Last night, long after my eldest and youngest were snuggled up in their wee beds, I laid on the couch, snuggled so firmly in my blankets that I looked (and felt) like a marshmallow peep – and not even one of those kicky-shaped ones – trying to figure out if watching a documentary about female serial killers was the best viewing option while dealing with the dreaded “D Word.”
Before I could get too far into my decision-making, I heard the gentle pitter-patter of what I presumed were tiny boy feet shuffling down the stairs.
“Alex?” I called into the hallway, entirely unsure if the noise I was hearing was the cats barreling through the hallway like they’d just taken a particularity awesome dump.
patter, patter, patter
“Hi Mama,” he said sheepishly, his big eyes, so similar to my own keenly watching me, knowing he was out of bed too late and that I may (but probably not) reprimand him.
“Hi Baby,” I replied, opening my arms wide so he could jump into them and snuggle with me a moment. “Whatchu need, Little One?” I asked gently, moving the hair out of his eyes and scratching his head lightly with my fingers, which he loves.
“Mama,” he looked at me, his eyes so soulful, as if he could see what was behind my own eyes and liked what he saw. “Mama, I’m hungry. I didn’t want to tell you before because (mumbles) but I’m hungry.”
I laughed a little, which came out as a chocked representation of a laugh – the kid is always coming up with weird requests, trying to stall bedtime as long as he could. Sleep, even as a fetus, has always been elusive for Alex, and as a fellow insomniac, I understand all-too-well.
“Whatchu hungry for, Baby?” I asked.
“Mama,” he said, scurrying around the kitchen looking for it, “I smell pizza.”
“I don’t know about that, Baby – we don’t have any pizza,” I explained, “but maybe we could make some tomorrow.”
“How about I give you some crackers to go back to bed with – I know how it is to be hungry,” I suggested.
He thought about it a moment, his small face squinching into a mask of uncertainty – the same look I get when I’m asked what I want from Starbucks – eventually replying, “Yeah, like in a baggie?” His face lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Sure, Baby, I can do that,” I said, pulling out the box of Saltines and handing him exactly five while he scampered off to find me a baggie to put them in. For some reason, Ziploc baggies are like kid-crack in my house.
“Why’d you give me five?” he asked, always looking the gift horse in the mouth.
“Because YOU’RE five,” I told him.
“So when I’m six, I’ll get six?” He asked.
“Yeppers!” I replied.
“How many do YOU get, Mama?” he asked.
“Well, I don’t usually eat Saltines, Baby, but if I did, I’d get 32,” I replied.
“You’d waste them ALL,” he said, eyes widening. “Because you don’t like them. How about you give ME 32, instead, so we don’t waste them?” My con-man, at his finest.
“Next time I get 32 Saltines, Baby, I’ll give them all to you,” I assured him. Because I would. Those things taste like sawdust and pregnancy.
I followed my middle child and his baggie of crackers up the stairs, where I tucked him in. “You gonna come check on me, Mama?” he asks, as he does every night.
“Yep, of course, Baby,” I assured him. “I always do.”
“How about in 30?” he asked, specifying no frame of time in particular – could be days, hours, minutes or seconds.
“Okay, Lovie, in 30,” I said, a smile – the first of the day – playing on the corners of my lips.
I went back downstairs, my children tucked neatly in their beds again and resumed my internal debate – to watch women serial killer documentaries or pick something blander – I couldn’t decide, which turned out to be a good thing, because the next thing I heard was:
patter, patter, patter
“Whatchu doing, Baby?” I asked.
He sat down next to me in my blanket cocoon, where I once again wrapped my arms around him. “Mama?” he said. “I’m sorry you’re so sad.”
Tears welled up in my already-raw eye sockets (pro tip: do not use paper towels as Kleenex while hysterical. Leaves you looking like you have had a particularly bad chemical peel), as I tried to figure out what to say.
“I’m not sad with you, Baby,” I assured him. “Sometimes grown-ups get sad because stuff happens that they don’t expect.”
His eyes, wise beyond his years, nodded.
“But you make me so very happy, J,” I finished. “You’ve made my life so much better.”
He smiled at that thought.
“The second you were born,” I told him, “You made my life better. I was so happy – I’d wanted another little baby so badly and there you were.”
“I peed on the doctor, right?” he asked, giggling.
“You sure did,” I said proudly.
“I was in a bad place when I got pregnant with you,” I went on.
“Like a deep pit?” he asked, always one to make a superhero connection.
“Yeah, Baby, like a deep pit. But it wasn’t a real pit; it was in my head,” I said, hoping to dissuade the notion that I’d been trapped in a well or down at Old Man Crusty-Balls farm – whatever the Scooby Doo shit was.
“Wait – how was it in your head?” he said as I realized I’d just gone above-level on the poor guy.
“I had a lot of really hard things happen for a long time and I was very, very sad,” I said, trying to explain as best I could.
Once more, I wrapped my arms around my squirmy son, and kissed his head, trying not to let the tears show.
“I’m sorry you were sad, Mama,” he said, clucking sympathetically.
“It’s okay, Baby, I wanted YOU to know how happy YOU make me,” I told him.
“I love you, Mama,” Alex said, holding me close. “You make ME happy.”
And with those three words, I knew that while
everyone many people in my life may think I’m a fuck-up or a failure, in his eyes, I will always be Mama – and HIS Mama, she is no failure.
Until about age 16, but we’re not going there yet.