My baby is four years old. I know that calling her a baby is really only a matter of semantics now. It’s true, she still sucks her thumb; I have a hard time discouraging this habit. John and I are finally confident that we already enjoy our full complement of children, so the crib is in the crawlspace, awaiting nieces, nephews, or future grandchildren. I cried when I took it down, removing the screws so slowly and feeling the maple pieces come apart in my hands. Before I dismantled it, I spent long vigils lingering in Annie’s darkened room, just watching her sleep, the length of her curled up small.
What seems like permanence, the tide of daily life coming in and going out, over and over, is actually quite finite. It is hard to grasp this thought even as I ride the wave of this moment, but I will try. This time of tucking into bed and wiping up spilled milk is a brief interlude. Quick math proves it. Let me take eleven years - my oldest girl’s age - as an arbitrary endpoint to mothering as I know it now. Mary, for instance, reads her own stories. To her already I am becoming somewhat obsolete. That leaves me roughly 2.373 days, the six and half years until Annie’s eleventh birthday, to do this job. Now that is a big number, but not nearly as big as forever, which is how the current moment often seems.
So I tuck Annie in every night. I check on Peter and Tommy, touch their crew-cut heads as they dream in their Star Wars pajamas, my twin boys who still need me. I steal into Mary’s room, awash with pink roses, and turn out the light she has left on, her fingers still curled around the pages of her book. She sleeps in the bed that was mine when I was a child. Who will she grow up to be? Who will I grow up to be? I think to myself, Be careful what you wish for. The solitude I have lost, the time and space I wish for myself, will come soon enough. I don’t want to be surprised by its return.
Old English may be a dead language, but scholars still manage to find meaning and poetry in its fragments. And it is no small consolation that my lost letters still manage, after a thousand years, to find their way to an essay like this one. They have become part of my story, one I have only begun to write.
- Essay 'Mother Tongue' from Brain, Child Magazine, Winter 2009
Gina P. Vozenilek