It’s springtime, and not a second too soon: Ronan thinks every piece of furniture in the house is part of his own elaborate jungle gym, and Merrin won’t stay out of the dishwasher. Or the garbage. Or the toilet, have mercy. We have to get outside.
I get this idea to build a teepee in the backyard for the boys, something colorful and kid-sized that will lure them out of my hair. Ronan helps me collect poles from the slash piles in the pasture behind our house, and we drag them home in the sled. One by one, I lean the poles against each other until the ribcage of a teepee is formed. Now, to cover it.
I clean out my t-shirt drawer and find a few stretched and stained jobs that are just taking up real estate in there. At the bottom of the drawer is a short stack of maternity t-shirts. It took me a while after Merrin was born to stop wearing these; I told myself the ruching hid my chubby baby belly, and no one could tell they were maternity shirts, right? Eventually I lost enough weight that the ruching sagged in front, and I had to face the music: it was time to retire them. I shoved them in the drawer and forgot about them, until now.
I take my stack of castoffs to the dining table and use our orange-handled kitchen scissors to slice each shirt into one long strip of fabric. I have a rhythm going by the time I reach the maternity shirts at the bottom of the stack: fold, snipsnipsnipsnip, knot. I pick up the first one, cornflower blue and bedraggled. I hesitate. Surely I should save these, right? Mementos? I could slip one into Merrin’s baby box, along with the tiny blue and pink hat they put on him in the hospital, the flannel receiving blanket Jill’s mom made for him. But no. The stained mess wouldn’t mean anything to him. These are my own memories, and I don’t need a ratty t-shirt to remind me. I set the blades against the fabric and squeeze.
But the first slice is like cutting my own skin. How many times had I rested my hands right here, cradling an unborn Merrin and rocking him? How many times had I reached for him here, feeling the lump of his baby butt pushing against my palm? This was the shirt I’d worn the day we took him home from the hospital, after a morning of debate over how we would spell his name, Jill and Scott and I each with a pen and paper trying out different combinations of i’s and r’s and t’s. It was the shirt I was wearing when my mom came to visit a few weeks later when we accidentally wore matching outfits on our shopping trip. Heat rises to my cheeks as I attempt another slice. Tears are blurring my view of the blades, and, even when I set the scissors aside, the cuts are still burning. It’s as though all the life I lived while wearing these clothes somehow imbued them with particles of my own consciousness, my motherhood experience, and now here I am just slicing that part of myself to ribbons. It’s just an old shirt, Ayme, I say to myself. I grit my teeth and force my hands to keep cutting, and a long length of fabric unfurls. But the pain lingers.
Soon they will all be gone, my maternity clothes, and the newborn things too: the tiny yellow and blue infant gowns, the fuzzy socks, the swaddles and sling. All of the tangible history from this time in my life. Our life, now. I sort Merrin’s newborn clothes into labeled boxes, telling myself that they will be useful for someone else now. But in touching them I am overcome with desperation. This can’t be the end, can it? Will I never again run my hands over my stretched-taut belly, breathless with already-love for a brand new life? Will I never again tip back into sleep with the weight of a newborn curled upon my chest? And that smell, sweet milk breaths and brand-new skin, it’s gone now, forever. I cover my face with my hands and try to sob quietly, so I don’t alarm the boys.
Please, I plead into the space behind my hands. Please don’t take this away.
But who am I begging? My husband? He has known since Merrin was conceived that he would be our last baby. And if you’d asked me then I would have agreed. But it only takes a little time, a few weeks maybe, for those feelings to fade. The memory of the trauma of birth gets a little fuzzy around the edges, then it goes really out of focus, and then it’s replaced altogether with this triumphant love story that you can’t wait to tell to everyone. And that’s the memory that sticks. That’s why mothers can do it again and again: we forget. But husbands’ memories aren’t like that. Scott remembers the blood. The fear of losing us both. The helplessness he felt watching me come apart in pain. And he can never do that again.
And I could never ask him to.
Back at the dining table, I run my sleeve over my eyes and wind the ribbons into a ball. Ronan has left the front door open wide again. I step out into the sun, ball in hand, and glance around for him. There he is, balanced on his bike on the retaining wall like a tightrope performer. I hold out my hands as a safety net as he performs his feat, Merrin an audience of one on the patio.
After his dismount, Ronan wanders to the teepee to watch me work. He stands inside the poles—a little fluttering heart inside the cage—and snaps the twigs off the branches. In and out, in and out, I weave the yarn around the branches until a soft, bright surface starts to form. Each shirt is a stripe: purple, white, grey. Cornflower blue. The yarn stretches tight across the poles, fortifying the little twig structure. Holding it up. We keep weaving until the sun dips below the horizon, and the bugs chase us inside.
Weeks later, when I am alone, I sneak out to the funny woven teepee with my scissors. I clip off a length of the blue shirt, and tuck it away. For me. These memories, though only my own, are riches to me.
Guest post written by Ayme Ahrens. Ayme is a corny pun enthusiast and vegetable evangelist who lives in rural Wyoming with her husband and two young sons. When she isn’t writing you can find her in her kitchen, squeezing every precious drop from her Aeropress and her life. Ayme reflects on motherhood, community, and mindful living on her blog, Dear Young Mother.
p.s. We're teaming up with Dear Mushka this week on a beautiful jewelry giveaway!