Saturday, January 24, 2009

And Baby Makes Five

This essay was originally a column in the Ashland Daily Tidings.

And Baby Makes Five
by Jennifer Margulis

My mother-in-law knew before I did. I clutched my stomach going down a twisty slide at the park and stumbled getting up.

"Ugh - ever since I had kids I can't go on these things anymore," I complained, so nauseous I had to stop chasing my daughters around and sit quietly for a moment.

"Really?" My mother-in-law raised her eyebrows.

That night back at her apartment I slouched over my soup. "I'm so tired." I eyed the floor like it was a comfortable place to sleep. "It must be the jet lag."

"Oh yeah?"

My girls and I were visiting my mother-in-law in Atlanta where, in February, the magnolia trees and the dogwoods boasted bright white and pink blossoms. James stayed back in Massachusetts to shovel snow and work. Hesperus, three and a half, and Athena, almost two, were enthusiastic travelers. The minute they went to sleep I fell into bed.

It wasn't jet lag.

I was pregnant.

I always wanted a big family. My husband, an only child, thought he wanted "maybe one" kid until we met. But my enthusiasm grew on him, as did his awareness of being lonely a lot, and alone, as a child. Our first daughter emerged into the world with ears that stuck out at right angles, just like his, and a heartbreaking calmness. While we heard ear-piercing screams from other newborns in the hospital, Hesperus made little cat-like squeaks, "ut-ut-ut-ut," when she wanted to nurse.

She was so placid and mild-mannered and we were so keen on having a big family that we thought it made perfect sense to get started on Baby Number Two right away.

What we couldn't know as a blissful threesome was how hard it would be to go from being a family of three to a family of four.

Athena, like the goddess after whom she is named, came into the world whooping a war cry. At almost exactly the same time Hesperus morphed into a strong-willed toddler. I made up a song about her: "Hesperus Wesperus's favorite word is 'no, no, no, no, no, no.' Hesperus Wesperus could say 'yes,' but 'yes, yes, yes' is rarely heard." She stripped naked at the car mechanic's, put a pussy willow up her nose, refused to eat a bite of anything without Favorite Fork, and howled with rage if James drove the car when she wanted me to: "No Daddy drive! No Daddy drive!"

That first year with a spirited toddler and a fussy newborn cured us - we thought permanently - of the idea of having a big family. It was the stereo crying at 2 in the morning that was the hardest. I felt like I was robbing my firstborn of a long babyhood (she was 19 months old when Athena was born) and robbing my second born of a tranquil infancy.

So when a pink line on a white plastic stick confirmed I was pregnant, it was hard not to worry. Since going from one to two had been more than twice as hard, I reasoned that going from two to three would be more than six times as hard.

Etani was born in the middle of a wine-dark night in October in our farmhouse in rural Massachusetts. "I love him more than all my stuffies," Hesperus announced, holding her floppy hours-old baby brother on her lap. "I'm so happy there are tears in my eyes, Mommy."

"This is how you jump, Baby," Athena showed him. "This is how you run. This is how you walk." At 4 and 2 1/2, Hesperus and Athena were fascinated but not threatened by the baby. Athena had gone from being a fussy infant to a deeply compassionate, cooperative toddler and Hesperus had outgrown some of her most challenging behavior. Best friends, they became even closer after Etani's birth. And I had changed too. I knew to ask friends to bring food, pick up supplies, and take the girls out for playtime; I knew that a messy kitchen didn't matter as much as a well-rested mama; and I knew that it was OK (though antithetical to my upbringing) to ask for as much help as I needed.

A few days after his birth I sent my mother-in-law an email. "I didn't know how much I wanted a son until after he was here," I wrote with a lump in my throat. I imagine she smiled knowingly when she read it.

1 comment:

wavybrains said...

Gorgeous, evocative piece.