The first time you did it I was ok with it.
It had been a long 40 weeks and after a rough labor I had given birth to what appeared to be a naked, nine pound version of Rupert Murdoch. Something shriveled and bald that couldn’t see more than six inches in front of its face, with a head like a bocce ball and a neck like a Slinky. Who designed this thing? I was constantly terrified that it would suffocate and had to take fourteen photos of it before getting one where it didn’t look like a cross between Winston Churchill and a fetal pig. It slept in two-hour increments which, let’s be totally honest, was not my favorite thing. But I was dealing with it as best I could.
And then at some point a few months in, you, whoever the hell you are, broke into my house and took that baby and left me a different one.
And as weird as the whole thing was, I was totally on board with that switch. Surprised by it, sure. A little creeped out that you broke into my house without my knowing? Absolutely. But I liked the baby you left a lot more than the one you took away, so no worries. I let it slide.
So then I’ve got this new baby. One who could see farther than six inches beyond his face and who once spent an hour watching a house plant as if it were a Ken Burns documentary, his tiny fingers all bunched up in his mouth. I sometimes brought this new baby into my bed in the mornings and let him lie between Jonathan and me and he would lie there sweetly, holding on to each of our index fingers, connecting the two of us like a wire conducting electricity. He loved watching the ceiling fan, and even when it was not turned on I would reach up and spin it around, the way men at airports jumpstart plane propellers. Sometimes, when he was very happy, he would make a high-pitched noise like a pterodactyl. At one point someone commented on how nice it would be when I could finally communicate with him, and I tried to explain to the person that I had been communicating with him. That he was somehow telling me when he was hungry and when he was tired and when he was curious and that I had been (inexplicably) understanding him. He was a wonderful, sweet baby, that second one. He slept through the night and smiled when he looked at my face. I loved him. I began to understand why people enjoyed parenthood.
And then (seriously, what the *%#& is your problem) you broke into my house again, took that kid, and left me with a completely different one. NOT OK. I WAS NOT OK WITH THIS. Do you not understand laws about breaking and entering?? I spent five months falling in love with that baby–did you seriously think I’d be fine having you take him without asking me? I never got to say goodbye. What did you even do with him? Does someone else have him now? WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM??
So fine, whatever, I am angry (REALLY ANGRY!) because you took the baby I liked, but I will begrudgingly admit that you have left me a very nice one in his place. Like a woman fostering dogs until someone can find them good homes, I have been taking care of this string of babies, one after the other after the other, getting ridiculously attached to them only to have you take them away.
This newest baby had teeth, forcing me to part with this one bib we had that read “Toothless but Ruthless” since it was no longer relevant. I don’t even know why that was a thing I noticed or cared about, but it was. I was so used to that last baby– the pink expanse of his gum shelf—that it was weird to be caring for something with teeth in its mouth. Teeth like Chiclets or little white tombstones. This new baby loved Harry the Dirty Dog and would ask me to read it again and again and again, mesmerized by the page where Harry plays in the train yard. When we were out he would point out buses and fire trucks and construction equipment from his stroller, as fascinated as if they were dinosaurs.
The new baby knew words—a couple of them at least– and pretended that everything was a phone, which was very sweet. Neither of the previous babies did anything like that. He would talk into the TV remote or into a long plastic block going, “Nana? Hello? Nana?” He would laugh and make cat noises. He loved to be held even though his body was much bigger than the first two and it felt different to hold him against my chest in the rocking chair. Sometimes he would put his hand by my mouth and softly say the word “teeth” while he was falling asleep. This baby could unlock my iPhone and loved to push his own stroller around the apartment. Once my mother swore she heard him say “I love you.”
And then I walk into his nursery one day and ARE YOU #*%&ING KIDDING ME WITH THIS AGAIN? WE CANNOT KEEP DOING THIS. I LIKED THIS ONE SO, SO MUCH– I WAS REALLY ATTACHED TO HIM, STOP WALTZING INTO MY HOUSE AND REPLACING MY KIDS WITH DIFFERENT KIDS.
Do I need to change my locks? Do I need to? I will. Do you realize that every time you do this I have to buy all new clothes to fit this new kid? Do you understand that this is not only heart-wrenching but expensive? THIS CANNOT KEEP HAPPENING.
So fine. So for the past few months I’ve been raising this toddler and UGH, I want to be so mad…so furious at you for taking away those other kids but I just can’t be because this toddler is really great. He takes handfuls of my hair in his hands and says “Beautiful, mama. Beautiful.” And no, obviously he does not really say “beautiful,” he says “Beu-feeyull,” but I know what he means. He can walk and run and whoa whoa whoa, apparently he can also climb onto the rocking chair in under three seconds, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN GOOD TO KNOW IN ADVANCE– WOULD IT KILL YOU TO LEAVE SOME SORT OF INFORMATIONAL PAMPHLET WITH THESE UPDATED MODELS SO I HAVE SOME IDEA WHAT I’M DEALING WITH? But this toddler is waaay more interesting than the other kids I’ve had. He can recite most of a poem about cats. He likes Jingle Bells and the alphabet and the song “I like to Move it, Move it,” which he recites every eleven seconds or so. He has made some little friends whose names he knows. He loves and talks about his grandparents and aunts and uncles even when they are not here. He has become attached to the dog and will call her into his room and the two of them will lie in the warm sunny spot on his rug together. Like the others, I rock him to sleep at night and he curls up on my chest with one thumb in his mouth and his other tiny hand on my shoulder as if he fell asleep giving me a pep talk.
I don’t want you to take this one.
He’s so little and sweet but already I can see signs that things are changing. He cries sometimes when I don’t let him watch Tarzan or today because I didn’t let him have grapes for all three meals of the day (like you, I can be heartless), and I can sense that we are on the cusp of something big, which is usually a clue that I’m due for an updated model. But I don’t want an updated model, I want to keep the one I have.
Stop stop stop, I want to keep this one. I can see what you’re doing and I want you to stop it. STOP IT, I AM SERIOUS. I have put the deadbolt on the door and locked all the windows.
And I know it won’t do anything. I know that even if I somehow caught you in the act you’d say, “But I thought you’d want this new one! This one can dress himself and poops in a toilet 70% of the time! This one can drink out of a glass and talk with more fluency in the past and future tense!” And I would be momentarily wowed because we humans, we love novelty. And I might say, “Well, can I just take a look at this one for a few minutes while I think about it?” but I know while I was looking at this new one the old one would either be whisked away into the ether or molted off like a snake skin.
And I KNOW that you are not going to stop with this one. Do you think I don’t realize that a few years down the road you’ll be slipping into my house with a seven-year-old and eventually a nine-year-old and someday a series of teenagers, all of whom I will love but none of whom I will really want to live with? Do you think I don’t know that years down the line you will deliver a 40-year-old man in a khaki raincoat and I will feel a desperate pang of longing for one of these early models? For any of them? The one wearing pajamas with spaceships on them who loves pulling plastic containers out of the recycling bin. The one who smiles when I walk into his room. The one who pulls the “Maps” book off his shelf yelling “Chameleon! Chameleon!” because there is a chameleon on the page about Greece that he will look at for ten times longer than he looks at anything else even though the book has nothing to do with chameleons.
I rock my son to sleep each night and tell him I love him. I hold him to my chest the way you hold something you know you will only have for a little while– aware that a month or two months from now I will be holding a completely different child. It is hard to think about.
And slowly, I feel his small hand move to my shoulder, comforting me, telling me it is ok, as if he has just given me a pep talk.
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