One Year.

June 29, 2010

*This has been purchased and published elsewhere, but I retain the rights. -mjb

One Year

She frowned and wiped her eyes and muttered softly and let out the biggest sigh. She was unsure of what to do in just too many moments anymore and in other moments she would wonder without actual curiosity if she would ever be happy again. She worried that she would regret the times she turned away from the cries of her son, or the moments when she wouldn’t allow her husband to jolly her into a good mood. If she thought about it, which she didn’t much, she would have said perhaps her negativity was born of the vast and booming and hailstorm exhaustion she’d felt since having Lucas. When he was only ten days old, she had laid in bed, desperate for something. Sleep? She thought of sheep but instead counted nothing. She stared at the ceiling, too wiped out to find a position that would allow her body to calm. Her legs jumped and jived involuntarily, a twitch she had acquired as the nights went by with too little rest, too many times up nursing the baby.

James watched her in the kitchen as she fumbled with a can of formula and a bottle. He had slept, and was showered and dressed to go to work. She realized it was, dammit, morning already. “Hey you, smile,” he said, trying to catch her eye.

“Can’t.”

“Won’t.” He spoke lightly.

She felt the burn of liquid anger filling her face, “I can’t! Look, what is this!” she thrust the bottle out for his inspection. “Is that mold?” Her voice was on the rise.

“Looks like.”

The adrenaline surged. It felt better than the fatigue, so she went with it. “You have to dry everything, James, or it gets moldy! God!

◦◦◦

There were times in that first year of motherhood when she would have traded it in for anything, traded in the whole experience just to go back and be free, unencumbered. Nobody had told her what it was really like, being a mom. No one had said, “It’s harder than it looks. In fact, it sucks somewhere around 50 percent of the time.” When Syra had first announced her pregnancy, she had received congratulations all around. Pats on the head. The enthusiasm was so great she felt she had accomplished something unique, as though she alone where pregnant in the world. Except that everywhere she looked, she saw pregnant women, in fact a whole jammed pack of mamas.

Her mother, though, did try to tell her. “It can be a thankless job,” she had said. Or, once, when they were looking at cribs, her mother had laughed. “Syra, you know why people cry at weddings and when a baby is born? Not because they’re happy for you. Because they know. They know that the woman has no idea what she’s getting herself into!” Syra had frowned, disturbed. Had she been a difficult baby?

“Oh no, dear. But you were a child, and children can’t help it,” her mother patted Syra’s round belly. “They need you so much.” She went on to tell the story about the time when Syra had been sick for three weeks with croup, then the flu. But Syra stopped listening, busying herself with buttoning her fuddydud maternity sweater all the way up to the top. She was freezing.

◦◦◦

At Lucas’s first birthday party, Syra handed James the lighter. He handed it back. “No, you go ahead and do it,” he said.

She leaned forward, touching the flame to the single candle. Lucas clapped his hands, beaming as Happy Birthday was sung to him. Syra’s mother laughed, “That’s my grandson!”

One year, Syra thought. It had not flown by, as the baby books had cautioned it would. She thought of all the moments it took to fill that year. She was wholly changed, a scion in a vacuum, and she tried to put words to it for James.

“Is it postpartum? Or baby blues, or whatever they call it?” he wanted to know.

No. It was the giving up of herself. It was the lined fatigue that she saw in her own face, and it was the utter absence of that fatigue in his face. It was the wrestle with the notion that motherhood made you different, and there was not a path back. It was the eventual giving in to being changed, of absorbing the extremes: more tired and more smiles and more scared moments and more understanding. It was more.

One year of trials, of lost tempers, of demanding work. Also, more wisdom — damned expensive wisdom.

It had taken months to lose the feeling that she was entrenched in a mistake, and a full year to sleep soundly again. She regretted that. But regrets were part of the whole, like grains of salt in a cookie recipe. They were the least significant part.

A month ago, she had stood in line at the grocery with a woman who was bulky with pregnancy, flipping through a baby magazine. The lady had looked at Syra, standing with Lucas in one arm. “I can’t wait!” the woman had said, grinning at Lucas. Syra felt enthusiasm and regret well up inside her for this innocent. She wanted to tell her what it was, motherhood. That is was a soggy muddle. She wanted to say how it made you feel part of things, and completely alone, depending. But she only smiled and kissed the top of Lucas’s warm and fragrant head.

She looked at her son now as he held a fistful of pale, smeary cake. One year, entirely lived.

“Thank you, Lucas. Happy birthday.”

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