the glitter and the glue.

“Your father was the glitter but I was the glue.” That’s the explanation behind the title of Glitter and Glue, the “heartfelt homage to motherhood” written by Kelly Corrigan last year. The first time I heard it I felt like she must have been spying on my life, that she must have observed the exact parenting dynamic in our home.

When it comes to motherhood, I don’t have a lot of glitter. I don’t do summer bucket lists or busy bags or special “dates” with my kids. They are 3 and 4.5 right now, and these toddler and preschool years are hard for me. My boys are willful and wild and illogical, as is to be expected, I guess. They’ve also recently discovered the joy of shouting the word “fart” at each other, and… I just can’t. I just shake my head and walk out of the room, unable to offer anything productive to their antics.

My husband, though, he is all glitter. He is fun and patient and able to act interested in fart jokes. He’s a wizard at Legos and never adds peas to boxed mac and cheese. He will “watch this!” infinity times and act just as impressed on the 27th jump as he did on the first. They adore him. We all do.

Sometimes I’m jealous of what a natural he is, of how easily he seems to weather their tornado of toddlerdom. On my bad days, I resent him a little bit. I wish I got to be the fun one. But I’m not right now. I’m the glue.

I know the schedule and the contact information and where the other shoe is. I remember to wash the blanket that comes home from preschool on Friday and bring it back on Monday. I know that we have to buy more laundry soap this week if anyone wants clean underwear and that we should eat the rest of that watermelon before it starts to ferment in about 2 days. We’re watching our nephew on Tuesday (not Thursday), and we’re out of town next weekend and I’ve RSVP’d to the birthday party accordingly. They would basically be boxcar children without me. They’d be happy, but they’d be feral. I am the glue and we all know it.

Sometimes I worry that because I’m not the fun one that I matter less to them. I don’t expect them to appreciate all that the glue does right now – they are preschoolers for crying out loud – but I worry that the ways in which I show my love might get missed. I worry that I’m fading into the background sometimes, no flashy Lego buildings or fart jokes to attract their spotlight.

A few weeks ago my four year old developed a bad case of chapped lips. What started as a little too much sun spiraled into a lip-licking cycle that left him with a cracked and parched upper lip. I tried to apply ointment several times throughout the day, but it was mostly futile because, well, he’s four. I figured I could sneak into his bedroom and smear one last application of Aquaphor on him in his sleep, though, since those nighttime hours are the only time he’s not talking and moving with breakneck enthusiasm.

So on my way to bed, on the wrong side of midnight and exhausted after a full day of work and an evening of glue-related tasks, I tiptoed into his room. I climbed the ladder into his top bunk where he was sleeping sideways, with zero regard for the orientation of the bed and the location of his pillow. The only time I see a trace of his infant self anymore is when he’s sleeping. His face is so serious and his cheeks so round. I carefully move his legs to untangle the blanket and pull it up around him. He feels floppy in my arms, not like the active little boy that he was just a few hours ago, but like the baby that I used to rock to sleep. I put a dab of ointment on my finger and touch it to his lips.

He stirs. Without opening his eyes he turns his head and croaks, “Mom?”

I am surprised to feel a lump in my throat at the sound of his gravelly whisper. Something about it is exactly the reassurance that I didn’t even know I needed. He knows that it’s me. He didn’t open his eyes, but he knows that it’s me who’s crawled into his top bunk in the middle of the night, worrying about him and knowing the remedy. Even in his sleep he knows that it’s my body next to him, my hands cupping his face, my tiptoes across the floor. It’s not flashy or fun or glittery, but it’s still my true love for him.

And he feels it.

Written by Anna Quinlan. Photo by Ashlee Gadd