Two plus one equals enough
Lucy is now seven months old.
Back when I measured her life in days and weeks, I couldn’t imagine we’d ever make it to this point. It’s not that I worried that the world was coming to an end, or that I’d misplace her along with many pairs of her very small socks. Rather, it was that I was living from minute to minute, and day to day.
You know what they say (whoever they are): “Take it one day at a time.” It’s supposed to be encouraging. Like, all you have to do is make it through one day, and you’re home free.
The thing is, people with newborns aren’t thinking about tomorrow, or any future more distant than the next diaper change. For all you know, this is the rest of your life. It sure feels that way. One day contains 1,440 minutes. And you feel every one tick by.
But, like the papery skin slipping off a pet chameleon, those days eventually do pass. And you find yourself the mother of a shiny, medium-sized baby. One with quick smiles, bright eyes and the incredibly endearing habit of holding her arms out to you every time you come anywhere near her.
Lucy has two bottom teeth now, sitting side by side like barnacles. She can sit up by herself, though she tips when she’s distracted. She is in love with the dog, and thinks the cats are pretty swell, too.
Her favorite food is peas, with chicken 'n' dumpling puree coming in second by a carrot. Her guilty pleasure is to drink from an adult’s water glass. Her favorite letter is B, if one can judge by the frequency with which she says Bah Bah Bah.
She bites everything from the phone to furniture legs. Her greatest innovation is “froggy voice,” the croaky roar she makes with the back of her throat. Her new laugh, “The Muttley,” has entertained people from New York to Alaska. It sounds like heavy breathing, but without all the sexy baggage.
I write these things because I have learned that today’s baby is not the same as yesterday’s, or last month’s, baby, even though she is the same baby. Already, I can feel her infancy slipping away. And I want to remember it.
Now that the bruising first few months have passed, I can imagine Lucy turning 1. I can picture her as a 2-year-old on a red tricycle. I’m ready for her to take painting classes at the art school down the street, and they don’t teach children younger than age 6. I know I’m going to miss the 7-month-old I have, but I already am crazy about the 7-year-old she will become.
The one thing I cannot conceive — and I mean that in every sense — is another child. It would kill me, I swear.
So, this is why I am especially stunned to realize that when I was Lucy’s age, my little brother Andy was on his way. And when my mother was the age that I am now, she already had four kids, and was working on the fifth.
It’s not that I’m ruling out the idea of ever having another baby. It’s just that I can’t yet imagine doing it again with a toddler hugging my shin (let alone one on each limb).
It’s like entering a pie-eating contest right after vacuuming up a Thanksgiving dinner. No matter how much you love pie, there’s only so much one person can take on a full stomach. I don’t even want to think about how parents of twins do it, although I’m going to light a mental candle for the ones I know. They’re heroes.
I do envy them one thing, though: They don’t have to make the choice whether to give their child a brother or sister. And, as impossible as it is to imagine doing this all over again, a part of me knows I just might. And I have four reasons for it.
The first is my older brother John. He and his wife, Kim, who looks curiously like me but is a much nicer person, live in Chicago, so we don’t get to see them as much as we want. When were little, I admired John so much I used to wear his underwear. (In my defense, I was only 3.) We fought plenty. But he was — and is — a good brother. In third grade, for example, I won a big spelling bee. I’ll never forget the moment Mom came to pick us up at school. Even though John had lost his grade’s bee, he grabbed my hand and stuck it in the air when he saw Mom’s car. He had the grace to celebrate my victory. (And I don’t see any irony in the fact that the word he spelled wrong was maudlin. It’s a nice story, for crying out loud.)
Andy is my younger brother, and the one I used to hug in preschool every morning when he was having his routine cry. (You might cry, too, if a fish tank fell on your head while you were playing on the bookshelf.) Like John, Andy is now a doctor. During a vacation from his very grueling job last year, he told me he was going to bring “a few rhododendrons” over to our country acres. He brought 50, and planted them all. And mine is not the only garden he has adopted.
Ann is reason No. 3. She’s the one who bakes all our birthday cakes. And she looks after Lucy on Saturday mornings so I have time to write, and so Adam has time to do chores around the house. She’s also the first of us to become a parent — she’s a step-mom to an incredible 9-year-old named Katy, whose father, Michael, is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He also makes a mean cup of coffee. Despite these fine acts, and her good choice of husband, Ann’s crowning achievement is the time she made coffee come out of John’s nose at dinner, just by saying, “Nar.” She’s that funny.
And then there is Susan, who is last only in birth order. I named her, because my parents had run out of energy for such things, and this makes me feel a special sort of accountability for her existence. Susan lives only a couple blocks from me, and has been an incredible support during these hard months. She’s the reason I can run six miles again, and the reason I can fit into most of my old pants. Her level head humbles me. During Seattle’s recent earthquake, Susan and Lucy were upstairs together. When the house started rocking, I headed for the nearest doorway, frantic for Lucy, though I knew running upstairs was the wrong thing to do. Susan had the presence of mind to call down during that long 40-second ride to let me know Lucy was OK. She turned a natural disaster into just another Wednesday.
But it doesn’t take anything as dramatic as an earthquake to remind me how much I love these guys. I think about it every day, especially now. Growing up, they taught me how to love other people more than I love myself. They taught me empathy. They taught me to care more about someone else’s successes and failures than I cared about my own.
When I think about it, I realize this is the kind of love you need to know to be a good parent. And so for this reason, and this reason alone, I think I might someday have a brother or sister for Lucy. I want her to know this kind of love, before she even knows how to ride a bicycle.
But not yet.She’s about to crawl. And something tells me when that happens, I’m going to be taking it one day at a time — all over again.