children. Instead, I am the only mother to three children. I wish I had more time. I wish every time Charlie asked if I wanted to play dolls in her room, I could just walk up there and do it. She doesn’t always understand why I need to nurse March to sleep again. Patton asks so sweetly for time with me, and is much better at understanding, but he doesn’t ask very frequently so it’s worse when I have to say no. And then I wonder if he doesn’t ask very often because of how often I say it.
People tell me all the time that I should be taking care of myself. That I should do things for me, take time for me. Get my hair done, get a massage. Go out to eat. Self-care. I get it. Self-care is important. But it’s okay with me that for the next few years, self-care is probably just going to look like buying expensive drive-through coffee on my way to drop the kids off at school. I’d rather be with them anyway.