For this post, I decided to steer into writing about a personal experience rather than social observance . . .here is a day in my life as a Mom.
For Carla and Tiffany.
Being a mother is backbreaking work. At the end of the day, the toys are collected and recollected, rooms cleaned and disinfected, floors swept and mopped, and the stroller unpacked of toys and books and snacks and blankets and anything else needed for a day of play outside of the house. At the end of the day, the mechanics of motherhood, the managing of the logistics of what all is needed to occur every day, leaves me arching back and forth, feeling like an overstretched rubber band.
This narrative is inherited daily, in several variations, as new parents are inducted into the coven of caring for kids. Gone are the days of singlehood in choosing and arranging one’s day, as for a time, there is a submission to the varying wants and needs of new lives. Unknowingly, these new little beings will become the teachers, directing and attuning parents in how to fulfill the needs they can convey, and the ones they can’t yet verbally communicate. I perform myriad tasks in answer to the needs of two young ones approaching the ages of 1 and 2. This work I do, this work we do as parents, is much like the working of a loom. I am looping and weaving the physical fulfillment of their needs, embedding within them patterns of nurturance and protection, to create a harvest of patterns they will know.
Every day I fix breakfast as a commitment to daily breaking bread as a family, a practice I inherited from my own father who I would otherwise see only during weekends because he worked a late shift for the NYCMTA. Amidst the spray of Cheerios on the floor, and pressing tick tock to beat traffic, relationships gel. Keith, the oldest, jumps on his father’s lap to eat and share breakfast from both his and his father’s plates. They feed one another, laughing as they snag morsels and miss mouths. Kerwin witnesses Maceo negotiate new obstacles, the emergence of first teeth and his attempt to coordinate grabbing food. It takes a lot of work to synchronize all the strings to generate this moment—mashing Maceo’s food, attending to Keith’s food allergies while also expanding his palate, making something filling for Kerwin’s long day at work–but it is one the three of them, the four of us, will cherish.
The remaining twelve hours or so are peppered with the boys and I exchanging roles as teacher and student. Bath time is evolving from me taking care of babies to teaching boys how to take care of themselves. Eagerly grabbing washcloth and soap from me, Keith requires me to now step back to let him experiment in cleaning himself. I name body parts, and he slaps soap and water on them. With his kick splashes, Maceo churns once still bath water into sudsy laps, cuing me to begin teaching him how to walk. Strolls in the park have transcended. Moving away from circling towering trees and grassy fields, Keith now leaps out to scatter dirt, collect leaves and plant acorns. I have learned to give him experiments, such as assessing dehydration by snapping twigs, identifying seasons by the color of leaves, discerning wandering trash from recyclables. Singlehandedly, he shifted wheeled strolling into informative walks, generating questions and conversations about the natural world around us.
Playgrounds are frontiers, as slides have become mountains to climb. Showing him how to shake hands, greet people and offer kisses, new kids and adults are practice partners for social exchanges and graces. Maceo’s ever-wandering gaze tells me to keep introducing new sights to his thirsty eyes. Our trips to the local libraries have churned from me reading to Keith to now him selecting his own books and “reading” back to me. He holds his favorite books (“Not the Hippopotamus,” “1,2,3 Peas” and “Uptown”)and retells their stories to me. During meals, each teaches me when they need help, and when they need me to witness their stumbles and accomplishments. The day closes with Daddy. If still awake, Keith bolts from his bed to storm Kerwin with shouts, giggles, a recounting of his day, hugs, and tickles. Maceo hurls arms and legs in agitated affirmation as Daddy gleefully peers over crib rail. Maceo and Kerwin have their times throughout the night. As our little one vociferously interrupts the night, Kerwin answers with warmed bottles and persistent cuddles. The “night shift” belongs to the two of them.
And there are the lessons I am learning from the boys’ own interactions that do not require my direct hand or intervention. By example, Keith is instructing me in what it means to him to be a big brother. Thus far, it means to be outwardly caring, doting, and attentive. One time Maceo was crying, and my hands were deep in raw meat prepping for dinner, Keith came from his play in the living room, popped Maceo’s pacifier in his mouth, and declared, “Baby calm.” When in play on the floor, Keith will suddenly wrap his arms around little brother and bless him with kisses. He will offer toys to Maceo or show him what he is doing. Maceo is teaching me to allow him to reach out to his brother. Maceo will burst into jolts and pants when Keith is near, cuing me to bring him closer to Keith to see what he is doing and share in it. Of course, there are the head bunts, rough play and horsing around that we have to manage and redirect, but in all, they teach clearly they know themselves to be brothers and expect the space to exercise as such.
Yes, the daily loving and nurturing of children is physical work. Those constant hugs they rely on. The carrying on hip because they prefer the view of the world from over your shoulder. The tennis volley they adore when pressed heart to heart. The cradling to sleep they command because your fleshy arms are a better fortress than any wooden crib. But the submission to this work yields what I hope a tapestry they will live to trust.
And then turnkey.
Open. Close. Come and see what I expose,
A collage of numbers and coins
For little readers to roam and explore.
The rhyme of numbers, the march of peas,
To bedazzle young learners on their knees
Learning numbers and the letter Z.
Stack upon stair a stair I become
To climb into books, thicker and older ones
Whose wisdom offer doors to the sun.
When outgrown, left to rest
On bottom of bookshelf, awaiting new chest,
To become home. To beckon. To bless.