Friday, August 26, 2011
It's like admitting something.
There are bins opened across my living room. Bins full of flannel blankets. Of tiny pastel clothes. Of teething rings. Dainty shoes. Bins full of memory. I stare down into them cautiously and I breathe in.
These are the things I held onto. Things I thought I would need. Things I saved for people who came, but left before they arrived.
Each year I open these bins. Each year, after a little more time has passed I dig through their contents with resolve. Each year I remove one thing. Five things. Seven. Now the excess is gone. There is not much left. Only that which is truly important.
"I am getting rid of more baby things," I say hastily to my mother through the cell phone. There is a sponge in my hand and I bear down into the counter, rubbing the same stain in tiny circles.
"You know there is another bin at our house," she answers.
"Yeah, I know." I lie casually as I lean harder into the Formica.
I didn't know.
I tell my mom they should sell the pink toddler car seat they had for Vivian.
"What if your sister has a girl next time?"
I pause. She does not suppose that I will be next. That I will have a girl. She means nothing by it, but the nothing in it signifies everything.
It's like admitting something.
I close my lighter bins and breathe.
We are on our way to Atlanta. Stopped at a red light I turn my head back toward the silence in the minivan behind me. Vivian is looking down at a book about vegetables. Content. Quiet. Alone. The emptiness of all the seats mocks me until I turn back to catch my eyes in the rear-view mirror. They are a stranger's, tired and tearful.
I feel a push from within me. A stretching, pulling movement from a bolder woman. I have been trying to live in the woman I wanted to be. In the life I wanted to have. Wrapping myself tightly, binding myself in, unable to let go.
We long to fit inside of those people. Those imaginary cocoons that we craft for ourselves. The safe people we thought we would be snuggled beside the precious things we thought we would have.
Inside a fuller, larger and more honest woman struggles against my paper thin constructions. She wants me to let her out.
I know I have to make room. I know I have to make room for the life I have, not the one I am wanting. The things I use, not those I want to use. Contents from the insides of my bins rest in boxes behind me and we keep driving.
"I have baby toys and books if you'd like them," I tell my sister across my parent's living room.
My sister lifts Asher's milky white limbs onto her shoulder, patting and cooing like doves. They are perfect. My sister oozes with nurture, giving herself as her son, knowing so little yet so much tilts his tiny newborn head into her neck. Vivian sets down her string of lacing beads and watches my sister sharply, coming closer to study the subtleties and nuances of motherhood. She knows little of babies. These are new skills. Skills she has not learned from me.
Back at home she recovers her plastic baby from the bottom of a forgotten heap. The baby I bought her for a quarter and filled with water to convince her to use the potty. She gazes adoringly into her perpetually open eyes with fresh interest.
"Vivian, come eat lunch," I say.
"No! I'm Aunt V!" she shouts militantly. Then she tilts her head with feigned coyness and hushes tenderly to comfort to her offspring.
"And you're the grandma. Rock my baby, grandma." She drops her doll into my hands. The little peach plastic face gazes blankly up at me, smiling. Always smiling. Always awake.
The outsides of me are tearing and I feel my whole skin seize up in knowing that it has finally broken. I cradle the baby, that hollow, lifeless baby as I tilt my soul toward God. The wishing, the squeezing, the hiding all crack down onto that plastic baby and an accepting, wiser woman flutters out. A woman who is emptier, but fuller. In releasing what I wanted to have I gain what I do have. A colorful, freer, moving having.
I kiss the manufactured skin and return the baby to Vivian. She doesn't know I have handed her my dreams.
With great gentleness she supports her baby's rigid limbs. They scamper off and curl up in a corner under a striped blanket knitted by Zelma. The books are stacked shoulder high beside their plastic picnic spread out with ice cream, a ketchup bottle and a mound of carrots and peas.
Through the hallway I hear a singsongy confidence.
"'Not I' said the duck, the pig and the cat all at once."
A page turns.
Outside in the sunshine, Vivian, baby and I watch birds flit between branches. They rustle and chirp and Vivian tells me a story about where they have been and where they are going. Under her eyes clusters of freckles push upward to bloom on her cheeks. Her baby skin melts like butter on these summer afternoons.
She darts off after a sparrow and I see a child's elbows and knees begin to push through all the soft places. They struggle and stretch her out like elastic, determined that she will not stay this way forever. I wait quietly, waiting for an eight year old to burst out of her the way we waited by the cocoons at the zoo last Friday.
I wait, gathering up the bits and pieces that fall to the grass. The expressions, the slurs, the awkward arabesques. I will pull these from my pockets on nights when I miss her very much.
She comes back to me with giggles and twirls, still adoring, still small, wanting to curl up in my lap. With great patience I support my baby's wiggling limbs. I brush the side of her face with the back of my fingers. She knows nothing of time or age or loss. She knows nothing of change and growth and wings. She smiles up at me sweetly as though I am very silly.
"Are you happy-sad, mommy?"
I pause as the tears collect around my eyelashes and drip on the hem of her dress.
"Yes, dear." I say with a resigned confidence. "I am happy-sad."