Earlier this week, when my daughter was sick, I tried explaining to her what antibiotics were.
“Anti-bi-what?” She said. She is almost four, almost four and a century old.
“Anti-bi-otics,” I said.
“Come on now,” I said. Her face didn’t crack a smile. She just shrugged. “Guess I don’t know it.” Then, she walked away.
It is a bizarre feeling, when the human you created, the one you wrenched forth from your innermost being, turns on you. You don’t even know it. You give them the benefit of the doubt. There is this a whiff of that new parent in you. The one so in love with your baby that you won’t admit they are killing you. “No, he’s the perfect baby,” you insist to strangers, who can see the bags under your eyes and hear the exhaustion buzz from your skin. “He’s so perfect.”
This never really leaves you. This is why it’s easy to make the mom the butt of a joke. She’s so insistent on your perfection, she never sees it coming. And I didn’t. I didn’t see it coming. I just assumed she didn’t know how to say antibiotic (which is ridiculous, because she could say provalone at 11 months old.)
A few hours later, I overheard her talking to her baby brother. “Bubs, can you say antibiotic? I can.”
Straight up trolled by my almost four year old.
Only the day before, I had been holding her in my lap, catching the vomit from her as she cried that her throat hurt like “lots of mean guys were in it.” That day, when I strode into the room and said, “Hey, you can say antibiotics.” She put her hand on her hip, cocked her head to one side and said very slowly, “So what.”
It wasn’t a question.
I don’t know how someone can be so old and so young at the same time. Having children has made time manifest. Before it was a concept that dictated the places I should be. Now, it stands before me, hand on hip, blonde hair in eyes, eyes that say, “What’s it to you?” With a mouth, still so small and pink, that says, “So what.” Time wears a shirt with glitter butterflies. Time tells me that I am a cricket face. Time wakes me up at three in the morning to tell me that she had a scary dream and just wants her mommy.
I feel this way about the baby too. Who really isn’t a baby. I think when a person wakes you up at four in the morning screaming for waffles, they aren’t really a baby. They are a toddler. He is so small. He doesn’t eat much any more. Meal times are violent rebellions. He often takes one look at his food and if it’s chicken he screams, “NONONONONONONO!” And tries to claw his way out of his seat. But he’s buckled in. So he pulls the top of the chair and lifts the seat and tips the chair. And it defies physics, but it seems like he’s lifting himself, chair, booster and all, off the ground and into the air. That’s strong for someone who doesn’t eat chicken. He’s not very chubby, not like his sister was, all rolls and curls. His pants slide down, I roll them at the waist and he has diaper butt. He’s been in a size 18 month, for months. Then, today, I saw that his footie pajamas were too small, stretching between his shoulders and feet.
Here is how he grows. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Everything.
He did that with words too. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Now, everything. Waffles. Time out. Candy. Zuchinni.
I watch them playing in the tent. He is the baby dragon and she is the princess. They have to fight, she explains. He laughs and roars. I wonder how they can be so small and so big at the same time. I sometimes think I will drown in that thought. But then, someone is crying. Someone’s hair is pulled. Someone’s feelings are hurt. Someone wants a snack. Someone needs a tissue. And now someone smells like poop. These little tiny things save me from wondering too much about time.
My first job was as a nurses aid in an assisted living center. I didn’t last long because everyone kept dying and I couldn’t handle it. The first woman who died while I was there was married to another resident. They had been married seven years. They met in the center. They were both each other’s second spouse. Their first marriages had lasted four decades each.
I was cleaning up after lunch and her husband, now a widower twice, sat on the couch. “I want to tell you about my wife,” he said. So, I sat next to him. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t seem to look at anything. “It better be more than angels and worship up there past those pearly gates,” he said. “Otherwise, she’s gonna be angry.”
I laughed. I didn’t know which wife he meant. I tried to look at him in the eyes and tell him something profound or at least kind. But looking in his eyes, was like looking at the ocean and not knowing anything about fathoms. I knew there was more than what I was seeing, but I didn’t know what or how much. I just knew, I didn’t want to jump in.
I opened my mouth, but then another aide walked by with a vacuum and I was saved. I jumped up and cleared the table asking the man if they had gone on any dates. I don’t remember his answer, but I do know he laughed. Three weeks later, he was the second person who died.
Sometimes I think poop is that vacuum sound. It jolts me from jumping into waters I know nothing about. There is time enough to learn. Watching my kids, I feel like I’m not at part of time. I’m just the hand that give the snacks to time, when time is hungry. But I also feel like time is running through my fingers, wriggling from my grasp when I say, “Mommy needs kisses. Please.”
Or when I completely miss out on a joke that has been made at my expense. “No, you can’t do that,” I want to say. “I do that. I do that to my mom. I am the joker and not the joked.”
But it’s too late. And she is only almost four.