Minutes later, he is bathed and wrapped in a towel. Older kids are watching TV. Baby is contentedly meddling with a box of (child-proof!) vitamins on the carpet. The universe has afforded me a window, a magical porthole; I only have to get the delectable three year old to sleep in this opening and the rest will take care of itself. Easy. Smooth. Sweet.
Two is a sweet age.
I summon up the image of my two year old meticulously placing his toy cars, one by one, in a single-file line, arranging and rearranging, with manic precision. I recollect sitting and watching him, a wave of peaceful contentment washing over me.
Then one fine day, that two year old turned three. And those treasured cars were no longer an image of industrious exactitude. No, my toddler -turned -preschooler no longer placed his cars; he threw them. Flung them far and wide.
Yes this is about Alexander’s toy cars. But it is about a lot more: because he threw a lot more than just those cars. A casual walk by a countertop would spawn an offhanded swipe of any and every object that unswervingly nestled there.
“Shmok”, I mumble. [My Hebrew use of the word is not the same as the English rendering ‘schmuk’; it translates, more accurately, to ‘Asshole’. Hebrew, paradoxically, keeps me muted.]
“YOU shmok”, my endearing three year old pipes back, a smirk circling his lips. (They certainly are sponges, those critters).
“No you shmok”
“No you shmok”
and so forth.
Yes. It’s as it sounds. Forty-something woman having a full-on back-and-forth spat with three year old boy.
When faced with the repeated task of picking shit up, my capacity for creative and original rejoin, is ostensibly, diminished. Routine and repetition obscure wit and innovation.
But let’s get back to the cars. Because aligned or scattered, they are treasured.
It’s now evening. I carefully — masterfully — take off Alexander’s pants by the bathroom. It is a technique I have perfected –holding the pockets as I lower the pants to ensure the cars that are crammed in them, don’t tumble out. Once the pants are off, he will take them out of the pockets, revealing one car after another after another, a staggering sleight of hand.
I fetch the boy’s pajamas.
“No, not these pants, the other pants.”
“What other pants?” I feel my blood pressure begin to climb and quickly move into his dresser. Let’s do this. Other pants. OK. Quick. Clock is ticking.
“How about these? You want the striped ones or the ones with the trucks?
“No I need pocket pants!”
Of course you do: I run back to the dresser.
“OK, check these out, these are perfect pocket pants, look how cool these pockets are”.
“No I want regular pocket pants!” His voice is forceful, definitive.
OK. I take out the pants I was saving for the morning.
“No no the ones… you know, the ones I… like, um… the ones I was…” By now his voice has grown shaky beneath his quivering lips. His eyes are moist and his movement is tremulous. He is weary of being misunderstood and is on the verge of becoming softly undone. Explosive tantrums are for earlier hours; this is a raw and tender implosion.
Oh you mean the ones you were wearing? The dirty ones, the ones I already threw in the laundry.
I lay with him on the mattress by our bed. He is wearing the scoured pants that held all his enchanted cars earlier, and churning out his delectable mix of Hebrish: “if I sleep kol layla (all night) on the mizron (mattress), I get a pras (prize).” Right, I assure him, wordlessly trying to figure out when I’ll manage to squeeze a trip to the dollar store the next day. The collection of cars that he must contain in his pockets is expanding beyond capacity as we negotiate the reward system that is designed to reclaim our bed.
Curled up next to him, I close my eyes, part modeling, part rebuffing: This mom has closed shop. His weary eyes flutter. Moments later he pipes up: “I actually love this mom,” a variation on the more common, “ I’m going to find a new mom” catchphrase acquired from sassy older sis. “This mom?” I repeat. Even the most stalwart supermom needs to be bolstered and cajoled. I smile and watch his eyes close. And I rush out. Rushing is my modus vivendi.
Gotta get to the others, older two who have been on duty, entertaining baby. They need to get to bed too.
Let’s just say it isn’t easy, it isn’t smooth, it’s bittersweet, but after a while all are asleep and I stumble into bed.
I don’t know what godforsaken time it is, but I know two things for certain: my husband is fast asleep and there is no way in hell I can ever sleep what with the clang and clatter of cars in our bed. A spongy body sits up, collects the tumbling cars, loads them back in his pockets, where’s the blue one? No the other blue one. (I hand him the pink one and he is assuaged). Rinse. Repeat. All. Bloody. Night. Long.
At one point the cars jangle again but this time there is less wiggling and repositioning. There is a static energy that is at odds with the dynamic movement of sleep. I open half an eye and clumsily press the home button on my phone. 6:26 am. The point of no return: he will not go back to sleep.
I turn to my husband and recount the nightly escapades. Silence. Only husbands — make that fathers — have this talent for sleeping through anything and everything. I know later he will ask me, ingenuously: “where did Alexander sleep?”
Meanwhile, the boy is tugging at my arm demanding his breakfast. My dogged attempt to drag my ass outta bed is motivated by one marvelous thought: I can get him to daycare and be back home by 8 am. The race is on.
Because mom truth number two hundred and thirteen: few sentiments compare to the warm loving one that washes over you when you wave goodbye to your kids and watch them run off to school. “I actually love this boy” my heart surges, as I drive away.
But bedtime is a long way from those prized moments post- drop off. A lot can happen in between.
On one particular and commonplace night, I am especially and regularly bushed. Feeling done with the whole lot of them. And when Alexander tests me at bedtime, I lose it: I fume, I seethe, I flare.
It feels surprisingly good, and then unsurprisingly bad. As my fierce pulsations dwindle to a shuddering tremor, the three year old by my side asks timidly, benevolently, “Mama are you ok?” His question strikes me, arrests me; no, are YOU ok? You are the one who has suffered my wrath. With his simple expression of concern, he has – I realize — perceived a staggering truth: that oftentimes, the perpetrator, even as she is inflicting pain on her victim, is herself driven by pain, that her howls are appeals for love and support.
I cup his face and feel as if I am holding his heart in my hands, bolstered by its vibrations. “Yes, I’m ok. I’m sorry I got mad. I’m sorry I yelled.”
I lie down next to him and extend an arm, wrapping it around him furtively, like a conjurer whose secrets breathe in the still of the night. “This is my favorite snuggle”, he says.
Me too. Tonight I am not rushing. I draw in my breath and close my eyes. “I love you”, he utters, echoing my nightly refrain.
And just like that, in one pithy moment, the day’s exasperating episodes crumple and a mother’s fortitude is restored.
There is immense comfort in the feeling of containing, holding, enclosing something that is dear to you. Alexander’s pocket pants contain his cars. My circling arms, forming an imaginary container, enclose him: we can ease up in our mutual containment, both cherishing our prized possessions.