Holding on to ABCs

Today has been a at-one-point-I-was-curled-up-in-a-tight-ball-on-the-bathroom-rug-with-my-face-buried-in-my-hands-out-of-sheer-frustration day. I have a cold. Sophie may or may not have a cold—but she’s coughing constantly. Owen has a runny nose and is teething.

Despite the many holiday and just-general-life related things I have on my to-do list at the moment, I only gave myself three goals for today: Visit friends who recently had a baby, start (and finish) a freelance editing assignment, and clean up/decorate the outside of the house for Christmas.

We couldn’t visit our friends because of the colds and cough. The editing work is taking forever because I tried to do it at home, in my bed, instead of at a coffee shop (interruptions included crying babies; requests to watch computer/bounce on the bed/play hide-and-seek/use my red pen to help me “draw”; demands for more pumped milk (the boys eat so much now!); and a cat who loves to rub her entire body across my face while I’m trying to read). Finally, we couldn’t find our six huge garbage bags filled with pre-lit fake garland for our front porch (we checked the entire house, basement to attic, several times) so decorating the outside of the house also involved an expensive to trip to Lowes. (And by the time I came back with the lights it was getting too dark to put them all up so right now we have big, ceramic lights wrapped around our porch railing only and half of them, for some reason, don’t work. Oh, and we still have our pumpkins on the porch from Halloween—classy.)

So I’m frustrated. And cranky. And stuffy and germy and hungry and annoyed and, at times, acting very much like a baby.

But I’m back in bed, editing. Hoping to make progress with something today.

And then Sophie yells, “Mom-umm!”

It’s 10:30pm.

Her bedtime is 8pm.

I too-aggressively throw down my editing work and, in the process, manage to mark up our sheets with my red pen. I walk over to the gate in front of her bedroom door.

“What, Sophie?” I say not-at-all pleasantly.

“Can you do ABCs on my back?”

I soften. My body softens. My brain softens. My whole being softens. (How do kids do that?)

“One time,” I say. “I mean it. Just one time and then you have to go to sleep. It’s way past your bedtime.”

She smiles and skitters back into bed. And then she looks at me, eyes huge and says, “Can you do it through the hole in my back?”

And that’s when I melt. That’s when I cave. That’s when I transform from on-the-verge-of-having-a-mental-breakdown mother to normal, loving, should-be-wearing-an-apron-and-have-chocolate-chip-cookies-baking-in-the-oven mother.

The hole that she’s referring to is the neckline of her footed pajamas. She insists I trace the alphabet on her bare skin instead of over the thick flannel fabric covering her back. And there’s just something about that that’s so sweet to me, so simple and innocent and easy to provide.

And so I trace. The whole alphabet, while singing the letters, slowly. I pull my hand out of the “hole in her back” and rub her entire back, over the thick, flannel fabric, and sing the little song at the end.

I tuck her in.

And the moment is over.

She’s mad because while tucking her in, I moved one of her picture books from the left side of the bed to the right. And she wanted to pull her sheet and quilt up over her feet. How dare I do it for her! And when I pull the sheet and quilt back down so she can do it herself she’s upset because it’s not exactly as it was before. She’s yelling, “Like this, Mommy! Like this!” while stretching and pulling and shoving folds of fabric here and there. I try to fix it. But of course I’m doing it all wrong. I stop. Straighten. Take a deep breath. I give her Knuffle Bunny to sleep with. She throws him aside. I say goodnight. She plops her head on her pillow and squeezes her eyelids shut, clearly irritated with me. I say “I love you,” reattach her gate and close her door.

It’s now after 1am. Twenty minutes ago Owen woke up crying, which woke up James. I bounced Owen around the living room while James screamed in the pack-n-play while Andy made bottles with the little bit of milk we still had in the fridge. Andy then fed both boys while I pumped more milk. I ran downstairs with the fresh milk; James had fallen asleep, Owen was still hungry. I just put James to bed, although he woke up while being transported (I still haven’t learned where all the floor creaks are in our new house) so who knows what will happen in the next 10 minutes. Oh, and I’m still not done with my editing assignment, which is due tomorrow.

I know, though, when I look back on this time, I won’t immediately think of my face buried into my hands or the surprising amount of anger I felt upon hearing my daughter call me at 10:30pm or the frustration with not getting anything accomplished before 2am today. Instead, I’ll think of tracing the alphabet on Sophie’s back. And how happy that made her.

I know this to be true because it’s how I remember Sophie a year-and-a-half ago. When I think of Sophie as a baby I don’t immediately think of the three-hour bedtime routines or the demands to nurse constantly or the refusal to eat jarred baby food. Instead, I remember the zerberts and resulting laughter, the weight of her body on my chest, the way she could stare so long at wind-blown leaves.

So I’ll take our little ABC moment and hold it dear as I go back to blowing my nose, as I go back to editing, as I go back to staring at the monitor and thinking, Please don’t wake up. Because not only was that ABC moment a moment I know I’ll remember years from now, it’s also a moment that got me through today—kept me from losing my mind, my self, entirely. I rely on moments like that daily. I suspect most parents do.

“Happiness is having a scratch for every itch.” —Ogden Nash