When I was little, I had a mental list of things I wouldn’t do when I was a parent. Most children do this. Things like, won’t make kids eat what’s on their plate if they don’t like it or will greet them with popcorn and a movie if they get out of bed. It wasn’t a fair list, but it was a natural one, derived from feelings start to finish. I didn’t know how tired my parents were or that uncertainty sat behind certain noes and yeses. Their tiredness wasn’t my fault or my brother’s; it was a consequence of living.
If you have read Garrison Keillor, then you have laughed, I’m sure. But here is something resonant from the introduction of his book, Leaving Home: “Every time I read a book about how to be smarter, how not to be sad, how to raise children and be happy and grow old gracefully, I think, ‘Well, I won’t make those mistakes, I won’t have to go through that,’ but we all have to go through that. Everything they went through, we’ll go through. Life isn’t a vicarious experience. You get it figured out and then one day life happens to you. You prepare yourself for grief and loss, arrange your ballast and then the wave swamps the boat” (xix).
I know sometimes that I know nothing about anything. I know it positively. Not as a confession but as welcome admission. Sometimes I know so little that I begin to think in tight circles, round and round rows of thought until the thoughts are so tight I cannot think another stitch. So I go and eat a KitKat. Sometimes lightning strikes epiphany and I go to bed triumphant: we have cracked the bedtime code! It is the moon lamp, left on! It is two books and a cuddle! It is a drink of water, no matter what we said about water after teeth brushing! And then the next day knocks that absurd certainly over and we start again, remembering – you remember—that we know nothing.
This I know: Today the baby snuggled his head into my shoulder after nursing. He sat up and stared into my face, his eyes crinkling into a smile before his mouth. I kissed him. My big boy looked through the crack in the doorway, and when I encouraged him, he threw it open wide with loud hellos, bounding out as quickly as he had bounded in, the baby leaning all his weight forward to get after his brother. The house managed to get cleaned (today). The big boy gave the little boy kisses on his arm, because he acknowledges him now, and for that we say amen. He steadies the baby when he shakily pulls up to stand, and he hugs the baby’s head too tight (and, for pity’s sake, boops his head despite his mother). We played the floor is lava. The baby was a lava monster. I hopped a couch cushion across the living room without touching the floor, with hidden muscles I thought had long ago moved away to the home country. (I think, I’ve still got it.) I made the toddler eat his food. And at the end of a long day, we put him to bed.