When I was in college I used to get severe menstrual cramps. Surprisingly, my college boyfriend understood my misery. His sister, just 15 months his junior, suffered from them as well. Each month he would break out the heating pad and the motrin and tenderly rub my stomach. On one particular month during our senior year I was in terrible pain. He decided to read aloud to me from Robert Fulghum's All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. All my life I had been a voracious reader. I still remember lying on the double bed in my brothers' room as a small kindergarten student, reading aloud to my parents. Surely my parents read to me as a small child, but I have no memory of that precious experience.
Curled under my boyfriend's boring blue, likely Eddie Bauer, comforter, the words coming from his mouth felt like analgesia of the best kind. The content and the cadence lulled me into a peaceful place far away from my body's pain. I felt loved and cherished, a medicine in its own rite. It was a moment of healing.
Last night was Orientation Night at the school. I have never missed a school event despite the hellacious year I experienced this past year. As we got out of the car Amelia pointed to my oxygen tank, "We are't bringing that, are we?" I replied that I wanted to have it with me. "Then I'd rather not go," she cried out with tears streaming down my face. I guess the wheelchair is one thing but oxygen is quite another. She asks so little of me that I thought I could at least try. "Ok, honey, we'll leave it here."
The evening began with a spaghetti dinner and classroom orientations were scheduled to follow. As dinner was wrapping up my coughing began. It became clear that we needed to make a rapid exit. Bill discharged the kids to the car of other parents and assured them he'd return shortly. I managed to puke just after we exited the building. Fortunately we live only 0.5 miles from the school. Before long I was changed into clean clothes and resting in bed. Then Bill returned to the school.
When the children returned home, Bill reminded them to do their required 20 minutes of reading. Aidan entered my room, book in hand, to find me crying, "Why are you crying mommy?" "I just feel a little sad, honey," I replied wiping away my tears. "Please don't cry mommy. Please," he implored, crawling under the covers and snuggling against me. "I bet I would stop crying if you read to me," I suggested.
He opened his book on weather, the unit he is studying in second grade science. I am humbled by these science units because I realize how little I actually know. Was I not paying attention? Did they not bother to teach us the difference between a sirocco an a mistral? Did I elect to forget that material to make way for the lyrics, melodies, and harmonies of virtually every 70s song that hit the radio waves? Whatever the reason, I know almost nothing about weather. My knowledge is based solely on a glance out the window and temperature reports on the web. Beyond that I am completely ignorant, which explains why I never have an umbrella when I need one.
He read to me in his sweet voice about winds, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Little boys love destruction of all kinds, even "Acts of God." While he read I looked down at his freckles, especially the star-shaped one on the bridge of his nose, just slightly to the right. He seems to get more and more freckles with each passing year. It wasn't long ago that I used to read to him using my most dramatic voice. Reading children's stories was the remaining outlet for my inner actress that still missed her days in community theater. Back then Aidan had just a smattering of those adorable brown spots adorning his face. We read Eric Carle, Kevin Henkes (my very favorite), David Kirk, and David Shannon. Storytime and lullabies were the highlight of every day, at least they were for me. Night after night, we giggled on the floor of Amelia's room, nursing a love of reading that I hoped would last a lifetime. So far, so good.
After Aidan read to me, Amelia shared her American Girl catalog. I'm not a fan, but she loves her doll so I indulge her. She went through the catalog page by page, remarking on various items. A child of reasonable expectations and good financial sense, she commented on the relative costs of different items -- what she perceived as a bargain and what she thought was overpriced -- and set the stage nicely for her planned purchases. Crafty child, that one is.
I sang them their lullabies there in my bed so I wouldn't have to expend the energy to walk them to their rooms. As they went off to sleep I lay in bed and had my nightly debate: is this half hour of joy enough for me? Is it enough to endure the pain, vomiting, loneliness, etc. More importantly, is it enough for them? Once again I abandon the debate without finding a resolution.
Today my friend Susan came to visit and brought a magazine called Brain Child. She offered to read to me unsolicited. The essay was called Baby Weight and essentially told the tale of one woman's radical transformation from an independent 30-something to a doting mom. As she falls in love with her child, all her ridiculous preconceived notions of motherhood evaporating like a puddle on a hot August day, I recalled my own love affairs with these children of mine. I remembered my constant awe of Amelia, physically changing rapidly in every possible way but staying the same happy person she was born as. And I recalled wanting Aidan's infancy to last forever, nursing him on the sofa before we settled into our joint afternoon slumber. Somehow time slips away; there is always a new phase: another change, another challenge, another milestone, another magical moment.
And I guess that's why I keep choosing to stay, I cannot bear to miss what comes next.