Tonight I went to the grocery store to replace a bottle brush that had fallen into the gummy, questionable depths of my kitchen sink drain. It had been a long day: Max's christening followed by a party I didn't want to have. I never want to have parties. I love my family, both our families, but I hate entertaining. Everyone wears shoes on my rugs and rummages in my kitchen. These are things a germophobic control freak simply can't abide.
I realized about halfway through Wegmans that my face felt stiff and starchy, and I realized it was still streaked with tears and mascara from an episode Noah, my second born and beloved five-year-old, had had earlier. It should not surprise anyone if they see me with a tear-stained face. I had a baby seven and a half weeks ago and my emotions and hormones are still a mess. But add my Noah into the mix, and, well, you just can't imagine.
Seven and a half weeks ago, my Noah went from being a second-born to being a middle child. You think that doesn't matter? Well, I've got news for you. It definitely does. I knew it would, but I had no idea just how much.
How many times a day do I shout SHHH! The baby's sleeping! or, Watch out! The baby's right there! How many times a day does Noah hear me say No! or Oh, Noah! Maybe I always spoke sharply to him. I think I did. But now, it carries an entirely different message to him. Now, it says, "Somebody else is more important." It doesn't matter that it isn't true. It matters that it's what he feels. And, yes, he is five, but his feelings do matter. At least, they do to me.
This weekend, knowing it was Max's big weekend, I arranged for a special "Noah and Godmother Day" with my sister. It turned into a sleepover, which Noah was absolutely thrilled about. What we didn't bank on is that he decided at some point it was not just a sleepover, but a life swap. He wanted to trade families altogether and move in with my sister as his new mother.
I can't say this didn't hurt.
It exploded at the christening, during which he must have leaned over and whispered to me several hundred times to double check whether I might let him go through with the swap. To deter him, I kept hissing things like, "Shhh, we'll talk later." This was a major mistake, apparently, because "we'll talk later" translated to Noah as, "We'll pack your things later." I had no idea what I was in for.
As the party progressed, I found out just what was going on with my most tempestuous little boy. Realizing that no one was taking his plan seriously, he began urgently seeking out anyone who would listen, insisting they help him gather his things and wondering why no one else was on board. Finally, I pulled him to the side and gave him the truth as gently as I could. "Noah," I said, "you can't go and live with Janie. You have to stay here with me."
Noah has the biggest roundest eyes I've ever seen on a little boy. The other day, he said, "I can make my eyes ginormous, wanna see?" In this moment, they were soaked with tears that spilled over his long eyelashes, and his chin puckered as he said words I don't ever, ever want to hear again: "But I don't want to live with you."
I'm a smart enough, pragmatic enough person to know that he is a child, and that he had no concept of what he was truly asking. However, any mother knows that those words hurt, no matter how empty or fleeting they may be.
It was a long haul from there. Jane spoke to him, my mom spoke to him, Joe spoke to him. No one could get through. It wasn't much helped by the fact that his cousins seemed to think the whole thing was a grand idea and kind of encouraged it. Finally, the guests left the house and I was left with a crying middle child in my arms. A little boy who knows he has a big brother who gets everything first and a baby brother who has more important needs than anyone and two parents who just can't seem to give him what he needs, apparently.
He cried in my arms that my sister wouldn't take him, and that he didn't want me.
I looked at Joe and said, "Let me take him alone." Joe, for once, realized the importance of this and took Max to another part of the house. Joey set himself up with video games, and I brought Noah to my bedroom and closed the door. While he whimpered and waited, I reached into the bottom of one of my drawers and pulled out a book that I've had since he was born. I always meant for him to have it when he was grown up. Maybe when I died. (Do you do that? Imagine what you will leave for your family when you die? I'm kind of obsessed with it.) The book is called The Mommy Journal: Letters To Your Child and was created by Tracy Broy, but it's written by me. It's a journal with blank pages so that a mother can write to her child short little epistles over the course of his (or in some cases, her) life. I have one for each of my boys, and tonight I showed Noah his.
We sat on the floor together. I opened to the inside cover, where I'd begun five and a half years ago by etching an inscription.
"'To Noah,'" I read aloud, "'I never knew how much love I had to give until I had you. Love, Mom.'"
This is when I began to cry, too. When Noah's face turned to mine, he was aghast.
"But you're crying," he whispered.
"Yes," I said. "Now just listen."
I turned to the first letter.
"I wrote this one in May," I told him, and began to read.
You are two weeks old. Last summer I asked God for a baby. I immediately knew you were a boy, and that your name should be Noah. Dad disagreed, but my "mother's instinct" won him over. While you lived in my tummy, you moved constantly--especially when I tried to sleep. You desperately wanted to come out and be part of the world--proven when labor didn't move fast enough and you had to be a c-section. After the moment you were born, they placed you, shivering, in my arms. They bundled us up in three blankets so you could stay with me longer, because they knew we had bonded instantly. Now, you are an angel. Golden blond hair and deep blue eyes. I loved you immediately, so much more than I thought possible. You are snuggly and sweet, so alert and smart already. You coo and cry so cutely, with a quivery lower lip. They say you look like me. I gave you a bath tonight, after which you promptly spit up and pooped. I love you. Welcome.
I was shaking with sobs as I finished this letter. Not because I love Noah so much now, which I do, but because of how true every word already was even then. His stubbornness, his strength. His insistence and impetuousness. Everything that made him Noah even as an infant. He looked up at me, crying, too, and said, "You wrote that when I was a baby?" His chin pulled up and he swallowed. I nodded, and put my arm around him, reading on. I read him four more letters before he reached out, closed the book, and pulled away.
"You don't want to read anymore?" I asked, my nose covered in snot now and my voice heavy with crying.
He shook his head. He looked at me. He said with some confusion, "You're making me cry even more."
I took the book from his hands and set it aside. "I know things are hard right now," I said. "They're hard for all of us because we're learning. But I want you to know, you are the one boy I asked God for. Joey and Max were surprises, and I love them very much. But I asked for you. You are everything I've ever wanted."
He nodded, closing his eyes and more tears spilled out. "You're making me cry more!" he said again.
"There's no one else like you in the world," I said, still thinking in amazement over all the personality traits he'd shown even in his first months as a baby. "You are the only Noah, and I would never ever want to live without you. I love being your Mom."
He look into my eyes and said, "And I love being your Noah."
Maybe I should have been embarrassed as I walked through Wegmans all tear-stained and starchy, but I wasn't. I just felt lucky.