“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I like to have somewhat meaningful conversations at the dinner table with my kids. Not, "How do we accomplish world peace?" but conversations that let them know I care about them and what they do each day. It's also a good time to discuss anything serious, because I have their full, undivided attention. It's like the first five minutes of class in school. Everyone has just sat down and they're expecting something to happen. So whatever you want to say, say it right in that moment and you know it's heard.

One day not long ago, I said, "Do you guys know our code word?"

Noah was instantly intrigued. "We have a code word? Cool! What is it?" That answered that question.

"Is it cheesecake?" Joey asked. "Because you always say that to Dad."

I had to hide my smile then. "Cheesecake" is not our code word, or the word we have set up so that if my children are confronted by someone they aren't sure of, they can ask, "Do you know the code word?" The theory is, if the person knows the word, they're "safe." Our word is pretty obscure, too, which makes it that much more effective. (Although, if the kids don't know it, then it's kind of pointless.)

When I didn't answer right away, Joey said, "Why do you say 'cheesecake' at Dad all the time?"

So I told him. The reason is connected to something that happened a long time ago. We were at a family dinner at Joe's parents' house, and for dessert there was a large tray of cheesecake slices. It was one of those aluminum trays you can throw away, and it had to be at least the same circumference as an SUV tire. As Joe's mom served everyone tea and coffee, his father brought out this tray so it could be passed around.

Now, the thing about "passing around" this cheesecake tray was that it was just so darn big. It was difficult, too, to set it down anywhere because of all the coffee and tea cups and plates and silverware. When the tray came to Joe, however, he really thought he had it figured out. He placed his giant hand, fingers splayed, under the center of the tray and then began to peruse the selection.

And then the tray buckled under the imbalanced weight of the cheesecakes. It just...folded down around Joe's hand. I watched this like it was happening in slow motion, and it was if Joe suddenly grew  five hands, and they were all dog paddling in an attempt to catch every slice of cheesecake, but rather than save any of them the hands were splattering dessert everywhere. It was really one of the funniest things I've ever seen at a Bielecki family dinner, right up there with the time Joe's dad spent ten minutes constructing the perfect salad and then his little sister accidentally sneezed into it.

Ever since what I now call "The Cheesecake Incident," I use it as a frame of reference with Joe. He's not overly clumsy like I am, but there are just certain decisions he sometimes makes that instantly call the Cheesecake Incident to mind, at which point I simply look at him squarely and say, "Cheesecake." Apparently, this must happen pretty often if Joey decided "Cheesecake" must be our code word.

I was thinking of this all tonight because when I put Max to bed, I realized that his pajamas are too small. All of them. I looked down at his chubby leg rolls, which I completely love and want to kiss every time I see them, and realized that he needed the next size up.

"But that's impossible," I said out loud to myself. He only just transitioned into the 3-6 month size a couple of weeks ago. He's not even five months yet! For a baby who was scarily underweight in the early weeks of his life, I found this to be darn near crazy.

Anyway, I folded up the pajamas I'd initially selected and bent down to his "next size up" drawer to find something more suitable. I slid the jammies under his back and placed his arms inside, marveling that the length was right. One foot after the other tucked inside, and then I zipped everything up and lifted him into my arms.

"You're only four months old, you big boy!" I said to his twinkly blue eyes, and was rewarded with a great big silly smile.

But then I realized that's not really true. He'll be five months next week. Five months! Where did that time go? I turned down the lights and settled into the rocking chair with my baby, loving the feel of his head in the crook of my arm, and then noticing that his legs dangled off the side of my lap. Five months.

When I had Joey, I swear that first year took forever and a day. And then when I had Noah, I thought I was better prepared and I'd finally understand what everyone meant when they said, "Cherish every second! It goes too fast!" but then that first year crawled by, too. What I finally determined was that the first year is just really hard for me, because I prefer toddlers and children who can talk and interact and run and play. I can put them down and they can, you know, sit there. Independently.

As a newborn, Max had a really hard time gaining weight. He dropped well below his birth weight, and it took a lot of troubleshooting and trips to the pediatrician to figure out how to get him where he needed to be. I had to surrender breastfeeding, something I'm not sure I'll ever fully get over, and I worried myself sick day and night. "Here we go," is what I thought to myself. The dreaded first year. It seems like it's always something.

But in just a few short months, Max has eaten his way into a wonderfully cute chubbiness I had feared would never come. Smelling his baby lotion and feeling the weight of him in my arms as he chugged away at his bottle, I suddenly realized I felt like Joe with the cheesecake tray. I can't believe it, but I am loving these months with Max. He's difficult, it's true, being a refluxer and not being able to verbalize his needs in any way other than screaming, but he's got this charming smile, and, oh! when he coos at me it's almost like he's shy. And did I mention those leg rolls? They should be on a sushi menu and I'd order them and eat them right up! I mean, I just love this kid! And when I think of his age--almost FIVE MONTHS--I want to start trying to snatch all the months as they slide off their flimsy aluminum tray, but all I'm doing is making time fly away even faster.

Maybe "cheesecake" isn't our family code word, but it's not just a symbol of a goofy choice, either.

It's trying to hold on to a time that just can't last forever.

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