Friday, February 1, 2008

Buy Paper Plates

When the slipper hits me squarely in the jaw I am not considering how
seeing me with the baby might subconsciously be bringing up Samuel's
anger at his birthmother. He is weeks shy of his third birthday, and
instead of a bicycle I bring him a baby brother. It is not lovingly
occurring to me at this moment, with my cheek stinging, that he might
be processing his abdonment with the one safe person who could handle
it- in the form of flying blue terrycloth and rubber. No, all I can
think about is how to get him into his time out without interrupting
nursing or bursting a blood vessel because I feel so angry.

I breathe. I remind myself that we have made it this far, and this is
the first slipper incident. I don't want to let in the feeling that I
hate him right now. That I hate how hard this is for him, and me.
(Later my brother will applaud Sam's choice. He will tell me that Sam
had an entire selection of winter boots to choose from in the foyer.
I will not find this as funny as he does. Instead I will contemplate
hiding the boots.) Calmly, I inform Sam that he needs to go into his
room for quite time, and that I will come get him when I am ready. I
use the scary-low register-if I was a Daddy- calm slow voice. Then my
eyes bead and persuade Sam that going into his room without further
encouragement is the best option. I am stunned that this worked
actually. I exhale, and try not to cry.

I reassure myself that I am doing something right, and that we will be
OK. His baby brother, Marcel nursing furtively is oblivious and happy.
After two, maybe three minutes the squeaky door to Sam's room
announces his return. "Mom, I'm ready now" his tone asks more than
asserts. I pause, deciding if I am ready. "I'm ready to not hit you
with slippers now." My smile gives him the permission he needs to
climb up on the oversized chair and cuddle next to me. We are all
being held together by something larger than us, keeping that cuddle
perfectly balanced on the chair.

Marcel was delivered by Cesarian after a twenty-eight hours of
laboring. His cord was around his neck, and this was compromising his
heart rate severely. In signature SMC style, a catheter and major
surgery wasn't going to keep me in bed one second longer than
necessary. I was walking the halls several hours later, holding this
little beauty to my chest as I shuffled down the hall with my IV pole.
Finally one of the amazing nurses who was there during my delivery
the day before, took the baby, put a big sign on my door saying DO NOT
DISTURB and ordered me to rest. I hadn't slept in almost four days.
It was time.

I ached to see Sammy. We had never been apart for more than a night,
and I had already been in the hospital for three days. My longing
for him was so intense, that I knew something else was at play. One
of my birthpartners, Sage is an adoptee. With her help, I uncovered a
deeper understanding for Sammy's loss of his birthmother thirty six
hours after his birth. I wept for her loss, and for his. I looked at
baby Marcel and tried to imagine letting him go into the arms of
another woman for longer than five minutes, for the rest of his life
and I sobbed. In birthing my own son I touched a new layer of the
loss of adoption. I felt it inside my skin. I wanted to hold Sam,
but really I wanted to have birthed him, too I wanted to take away
all of his loss, and hers.

I finished Sam's Lifebook three weeks after I got home. It is only
eight pages long, and very simple and to the point. We have read it
at least seventy-five times. He loves the pictures of me holding him
on the plane, and of his birthfather who he is certain is a basketball
player like him. He skips over the pictures of his birthmother in the
hospital holding him for now. I can only begin to imagine what that
brings up. He always wants to feel the raised letters of his name on
the picture of his hospital bracelet.

I was changing Marcel's diaper when I said; There you go Stinkey-
Patinkey a nonsense phrase I made up somewhere along the line. Sam
heard this from the other room, and came in screaming; "He is not
Stinkey Pahtinkey, I am Stinkey Pahtinkey!" I assured him that I
would do my best to come up with an original post diaper moniker for
Marcel. Of course it is not about the words, but I don't know how to
reassure him any more than I have that Marcel will never ever replace

I tell Sam how I miss it only being the two of us sometimes. It helps
to tell him that. I mean, it helps me. Otherwise it is like carrying
a dark secret inside, alone. I miss the feeling of knowing that Sam
and I are just that. The two of us. Having a third seems to dilute
the intensity of our bond, but time will absorb that. Eventually it
will be the intensity of the three of us. I have had glimmers of that,
and know it is true. But Marcel needs to have a personality first.
All he does now is blow bubbles, and get fat.


People ask me how I do it. I tell them that I buy paper plates. If
they looked confused I say, I've gotten good at it--like playing
soccer when I was in elementary school. When I finally found something
I was unequivocally good at it was so easy to practice all the time,
because I was already successful. I am really good at the work of
mothering, in fact I take pride in it. I use paper plates so I have
time to give Sam a bath while the baby is nursing, and then he sleeps
while I read Sam his story. This leaves no time for dishes. Instead
of birthday presents that we don't need I give my family a deposit
slip for the 529 plan. I keep a stash of favorite things in the car,
so Sam always has something he is jazzed about for show and tell
Wednesdays. I have friends who stay the night on a regular basis, so
I can have company after bed time, or gym time in the morning. I eat
healthy. I praise myself out loud; "Your mom is an excellent parallel
parker Sam, did you know that?" I tell my friends how lonely I can
get, and how sometimes I envy their relational status. They tell me
how annoyed and frustrated they can get with their relational status,
and how sometimes they envy my choice to go it alone. I tell them to
buy paper plates. I make time to write, so that I have someone other
than me to convince that being an SMC twice over is not only doable
but absolutely doable.
Marcel is transitioning to daycare this week. That word tastes like
rust under my tongue. On the first day he cried himself to sleep, and
wouldn't take the bottle. Today I left with him arching his back,
screaming. I was crying too. I went home to tie up loose ends, like
sterilizing breast pump tubing, washing bottles, unearthing "work
clothes" from the dark corners of my closet, returning two week old
phone calls; scheduling doctors appointments for everyone, and
finally remembering to put the now mostly evaporated but well aerated
water in the goldfish bowl. On the radio the DJ played a song from
the twenties. I found myself gently pulled into the marginal static
of the old record's edges. I was floating in that space, weightless
and lost. When I snapped back I felt the tingling of my skin from
crying so hard. Leaving Marcel at daycare feels like a rupture and a
betrayal to him, to me. I let myself feel it. I let myself hate this
uncivilized country that disallows mothers and children to remain
together for the first year. I feel shame about being an SMC
temporarily. I resent not being able to rely on someone else's income
while I stay home. I have never wanted to be a stay at home mom until
this week. "It's your hormones" my mom says. "It'll be OK in a few
weeks" my mommy friends reassure me. But when one of Marcel's
teacher's tells me that "it's OK to have my feelings" I want to deck
her. It's not my feelings that are the issue here. My son won't take
a bottle, and he has no idea where I am. Several hours later they
call to tell me Marcel came up with a very odd position, but it worked
for him, and he drank 2.5 ounces. That's my boy.

Sammy just came out into the kitchen to tell me that his nails need
trimming. It hurts him he said. Because it was too long. I forgot to
cut them he says. It is 9:45pm. He has been laying in bed for
probably half an hour coming up with what he thought would be a
viable excuse for leaving his bed. Did I say his bed? His egg crate
mattress on the floor of my room. It was an agreement we reached when
the "family bed" was driving me crazy. Sam sleeps like the hands of a
clock. I am impressed with the originality of his request, and tell
him so as I put him back in his bed for the fourth time. Since he
hates having his nails cut, I empathize with how desperately he wants
me to stop writing, and go to sleep. Minutes later the baby is asleep
on my bed and Sammy is asleep next to it. I am Catherine and Sons
now. I picture that stenciled on the back of the slick red pick up I
fantasize of owning one day. Instead of plumbers we are a roving
family of writers, musicians and scientists.

*first published in SMC Quarterly Spring 2008