Lately I’ve been complaining that I can’t write. My previously complex sentences fragment or drift off into vague wishes for an iced coffee or fantasies about a new granite countertops. The brilliant idea that came to me in bed last night slips away by morning, fleeting as a dream.
If there’s no room in my head for game-changing and poetic ideas, it’s because toddler caretaking has filled it up to the brim.
Each time I take Jackson to the pool I have to remember the following: a swim diaper, a rash guard, swim trunks, baby sunscreen, waterproof baby sandals, pool-appropriate snacks, a flotation device, a baby water bottle, a towel, my swim suit, my snack, my water bottle, sandals, my phone, and sunglasses.
And of course a regular diaper because the swim diaper doesn’t absorb pee and has to only be switched out at the very last minute, as smoothly and hastily as a decoy jewel replaced at the last second of a heist.
I know this because Jackson peed through swim diaper while I was carrying him toward the pool last week. I watched, completely helpless, as the pee darkened my t-shirt like an algae bloom spreading. Jackson looked straight ahead and smiled pleasantly.
On our last trip I forgot his rash guard and, somehow, his swim suit. So Jackson splashed around in nothing but a swim diaper, his pale and delicate skin exposed to the harsh July sun.
“We’re very European today,” I try to laugh, as the other moms stare in judgment.
Some of them bring sliced watermelon slices in Tupperware and homemade lemonade just, I’m convinced, to further shame me for my poor preparation.
Remembering is one thing. Finding and packing is a different rodeo all together. We live in a two-story house, and Jackson cannot climb stairs yet. Most of his belongings stay upstairs in his nursery. If I close the safety gate, which is located at the elbow of our staircase, three stairs up, he climbs to the gate and holds on to it screaming. I can’t open it without throwing him back down the steps. I can’t reach over and grab him without putting down whatever I went up to get in the first place. If I successfully retrieve the article of clothing or thermos or spare shoe I was searching for, I then have to successfully carry it plus my wiggly 25-pound-son down the steps without dropping either. Whatever I had gone upstairs to find ends up discarded on a stair and the whole dilemma restarts itself.
I’m sure reading this is about as much fun as doing it every day, and of course it’s hardly worth writing the fundamental truth that motherhood unravels linear thought.
I simply write down these tasks to prove to myself that I do a lot, even if it amounts to nothing more than a sleeping, well-fed toddler at the end of the day.
It feels like busy work: the list-making, the phone calls to our health insurance company, the trips to Target.
But I try to think of it as kindling I gather all day for the bonfire that is our life together. Every time I mop the floor or empty the diaper pale or towel off wet hair, I’m kneeling to breathe life into this fire.
At night Jackson sits on my lap, his hair damp and lavender scented. Taylor tries to read a story, but Jackson snatches the board book away and turns the pages himself, his chin doubling in concentration. Taylor reaches to take it back, acting out a tug-of-war in which Jackson always overpowers his dad, all three of us laughing.
In the evenings, I sit (finally) next to this bonfire I’ve built, nourished, and stoked with my long hours. I admire the flames of amber and incandescent white. I let it warm me from the inside out.