September 07, 2009

The Wish List

Your three year old son asks you for the sixth time today if you can go get him the googly-eye glasses now, right now? You stall him for the sixth time, telling him that it’s impossible to go to the googly-eye glasses store at the moment because the Charlie and Lola video is due back at the library today, and you’ve got to go to the library to give the video back to “the man,” who is waiting for it. He looks at you skeptically, and then asks when will you be getting him the googly-eye glasses, if not today? You tell him you’re not sure. Your stomach churns nervously, anticipating a noisy meltdown. You try to distract him. You remind him that there are many, many videos that he can borrow from the man at the library, once you’ve given the Charlie and Lola video back to him. He thinks about it for a moment and then announces that he wants bring home some Baby Einstein videos. You smile and nod and say, “Okay, Sweetie,” knowing you’ve just shot yourself in the foot. Your son got to hankering after the googly-eye glasses when he saw some kid wearing them in a Baby Einstein video. Every time he sees a Baby Einstein video, in fact, there are about ten new toys he wants to add to his Wish List.

The Wish List was a total fuck up on your part to begin with. Your mom friend in the play group meant well when she suggested the Wish List at the park district pool that morning, when your boy kept pestering her to let him play with her waterproof disposable camera, and she said, in her teacher-like way, “I know, has your mom started a Wish List for you? Maybe you should put this on your Wish List.” She meant well, but then you went right home and got the pen and notepad out and actually started a real god damned list. And when you saw your mom friend a week later at the drop in play center, and told her that you now had a Wish List about a mile long and you were wondering how she managed her little girl’s Wish List, she gasped and exclaimed that no, there should never be an actual list, an actual piece of paper; the Wish List was only to be a nebulous, talked about thing that acknowledged yet appeased your son’s cravings. So then you told her that this was kind of a crucial piece of information to leave out, that there wasn’t supposed to be an actual list, and she apologized and tried to make you feel better by telling you that a paper-based Wish List was probably a really great reading and writing awareness exercise for a three year old. Which is all well and good, but now the whole thing is a royal pain in the ass and you’re the one left holding the bag, or more accurately, the List.

You’ve discovered they’re a bunch of master tricksters, these three-soon-to-be-four-year-olds. They’re so damned talkative, and they throw around such big words, that you start to think you can actually have a real conversation with them. So you try and tell them things, like how toys cost money, and it’s just not possible to buy every toy in the world. But they just look at you like you’re stupid, and tell you that if toys cost money then you just need to bring your wallet with you to the toy store. There. Problem solved. So then you try and appeal to the Philosopher in them and suggest that maybe it’s better not to have every toy in the world, anyway, because they could never actually play with all of them, or they might get bored with all of them, and they wouldn’t be excited about playing with anything anymore. You pose to them that maybe the penguins-going-up-the-steps-and-sliding-down-the-slide game that they love to play with whenever they go to their little friend’s house wouldn’t feel so fun and special if they had it to play with every day in their own house. But they don’t get that line of reasoning at all. They just yawn and ask you for some more juice.

You’ve briefly turned over in your mind the idea that you could make your son work for his Wish List. You could create some arrangement whereby he puts away his toys every night for a week, for example, and at the end of the week he could get one small item from the List. But, who are you kidding, you’ve never been such a highly functioning parent, and you have no desire to start being one yet. You just got through potty training, for crying out loud. Well, you’ve almost just got through potty training, because he still asks for a diaper when he needs to take a crap. But, hey, he actually goes into the john and craps in his diaper in the john with the door closed, and for right now, that’s good enough for you. No, you just need to be a parental couch potato for a little while. After potty training, you’ve earned it.

So you start to simplify things. You start to throw your weight around. You tell him no when he asks for new toys. You bamboozle him for a minute, when he asks you why, and for once you don’t try to explain it to him. You just say because. He’s not getting the toy because. He looks completely stumped for about 20 seconds. Then the noisy meltdown begins. And now, depending upon the day, on your mood, on how much sleep you got the night before, anything can happen. You could let him have the 12 daily meltdowns, if you’re nerves can take it; he eventually gets over them. Or you could give him a Dum-Dum sucker, which you’ve started to keep a small stock of at the bottom of your purse, and that’ll quiet him down for a good hour or two. Or you might try to bribe him with armloads of preschool videos, borrowed from the man at the library. It all depends on the day. On your day, on his day.

You’re trying to keep it all in perspective. You’re hoping it’s a phase he’ll grow out of. You’ll just try again to appeal to the Philosopher in him in another year or two. Or maybe, when he’s five, you’ll have the energy and focus to make him do chores for money, and he can start saving up to buy his own toys. You shudder and cringe at the notion that this present state of affairs could go on for another year or two, but you lived through eight years of George Bush. You made it. You tell yourself all you can do is take it a day at a time, and hope for the best. Wipe the slate clean every morning and begin again. You hope that when you do get ultra frustrated from time to time you won’t do any lasting damage. You hope the kid’ll find himself a good therapist when he grows up.

You don’t think you have any left over childhood trauma over toys and Wish Lists. About the only thing you can remember really, really wanting was a bike, which you got for one of your birthdays – your eighth, or ninth, you can’t remember which. You remember having a pretty specific picture in your mind about what you wanted: a pink bike with fringe hanging down from the hand grips, and a little white woven basket to go over the handlebars, and a bell, and a white glitter banana seat, and multi-colored spoke covers that sounded like chimes when the wheels spun. You remember your parents got you a dark green bike with a black banana seat, and no basket. But they did get you a packet of spoke covers, you remember, and you were happy about that, even though it took fucking forever to get them on the spokes and for some reason they didn’t seem to have quite as cool a chiming sound as the other kids’ bikes did. And now, thirty plus years later, the Philosopher in you actually recognizes that the damn spoke covers were the real birthday gift; that your overworked, overtired, overwhelmed parents actually went the extra mile to find a packet of god forsaken multi-colored spoke covers at the Zayre, or the Venture, or whatever the hell discount store they bought the bike from.

So see, you tell yourself, maybe if you go to that stupid Magical Mystery Tour gag gift store out on Dempster, the place where your smug thirty-three year old ass bought that roll of toilet paper that said “OVER THE HILL” for your forty-year-old brother in law that one time, maybe if you take your now forty-four year old ass out to that stupid store, the only store you can think of that might have googly-eye glasses for sale, and get your now unappreciative son the googly-eye glasses for his birthday, maybe thirty years from now your son will remember the googly-eye glasses, and how you had to go to that awful store to get them for him, and maybe he’ll raise a glass at his birthday dinner, and toast his mother, and all the wonderful things she did for him.

Then you laugh, and tell yourself to take off those fucking googly-eye glasses you insist on seeing the world through, and you go to take your little boy to the library, and you vow to finally check out that How To Take Back Your Life When Your Three Year Old Has Stolen it Out From Under Your Nose book you’ve been meaning to get all year long.
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April 29, 2009

The End of the Road, Part I

The last time I was here, one year ago today, it was a bitterly cold, gray day. There was about a foot of snow on the ground, I remember, with a thin layer of ice on top. The short walk from our car, parked on the shoulder of the cemetery road, to their gravesites next to the white birch tree was unexpectedly laborious. The ice wasn’t thick enough to walk on. When we first stepped out of the car it held only momentarily before giving way beneath the weight of us, and then we sunk into the snow below, stumbling and sliding for a second until we found our footing. We quickly figured out that the best way to maneuver was to kind of punch through ice with each step, lifting our knees up high and stepping down hard and sure in our winter boots.

I hadn’t wanted to bring the baby out of the car (he was barely a month old), but Gene insisted. I was mad about it; it was too cold for the baby. Gene carried Chips from the car to the graves, and I’d had to carry Liam in his heavy, cumbersome infant carrier. I was mad about that, too. The baby weighed less than ten pounds, but together with the carrier he felt double that.

I remember scowling as I set the carrier down in the icy snow, and reminding Gene that the baby needed to go back into the warm, running car as soon as possible. Then I took Chips from Gene’s arms, stood him in the snow next to Liam in his carrier, and waited impatiently while Gene carefully opened his camera bag and meticulously adjusted the manual focus on his Nikon FE2.

I came across the black and white picture just the other day, while I was mining through all of our 2008 photographs, looking for shots to upload for a photo montage I was creating for Liam’s first birthday. I sat looking at it for a while, noticing things. You couldn’t even see the baby, for instance. He was swimming in a size-6-month bunny snowsuit, and the carrier was mostly covered by a big fleece blanket, anyway. You pretty much just saw the floppy bunny ears of his snowsuit, the hood of the infant carrier, and the big fleece blanket. Then there was Chips, my handsome two year old, still looking like a baby himself, still chubby and round, and all bundled up in his puff jacket and scarf and jester hat, wearing the black snow boots that were one size too big for him last year. And, of course, me, looking tired and mad. I realized that about summed up the entire year for me, last year: tired and mad, tired and mad, tired and mad.

I’d taken a picture of Gene and the boys next to the graves that day, too. I’d forgotten that. Gene must have asked me to take it. It was tucked into the envelope of photographs, right behind the one of me and the boys. I stared at that one for a while, too, secretly thinking that the tall metal flower pot hangers that Rob had spiked into the ground behind Galina’s grave marker, in the year before he died, were an eyesore. Or maybe it was just the plastic pots of fake flowers hanging from them that were the eyesore. There they were, in the black and white shot of Gene and the boys at the graves, the poles looking a little crooked, and the plastic flowers gaudy and completely out of place in the cold and wintry scene.

In the photo Gene is squatting down in the snow between the boys, with one arm around Chips’ waist, and the other draped over the baby carrier hood. His head is tilted to the side and he is smiling sweetly, a little proudly. While looking at the picture the other day, it occurred to me that the expression on his face is kind of introductory. It’s as if I took the shot while he was introducing the boys to someone off-camera, although there were only the four of us that bitter March day, I think in the entire cemetery. He was smiling at me and at the camera, but his heart and mind were a million miles away. He was communing with his dead parents. It’s a sad and sacred photograph.

I didn’t choose it for Liam’s first year video montage, though. I passed on both of the cemetery pictures.

And I realized something else the other day, while looking at those photographs. Gene is a documentarian. He is taking photographs for the future. I’d never really thought about it before. In my typical careless, impatient way, I’d thought of pictures mostly in terms of the here and now. You take pictures on vacation so that you can come back home and show your friends. See, this is where I went. Look how much fun I had. Then you toss them into boxes and pack them away and forget all about them. That’s why in the past I fretted over Gene’s picture taking. I asked him to stop taking so many photographs. They seemed inconsequential to me. I wondered what we were going to do with all those pictures he insisted on taking. I worried about who would have to get rid of them all, once we were gone.

While sitting at my dining room table, looking at the black and whites of the cemetery from last year, I also thought of the old family photos Galina had given to me before she passed away. She’d neatly written on the backs of each photograph, in both Russian and English, identifying the year of the photo, and the names of the old relatives, and in some cases, the places they were taken – Moscow, or Odessa, for instance. There were pictures of grandfathers and great grandfathers with bald heads and impressive beards. Another of a great aunt and uncle standing stiffly in front of a dacha in a birch forest in the early 1900’s, which reminded me of an Ingmar Bergman film. Galina as a girl in the 1950’s, smiling, with a kerchief on her head, vacationing on the Black Sea.

And there were several cemetery shots. People standing in front of tall, imposing headstones and gated family plots, in all kinds of weather, staring solemnly, almost tragically, into the camera.

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November 19, 2008

Still Catholic After All These Years (My submission to the Confession Station Project)

I hail from the land of Chicago Catholica, circa 1970. Growing up, the church was my world, and our parish my passport. If you’d have told me as a child that Chicago was known as the city of neighborhoods, I’d have thought you were talking about St. Ita’s, Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Gertrude’s—the whole north side was mapquested in my brain not by streets and avenues, but by churches. Back then I thought everyone was Catholic, everyone. When the one oddball kid on my block went to the local public school instead of St. Greg’s, where the rest of us went, I pitied him and assumed his parents just couldn’t afford the tuition. I knew kids went to Pierce, the public school with the gravel baseball field on the other side of Ashland Avenue, but just who those kids were was a mystery to me. My naïve, narrow little mind could only make sense of it by deeming them disadvantaged. Everyone went to St. Greg’s; ergo, everyone wanted to go to St. Gregs; ergo if you didn’t go, it was because you couldn’t; ergo, you were poor. It wouldn’t dawn on me until years later that my own family, with only one working parent and seven children, was probably way poorer than the vast majority of those public school families. Live and learn.

When I went away to college the blinders really came off. Most people at my university weren’t Catholic. For once, I was in the minority. I was living with Lutherans, Methodists, Unitarians, Jews even! I knew, because I asked them. I went around interviewing new friends about their religious backgrounds. No one else cared but me. Everyone had an answer, everyone was something, but nobody really much cared about it. “Well, we’re Unitarian,” they’d say, or Methodist, or whatever, “We’re X, but we don’t really practice. We never really go to church, or anything.” One girl in my dorm called herself a Baha’i, something I’d never even heard of before. She explained that her faith was a sort of melding of all religions, a unity of all faiths for all mankind— and really, who could argue with that idea? I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Eileen in Carbondale, a strange land where 25,000 18-25 year-olds from all walks of life banded together, generic Christians and Jews, Buddhists and Muslims (thanks to SIU’s ambitious foreign exchange program), agnostics and atheists; all of us comrades united with a dual purpose: to study and drink beer. Religion didn’t matter. It was about love, and laughter, and higher education. It was Utopia. It was John Lennon’s Imagine. I was completely swept up and away. Just like that, into the thick of 1980’s techno rock, another lapsed Catholic was born.

Fast forward twenty years. I’m married to a wonderful Jewish man who was born in Soviet Russia and immigrated to America with his parents in the late 1970’s. I’ve lost my father to cancer. My mother just passed away from Pulmonary Fibrosis. My husband’s mother is suffering from terminal lung cancer. We feel like a tree in the boreal forest, whose trunk has been axed to the core. We are childless, having spent our time together working and traveling, and then caring for sick parents. We decide we don’t want our tree to topple. We want the cycle of life to go on. We want to have a baby.

I get pregnant, and miscarry, get pregnant, and miscarry again. I am 39 years old. My doctor tells me my eggs are old, I’m coming to the end of my fertility cycle. I am starting to get desperate. My aunt tells me about the St. Gerard medals that have been passed around the family, to female cousins trying to have children. There are two medals on a chain, and they’ve gotten several cousins pregnant— one with twins. “I only want one medal!” I say. “Can you get me one of them?” The last cousin to get the magic medals can’t part with them. She’s grown attached to them and feels like they’re protecting her precious, hard-won child from harm.

I take myself on a 45 minute drive to a Catholic missionary with a gift store that sells St. Gerard medals. I feel ashamed and sheepish. I haven’t been to Mass in years, with the exception of my parents’ funerals, and haven’t considered myself a Catholic for decades. Here I was now, turning up on the church’s doorstep desperate and desolate, like a prodigal daughter.

I buy the St. Gerard medal, and decide to stop into the missionary’s church on my way out, to light a candle for my parents, and drop a donation into the collection box—it’s the least I can do. The big church is dark and empty. I walk up and down the aisles like a museum-goer, taking in the stained glass and statuaries. I light two candles, inhaling deeply, enjoying the waxy, honey, smoky scent of the votives, and stuff a ten dollar bill into the box. I walk over to a wooden pew and sit, reaching down to pull out the kneeler. The bench creaks loudly, protesting my weight. The thud of the kneeler as it hits the marble floor echoes all around me. I say an Our Father and a Hail Mary, and then I just kneel for a while, missing my parents, and thinking, for the first time in a long time, of those days back in the 1970’s, when churches were as comfortable to me as the living room sofa in my parents’ old two flat.

I’d have him baptized, I decided then and there. Or her, if it was a girl. If by some miracle I was able to have a baby, I’d have the child baptized in a Catholic church, as homage to my mother and my father, and the church, who raised me, and gave me the heart and the capacity to love without borders, to look to the good in all people, and to hope for things yet to be.

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November 08, 2008

The Vote Heard Round the World

Happy Birthday, Chips.

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September 12, 2008

A Morning at the Museum

We were going to the children’s museum, Chips, Liam, and I, even though I knew I was playing with fire. Liam, my three month old, had about a two hour window of wakefulness in between naptimes. Truthfully, two hours was pushing it. Usually by the hour and a half mark he’d already be starting to unravel. By two hours the beguine would have officially begun, with deafening, head-turning, inconsolable screaming. This would, in turn, send Liam’s completely-traumatized-by-the-new-baby-in-the-house preschooler brother into a tailspin of his own, not to be outdone by the competition. So, given the travel time to and from, and taking into consideration that it’d be kind of nice to have more than ten minutes to actually spend inside the museum, I knew that I was playing Russian roulette in a big way.

But I was a stay at home mom on the verge, with one foot already over the edge, and I was just that desperate to get out of the house. When my friend Mary emailed the night before to say she’d be going to the museum in the morning and did the kids and I want to join, I typed back YES YES YES. To hell with the logistics – naps, feeding times, dressing dramas and diaper bag packing. I’d been virtually housebound since the baby was born, three long months ago. I’d turned into a vampire, only daring to go out at night, after the kids went to sleep. While my husband stayed home with the slumbering boys, I’d wander down the aisles of Targets and grocery stores, lost in a post partum fog, trying to remember whatever it was that I’d gone there to buy.

To make time, I sped down all the busy streets on my way to the museum, weaving around the slower cars, with one eye on the lookout for cops in hiding and a foot poised just above the break in case I spotted one. The baby fussed loudly nearly the whole way there. We played a game of cat and mouse with the pacifier. He’d spit it out and start to cry, and I’d reach my arm back and feel around in his car seat until I’d find it, sticking it back in his mouth again. Every time the baby started to cry I’d also have to comfort Chips, who sat in his own chair next to the baby in the back seat.

“It’s okay, Bud. He just trying to tell us something. Remember, babies only cry because they can’t talk.”

“He’s talking. He’s just talking,” Chips would repeat to himself, covering his ears with his hands to keep the noise at bay.

It was a beautiful spring morning, and for the first time in months my spirits started to rise. I’d spent most of March and April trapped inside our two bedroom condo during the day, trying to nurse and care for a newborn while at the same time keep a two-and-a-half year old marginally entertained. I felt like I’d aged 10 years since the baby was born. Every morning, I’d look at myself in the bathroom mirror and swear my jowls had gotten bigger and droopier than they’d been the night before. It was high time that I got back out in the real world again, got some fresh air. See, I could do this, I kept telling myself. I could still have a life, with two children. I could be like all those other moms, carting multiple kids around to museums, libraries, supermarkets. They did it, and I could, too.

I got to the museum in just over twenty minutes- record time, as it typically took thirty. I made an illegitimate turn into the parking lot’s exit drive, ignoring the DO NOT ENTER signage. I swerved around the museum parking lot a couple of times until I gave up on finding a space anywhere near the entrance to the museum, and pulled into the first available spot, half a block away. Ever conscious of the baby’s ticking hour glass, I ran the length of the parking lot to the museum entrance, pushing the baby in the thousand pound stroller/car seat/travel system with one arm, and carrying Chips underarm in a football hold with the other.

Along the way I saw Mary’s silver Subaru Forrester parked in a prime spot, right up close to the entrance. She and her little girl must have been among the first to arrive that morning. A wave of envy washed over me, thinking of my friend and her manageable one-child life. So easy. So predictable and serene. The envy I felt was quickly replaced with guilt. Mary had suffered a miscarriage around the same time that I got pregnant with Liam. Her pregnancy was unplanned. She was already in her mid forties when she’d had Grace two years before, and didn’t even think she could conceive any longer. Still, the miscarriage had been very hard for her. Just when she and her husband had gotten used to the idea of having a second child, they’d had to get unused to it.


Chips had slipped out of the crook of my arm and was fast falling down the side of my body, clinging on to my clothes.

“Oops. Sorry, Bud. Hang on. We’re almost there.” I hoisted him back up under my arm and kept on running.

The museum was mobbed. Parents, grandparents, kids and strollers everywhere. I pulled my cell phone out and checked the time. We had a respectable 40 minutes to enjoy the museum before splitsville. I dialed Mary’s number.

“We’re in the car exhibit. Grace loves it.”

“Okay. We’ll meet you there.”

Chips hovered on the edge of a mosh pit of kids sending toy cars down a giant race track. My friend’s daughter was smack in the middle, clutching a blue race car. I watched Chips amid the noise and chaos, as he attempted to navigate around the other children. His 2T jeans were still a bit big around the waist. When he reached out with both hands to touch the race track, his little striped polo shirt rose up and exposed the top of his diaper, peeking out from the elasticized waistband of his pants. He finally backed away from the swarm of kids and started chewing on his fingers, something he hadn’t done since he finished teething almost a year ago. I chalked it up to a self-comfort measure, a nervous habit he had evidently adopted since the birth of his little brother. I checked my impulse to dive into the fray of children and win a car for him. Instead, I chatted eagerly with my friend Mary and stroked Liam’s hair while he looked up at me from his perch in the stroller.

“This is getting crazy,” Mary said after a few minutes. “Let’s try the craft room. Grace likes to get her face painted.”

“Okay.” I checked the time on my cell phone. We had about thirty more minutes before we would self-destruct.

Chips started protesting as I led him out of the car exhibit, trying to yank his hand out of mine and run back inside.

“I want to play with the cars, Mommy.”

“I know, but it’s so crowded in there, Sweetie. Let’s see what there is to do in the craft room. I bet there’s something really fun to do there,” I tried to persuade him, tightening my grip on his hand and pulling him more firmly in the direction of the crafts exhibit. The baby was thankfully content for the time being, looking up at the museum ceiling while I pushed him along in his bulky car seat/stroller combo.

In the art room, Grace stood patiently, smiling with an upturned face while Mary drew on her with brightly colored crayons. Chips flinched and put an arm up when I tried to paint on him. I felt badly. He didn’t seem to be having any fun.

“I think he’d rather go see the grocery store exhibit,” I said to Mary. I turned to Chips. “Would you rather see the grocery store, Sweetie? You can push the little cart in the grocery store. You love pushing those little carts.”

“Okay,” he said.

When we got to the fake grocery store, all the kiddie shopping carts were taken. Chips’ lower lip started to quiver. His nose started to run. Giant tear drops started to roll down his cheeks. I scanned the little store, trying to assess how long it might be before we’d get a cart for him. Not any time soon, by the look of things. All the little fake shoppers’ carts were filled to the brim with empty cartons of eggs, plastic cheese wedges, wooden bread loaves. Pretend check-out clerks in smock costumes were taking ages to ring the shoppers up, too fascinated with their toy cash registers to complete the transactions and move the lines along.

“How about a basket, Sweetie? Look, there are lots of shopping baskets!”

Chips shook his head and put his face in his hands. His shoulders shook with each sob. Chips didn’t have angry, kicking, temper tantrums- the only kind I thought there were before I had children of my own. He had these tragic, heart-broken bouts of crying that always made me think of the theme music to the movie Brian’s Song.

“Oh, Chips. It’s okay. I’m sorry, Honey. As soon as one of the kids puts a cart back, it’ll be your turn, okay?” I knelt in front of him and dabbed at his face with a used paper napkin I’d found in the cup holder of my stroller. He looked at me with his big brown eyes. I kissed his wet, salty cheek.

“Wait. Here,” Mary said, “I’ve got a wet wipe right here.” She handed me a neat little travel packet of wipes.

“Oh. Thanks,” I said, suddenly feeling self-conscious and unprepared. I knew there was probably a clean tissue in my diaper bag somewhere, but the bag was wedged in the stroller basket, underneath the baby’s car seat, and it just seemed like too much work to get to it at that moment.

“Maybe we should go to the café and get some lunch,” Mary suggested.

“That’s probably a good idea. We don’t have much time before Liam needs to nurse and nap, anyway.” Just as I said it, I noticed the baby starting to squirm in the stroller.

When we got out to the large museum hallway, Chips stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes grew wide with terror.

“Aaahhh!” He shouted. “Inflatables!! Scared of that!!” He started flapping his hands, another new tic he’d picked up since Liam was born.

“Where, Honey? Where do you see inflatables?” I asked. Chips pointed to a display at the other end of the hall. Children were pumping handles that inflated several huge multi-colored wind socks, and sent them blowing high up into the air. When the kids stopped pumping, the wind socks deflated, collapsing in a heap on the floor until someone pumped them back up again.

Chips and I had discovered “inflatables” during one of those peaceful, relaxing, lingering breakfasts we’d enjoyed together before the baby was born. Gene would get ready for work while Chips and I ate cereal and bananas, listening to classical music, or one of Chips’ kids CD’s. One morning, I sat at the table with him, flipping through a Chicago Parent magazine while we breakfasted, and Chips put his hand out and stopped me from turning the page.

“What’s that, Mommy?” He was referring to a half page advertisement that showed kids jumping up and down in a castle-like blow up structure.

“That’s a moonwalk thingy, Sweetie.”

“What’s a moonwalk?”

I looked closer at the ad. What did you call those things, anyway, I wondered? “Oh, it’s called an inflatable, Honey. That’s an inflatable, Sweetie. You bounce up and down on it.”

Chips’ eyes widened. “Inflatable,” he whispered. He couldn’t stop looking at the ad, wouldn’t let me turn the page. I’d had to tear the ad out of the magazine and give it to him, in order to keep reading.

“There, Mommy!” Chips kept staring at the museum’s wind sock exhibit. He started clinging to my legs. “Inflatables!! I’m scared of that!!”

“It’s okay, Baby. Let’s not look at the inflatables anymore, okay? We don’t have to look at them, Chips. We don’t have to go anywhere near them.”

“Mommy hold me?” He pleaded, reaching up to me. I bent down and picked him up. He wrapped his arms tightly around my neck, almost choking me.

Just then, the baby lost it. He hit his little baby wall of fatigue and hunger, and started wailing at the top of his little baby lungs. Chips put his hands over his ears and started bawling, too. I looked at Mary, who looked pitifully back at me.

“I think I have to go,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “I understand.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No. Don’t worry. I understand.”

Then I was out in the parking lot again, running for the car. Pushing the elephant of a stroller with one arm, carrying my twenty-eight pound two-year-old in the other.

“Sweetie, when we get to the car I have to feed Baby Liam,” I warned Chips as we ran. “Before we go home, we have to stay in the car while I feed Baby Liam, okay?” He was still crying his head off. I wasn’t even sure if he heard me.

Ten minutes later, all was mercifully quiet in the car while I nursed Liam in the front seat. Chips was in his chair in the back seat, happily munching away on animal crackers.

“Where we gonna go?” He asked me between mouthfuls.

“Well, we’re going home. We have to go home now. It’s nap time for you and Baby Liam.”

“We’ll come back to the museum one day,” he said. “We’ll see the inflatables one day.”

“Did you want to see the inflatables, Honey? I thought you were scared of them.”

“We’ll see the inflatables again,” he repeated.

On one of the last days Chips and I spent alone together before Liam was born, we went to a coffee shop in our neighborhood for a cup of hot chocolate. It was snowing thickly as we walked down the street in our down jackets and fleece hats, holding hands and basking in the winter wonderland around us. We sat at a table by the window, Chips in his booster seat and I in my chair, and drank our hot chocolates and giggled and mooned at each other, like a pair of newlyweds on a honeymoon. I was so in love with motherhood that day. So proud of my fearless, sweet, happy little boy, still learning how to hold the cup with two hands, and lifting it to his mouth oh, so carefully, not wanting to spill one drop of his special drink. I was so excited about the new baby in my swollen belly, ready to come bursting out of me any minute. I felt blessed, truly graced, by some higher power working in my life.

In the front seat of the car, I let out a big sigh. Up and down. Up and down. High and low. That was us. That was our lives. We were the inflatables, Chips and I.

“We will, my darling,” I said, looking at my little boy in the rearview mirror. “We’ll see the inflatables again. One day we will.”

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