In Time

My teenage son saves a collection of broken wristwatches on his dresser, all with little to no shot of resuscitation. Some simply need a new battery. A tiny metal heart with a spark to get them ticking again. Others have rusted or tangled gears that don’t know how to spin anymore. All of them are, in reality, not going to be fixed any time soon.

“Why do you hang on to those? They’re just taking up space,” I ask him once a week when I deliver laundry to his door.

“I don’t know. They were worth something. Once.”

He is our family’s nostalgia buff. The one who gathers memories and artifacts of the past. Meanwhile my daughter only has eyes for the future.

“When will I be a mommy?” she asks me.

“Not any time soon,” I tell her.

“Before or after I drive?” she persists, dangling my car key from her tiny finger.

After you drive,” I tell her. “Definitely after.”

My children are growing in opposite directions, and somehow, 10 years apart, they’ve magically decided they want to switch places. My son, 16, flails to grab the last few moments of being called a kid, putting away his action figures with reluctance, and sneaking a head on my shoulder when absolutely no one is looking. His superpower is to know the malaise that comes with crossing that magical border to young adult. I am grateful more days than not that he is a young 16.

My daughter, just six, can only see a decade ahead and smuggles lip gloss and high heels to her room. She uses her mirror as a time machine to imagine what she will look like as a teenager. She juts out her hip and waves her hand in the air, beckoning to her imaginary tribe of future friends. She is a visionary at times, mapping out her entire future in the palm of her hand.

Neither of them, though, has any idea that this moment, this now, is as perfect as it gets. And sometimes I blame myself for that.

Motherhood often tricks us into believing the now isn’t real. We plan ahead for summer vacations, for picture perfect birthday parties, and for graduations and then weddings and even grandchildren decades before they exist. We nest and stockpile. We plant our feet and brace ourselves to shoulder tragedy and shield our loved ones from the unknown with an armor that only motherhood provides.

And far too often we simultaneously mourn the past. The lasts. The last time we see a first step, and the last time we cradle a newborn in the crook of our arms so used to being fleshy swings. We hold knit baby caps to our noses and try to recapture the smell and the feel of bringing our little ones home. We walk through toddler sections of stores with melancholy when our children have raced on to the next size. Often, we let our memories and our anticipation squeeze the joy of the now right out.

By following our examples, our children do it, too. We applaud them when they read beyond their grade or cruise past the doctor’s milestones for where they should be. We nod as they design their futures or carefully compile scrapbooks honoring a special family moment. Because we are older and wiser, we ask them to cherish the past and prepare for the future.

But how often do we ask them to stop and experience the joy of now?

Mindfulness and presence have enjoyed a central spot in many healthy living regiments, but the concepts haven’t permeated advice on parenting quite as much. Perhaps it’s because the now is unpredictable. The best plans, as most parents know, rarely work exactly as we’d like. Editing the past is cathartic—remembering memories in their fondest ways while extracting the uncomfortable moments.

The now is delightful and messy and wild.

I want my children to grow, in the ways and directions they choose. I want them to love the past and shiver with excitement for the inspiring futures waiting for them tomorrow and beyond. But I also want to teach my children how to hold very still and see every detail, every minute, ticking deliciously around them.


Guest post written by Sarah Clayville. Sarah is a writer and high school teacher in central Pennsylvania. Her work can be found in numerous literary journals both online and in print. She spends most of her time figuring out how to write about the incredible people around her without them knowing and getting everyone she meets to read more. Sarah often carries a few extra books in her purse and gladly distributes them to those in literary need. Discover her work and musings on her website, Sarah Says Write, or on Twitter.

The Gift of Each Other

Two and a half years ago on a warm Friday night in October, my husband and I sped down the freeway from Sacramento to Davis at approximately 80 miles per hour. The clock on the dashboard flashed 12:13 a.m. I was 60 percent sure I was not in labor.

I had signed the VBAC consent form a few weeks earlier as a formality, and remember practically smirking as I did so. Just in case I go into labor early, yeah right.

Turns out, the joke was on me as I winced in the passenger seat. The possibility that I was, indeed, in labor, grew with each contraction and each mile of freeway passing underneath our car.

We left the house a mess. No food in the fridge. I’m almost positive we were down to one roll of toilet paper, because “buy toilet paper” remained on my Costco shopping list. You know, the errand I had planned to complete one week before the scheduled c-section? Yes, that one. I cannot remember if we had purchased newborn diapers. I think those were also on the Costco list.

But that’s not the worst part.

We left the house in such a hurry that we never said goodbye to Everett, our 2.5 year-old.

My friend Christina, who was also eight months pregnant at the time, waddled through our front door at 11:50 p.m. to sleep on our couch while Everett slept in his room. A flurry of texts, a five-minute shower, a handful of items thrown haphazardly in a bag, and we were gone. We didn’t even have a car seat installed in the car, a fact that would later be funny (in a pathetic sort of way). We said goodbye to Christina, but we never said goodbye to Everett.

I did not even think to tiptoe into his room to kiss his forehead in the dark, a fact that would torture me for the remainder of the drive.

***

I always knew I wanted more than one child, in the same way I knew I wanted to be a mother. That desire was mostly selfish.

Sure, I wanted a sibling for Everett, in the same way I wanted more grandchildren for our parents. But those desires were secondary to my own. I wanted to experience motherhood more than once. I wanted to feel more kicks in my belly, to hold another newborn against my chest, to feel the earth moving under my feet as I bore the immense privilege of becoming a mother all over again. I, I, I. Me, me, me.

Sure, I wanted a sibling for Everett, but that desire was more of a side benefit, a bonus, the cherry casually dropped on an already-sweet ice cream sundae.

The most miraculous part of adding a person to your family is somehow finding more love within yourself that you weren’t sure existed in the first place. When we got pregnant five years into marriage, I remember fearing that I might love my husband less as a result. As if a new baby could use up the love meant for my marriage, as if my love had limits, as if it could run out, like water contained in a pitcher. There’s only so much love to go around, I thought to myself. Only so much water here. Only so many glasses on the table.

How will I make sure there's enough for everyone?

The exact same panic set in when I became pregnant with my second. How will I ever love another baby as much as the first one? How will I love my husband, this child, and that baby, all at once?

I felt guilty for everything our first child would lose: the constant attention, the full capacity of our love and energy and financial resources. I felt guilty for the second child in my belly because he would only know a life sharing all of those things; he would never know what it’s like to have his parents all to himself.  

It wasn’t until I was home in the grey rocking chair with two children in my arms that I realized my love does not have limits at all.

As it turns out: my heart is a well, not a pitcher.
As it turns out: so are theirs.

***

“Shhhh ... she’s coming!”

I walk down the hall to the sound of giggles and see Carson, our youngest, diving into the bottom bunk. He closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep. I pretend to not know he’s pretending.

The second my silhouette flashes past the door frame, they are at it again: telling knock-knock jokes, playing with their stuffed animals, giggling incessantly—anything but sleeping. It is 8:30 p.m., and they’ve been playing in the dark for over an hour.

I don’t mind, though.

The first 18 months after our second was born, my kids lived on different planets: Baby Planet and Big Boy Planet. Every day they orbited around me until I got dizzy. Their needs were different, their interests were different, their diets were different—I was pulled in half on a daily basis, breastfeeding here, potty training there. While Everett was always kind and gentle with his baby brother, there was no real connection between them, no friendship. How could there be? The baby only slept and cried, an alien if Everett had ever seen one.

But then, around the 18-month mark, something incredible happened. Those two little planets started orbiting around each other instead of orbiting around me. Carson started walking and talking, and a friendship bloomed right before my eyes.

Everett started asking if we could wake Carson up from his nap.
(Never.)

Carson started asking if we could pick Everett up from preschool.
(Not yet.)

Fast forward another year, to today, and they want to be together 24/7. They look out for one another in the way that brothers do; if one falls down, the other helps him get up. I remember a few months back the kids were climbing a treehouse ladder. It seemed a bit too high for Carson. But Everett scaled the top and yelled, “You can do it, Car Car!!!” and sure enough, my tiny, not-even-on-the-growth-chart toddler made it all the way to the top. I would give anything to have that moment on video, because I have never seen Everett beam with pride for someone else’s achievements like he did that day. He jumped up and down, clapped his hands, hugged his brother, and exclaimed, “Carson! I am SO proud of you!” (I almost cried.)

They’ve created their own precious world together—one of dinosaurs and train tracks and toy cars and trampoline games. They are playmates, brothers and best friends, never sitting more than two inches apart on the couch while they watch Paw Patrol with matching snack cups in their laps.

Their lives have intertwined like a soft pretzel, so much so, that it’s hard for Everett to even remember his own life before he had a brother.

If I’m honest, it’s getting harder for me to remember, too.

I know their relationship will not always be this sweet, this easy, this simple. They hardly ever fight, and I fully expect that to change as they get older. There will be seasons when they don’t get along, possible punches thrown when no adults are looking, harsh words spoken late at night. I am not so naive to believe we can live in this Daniel Tiger-esque bubble forever.

But no matter what ebbs and flows from here, I can’t help but feel like I spent nine months worrying for nothing. I was so concerned about everything that everyone would give up; I couldn’t see forward, to the future, to this moment and this friendship, to everything that each of us would gain.

And if I could go back to that Friday night in the car, 35 weeks pregnant barreling down the freeway with a heap of guilt on my shoulders, that’s what I’d tell myself. (Also: yeah girl, you really are in labor, and this is about to hurt like hell.) I’d tell myself to keep my eyes on the road in front of us, not the rearview mirror. I’d tell myself this is the end of a chapter, but it’s not something to mourn. The next chapter is going to be 100x better. Just you wait. Give it eighteen months.

I had it all wrong back then. I had everything backwards.

Because as much as having a second baby was a gift to me, make no mistake ... it was a far greater gift to each of them.

Tennis in Three Parts

Make no mistake—this is not a tale about my success in tennis. I’m not good. My parents used to play, and they bought my brother Geoff and I racquets for Christmas one year, along with a tube of tennis balls. Immediately I opened the top, delighted that it opened like a can of pop. “No, Callie! Don’t open them!” is mixed with a fresh, florescent green fuzz smell. I love that smell, but it was too early for it. The courts were covered with ice and snow, and now that the can is open, the tennis balls might lose their bounce, their effervescence. I remember winter nights after that, reaching into my closet, past the Barbies and doll clothes I believed I was too old for, but still played with in secret, to the can of tennis balls. I sat on the wood floor, peeled back the lid, and took a deep inhale. The effervescence was still there.

When spring came, the four of us went to Rehm Park; a park across the Eisenhower with a pool, tennis courts, a giant field, and enough jungle gym equipment to last a kid hours. It was the park of my childhood, my adolescence, my young adulthood. I came to this park the morning after Kurt Cobain died and sat on a bench facing the slides and the swings and holding a book. I wasn’t a reader, but I’d had a fight with my mom that morning—I might’ve told her I wasn’t going to college—and I took a book, Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith, in the hopes I’d stay out of the house for a bit. I read the entire book on that bench, and hoped to be Annie in Ann Arbor, and meet a Carl who would believe I am a writer and would one day buy me a journal for all my stories.

I remember I was around 6th grade when I first played tennis. We were on a court with a backboard so Geoff and I could practice against that while my parents played a few rounds. I remember watching my mom and dad play. It was the rhythm of their volley—that hollow, springy thunk the ball made against their racquets—and the scratch of their shoes against the court that caught my attention. It was fun watching them play. They were fast and agile, crossing the court with effort, but the effort looked fun.

I remember wondering when it was they learned to do that. Was it as kids? College? Or did they learn tennis together while they were dating? I knocked the ball against the backboard a few times, and thought about this. I hoped tennis was a sport they picked up when they were older, and not my age, 11. I liked to think that concepts like grammar and historical dates and long division, skills like dribbling a basketball or volleying a tennis ball could be learned later, that there wasn’t a set time frame to learn something before it passed you by. I picked up the tennis ball I was using that spring afternoon and took a quick whiff. The smell had changed from being knocked around. It smelled like dirt and leaves and hands, but these were all mixed in with what I first smelled that Christmas morning. The effervescence had changed, but it was still there.

***

I was 18 and in my fourth quarter of my senior year of high school. I remember sitting in the bleachers of the field house, staring at a multitude of white signs with blue lettering: square dancing, gymnastics, weight lifting, baseball, tennis—our choices for physical education. I chose tennis, because I wanted to be outside in what would hopefully be a lovely spring in the Chicagoland area. Otherwise, I didn’t care. A slow growing weariness had gotten to me these last days of high school. Instead of the energy of Senioritis spring fever tends to bring, my ailment was more like walking pneumonia. College was looming, dark and dreary, in the near future. I had an on again/off again boyfriend I wasn’t sure what to do about. Drill Team was ending – the thing that probably brought me more happiness than anything else in my life. My attitude was at an all time snarkfest level. My grades, which rarely went any higher than a collective 2.8 GPA, were slipping.

It turned out to be a great spring, weather wise, and stepping out into the sunshine for an hour every day proved to lift my spirits. Holding a tennis racquet and bouncing a tennis ball was nostalgically delightful. I remember how strong my left arm felt when I swung. I would sort of sway my right arm in front of me when I prepped for a hit, and it felt like dancing. I loved rocking my feet from side to side, watching and ready for what came next.

Plus, my tennis partner was hilarious. He wasn’t hilarious in that, “Oh my gosh, you’re so funny let’s make out and go to PROM” sort of way. He was cute, but this isn’t a story about a boy making it all better. Playing tennis with him took me out of the funk I was in. He didn’t take it too seriously. He rooted for me, and made jokes, and together, we won a lot of our PE tennis games. Once, after a particularly tough game that we won, I screamed, “We’re gonna make it to the PGA Tour!”

“That’s golf, Callie,” he said.

“Is it?” I said, scratching my head.  

I remember once, walking off the court with him bouncing a tennis ball. “I love the way these things smell,” I told him.

“Tennis balls?” he said, shoving my shoulder and laughing. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” I said, throwing the ball in the air. Mine was old. The fuzz was matted and dull, the white lines grey. It still had bounce in it, though. And it smelled like spring. Like growth.

***

It is July 4, and I am standing on a tennis court with a racquet my brother gave me for Christmas a few years ago. He gave me a set of tennis balls, too, and I did the same thing with them—forgetting, in my excitement, about keeping them safe.

Jesse and I are hitting the ball back and forth, in a friendly volley. Contact with the ball feels good, as does running from one end of the court to another. I imagine my legs as tree trunks when I plant them to steady myself before I swing. My left arm feels strong, and my right remembers the dance. I wonder how close Jesse and I look to my parents when they played.

“I wanna play with Mom,” Hadley says, running onto the court.

As she runs, I notice my shadow and think about that 11 year old, and then the 18 year old I was. Who can tell the difference between an 11, 18, and 41-year-old shadow? She is in the throes of transition: a little unsure, a little afraid, but she is willing to play.

I bounce a tennis ball and walk to the end of the court to serve. At 41, I still feel those transition pains. They are not phantom. I’m figuring myself out again: what it is I’m good at, how to make friends, where in this place I fit in. It is not easy, and at times this year, I’ve wondered if it’s too late, if growth is no longer possible, if my effervescence is all gone.

I bounce the ball some more, this time with my racquet. I pop the ball up in the air and volley with myself for a minute.

“Did you play in high school?” Jesse yells across the court. I revel in his tone of bewilderment, delighted that in over 20 years of knowing each other, I still surprise him. I still surprise myself.

Or maybe what’s happening is I am remembering myself.

“I’m going to serve,” I say, and edge my toes to the white line. I bounce the ball a few more times. It makes a friendly pop before springing back perfectly into my palm. I toss the ball in the air and watch it against a bright blue sky.

I whack the ball and it sails like a line drive across the net to Jesse. It is in. He misses it. “You have an arm like iron,” he exclaims.

“It’s my writing arm,” I yell back.

“Can I try?” Hadley asks, running towards where I am standing.

“Sure,” I say, and move out of the way.

“I want to do it like you,” she says.

She lifts her arm, lets the ball fly, and takes a swing.

Fed is Best

Into the blender glugs Tropicana orange juice, I stuff two giant handfuls of spinach, and plop frozen berries and mangos on top. The smoothie whirls into a stiff frozen paste and I slam the base of my janky blender against the counter an obnoxious amount of times to get it to mix completely. I pour it into my tall red Six Flags souvenir cup with the whistle straw, drink it down, and the baby in my belly dances. I imagine those dark green leaves being absorbed into her body and the risk of spina bifida, cleft palate, and cleft lip evaporate. I also pray it, coupled with my prenatal vitamin, reverses the effect of the mug brownies I devour each evening before bed. I feel so confident in the ways I am nourishing my child.

***

Four months later, I place the silicone shield over my breast and try to persuade my newborn to latch on. For weeks, I dance and sway and shush trying to get her screaming mouth to accept my body’s milk.

I breastfeed for 18 months even though it pains me, both physically and mentally, to do so because someone told me once, (and the internet shouted its echo over and over again) “breast is best!” My nipples sting, my body is touched out, and I am tired beyond all comprehension. I cannot leave her because I am so scared she will become hungry and my breasts will be out of reach. I wish someone would have told me it was okay to feed her formula.

***

It is Sunday morning and I scramble my two daughters the last two eggs, halve the last banana, and throw a couple dates onto their plates. They’re still hungry, but the pantry is now bare. I feel like I should tell you that we just moved and finances are different and we are trying so hard to ex out the nonessentials. I feel the need to explain myself, but the fact remains, my children’s stomachs are still growling and I don’t have food to feed them.

I skip breakfast and give them everything I have to offer. I take the sacrament bread at church. It tastes different today. I ask for forgiveness for their hunger.

I feel like I should tell you that we use our savings to buy bananas and cereal and almond milk after church. I am grateful we stashed away that extra tax refund cash into our savings account. I bake a loaf of bread, and Ana is hungry and hungry and hungry again and that bread is gone by bedtime.

I call and make an appointment with WIC the next morning.

***

Our four person family, including my husband in his stiff military uniform, sit in a stuffy waiting room with a single mom and her 18 month-old, and a young couple with a baby in a too-small car seat. We fill out our forms in sequence, and I want to run out the heavy glass doors. Classism hisses in my ear saying I don’t belong here, but our annual income says that we are right where we belong.

I force myself through the doorway of the first room where they ask about breastfeeding and I remember the struggle to feed them then. They send me onto the next step, and we sit on multicolor plastic chairs, until their names are called. The kids are measured and weighed and then they have to check their iron levels.

Ana’s body contorts away from the lady in the white coat. She pricks her finger, as my child screams in panic. She tells us to hold her at the elbow to keep her arm in place. I feel sick, my mind tells me I am torturing my child for free food. I imagine all of the milk we will be able to afford, the milk that will fill her belly on nights her legs are growing longer and our empty pantry cannot satisfy her hunger.

Olive’s iron is low and they tell me to feed her better. Anabel is underweight and they tell me to feed her more. A beautiful brown woman in a hijab tells me that two tablespoons of peanut butter are equivalent to one serving of meat and that I should feed her beans before bed. I feel like a bad mom for not knowing she needed to be eating more.

I feel like I should tell her I am trying, but more nights than not, I throw any meat offered to Ana in the trash. As a woman in the western world, I never imagined feeding my babies would weigh on me so much. I feel stupid saying this, I know we are blessed, but I still ache thinking that I am not doing enough, that I am relying too much on the government. The same government that my husband puts a uniform on every day for. We wait for the paychecks and I contemplate working every single week, but day care for two kids isn’t affordable, or practical—even on two incomes.

***

I walk through the aisles of the grocery store and read the manual WIC gave me, over and over again. I decode the pamphlet and try to find the brands they allow. Nothing is labeled and it takes me thirty minutes to find five items. I am embarrassed as I walk around aimlessly with my yellow folder wedged under my arm. I feel so stupid and dependent; taking things that don’t belong to me. I get to the cashier and I have to leave the eggs, juice, and cheese behind because somehow, I grabbed the wrong things. I accidentally picked the “natural” JIF peanut butter and not the original, so I sprint back to the aisle and grab the right one. I am out of breath and I feel like a burden to those waiting in line behind me. I want to weep for the women who rely solely on this program to feed their hungry children. I know it sounds ungrateful, but this system is an obstacle course. And there is so much shame attached to it.

***

I felt that shame when I considered shaking powder into a bottle when my girl was I baby. I felt that embarrassment force me into a bathroom stall to balance atop a toilet to breastfeed her. I felt it when I had to use a plastic shield over my nipple to trick her into eating. I felt it when the doctor told me she didn’t weigh enough when she was three months old, and again when we sat in that WIC office and she was too small, again. I felt it when I used those government appointed checks and the cashier huffed and puffed at me because she was confused with how to input the checks into her system. And I felt it in the eyes of my neighbor as her eyes filled with pity when I told her we enrolled in WIC.

I didn’t feel it when I saw full plates with peanut butter sandwiches and full cups of milk that resulted in full bellies—like a weight off of my back.

My girls are fed, and that is enough for today.