It's Thursday night, and I have ten minutes to myself before Kevin finishes bathing Eleanor. While the laundry is running, I put on a load of dishes, turn on the rice cooker, and wrap two chicken breasts in foil and toss them in the oven. I check email. My sister calls. I notice that the bottoms of my socks are filthy, and I grab a broom. Kevin walks in the den with our wet, naked, wriggling toddler and asks me where the Aquaphor is. I wash, cook, correspond, talk, sweep, and search simultaneously. I am queen of multitasking.
Once upon a time there was a girl who was considered a thoughtful and loyal friend, daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece. The girl rarely forgot a birthday or anniversary, always sent thank-you notes, and prided herself on the great efforts she went to maintain relationships. Every year the girl mailed nearly 100 carefully chosen Christmas cards, each containing a personal message from the girl to the recipient. Everyone who knew the girl would comment on the time and effort that she put into these tasks, and the girl would tell them, "Oh, it's nothing really. I enjoy doing it." Secretly, the girl relished the compliments and did all of this for the praise as much as the pleasure it would bring others.
I'm up late doing laundry so Eleanor can wear her new tights tomorrow for music class. Friday music class has become the high point of my week. Kevin and I dropped cable and my cell phone service so we could afford $600 music classes for a one-year-old, and I'm ashamed every time I think of it. I tell myself that we watch too much television anyway, and I don't really need a cell phone now that I'm not working. No one needs to reach me that badly. Eleanor gets very little out of the classes at her age, but I live for Friday. These weekly get-togethers are my only chance to talk to other women my age. So, for an hour every Thursday evening, I carefully plan our outfits. Mine is easy -- black yoga pants, a stain-free tee, and running shoes -- clothes chosen to blend in. The baby, on the other hand, will dazzle. Tonight, I go with the Janie & Jack seafoam green corduroy jumper (the one with the small violets embroidered along the hem), lavender tights, a white tee, and dark brown Mary Janes. I also set out her red and white gingham overalls and white blouse with the Peter Pan collar as a back-up. We aren't competing with the other moms and babies; we're wooing them.
Once upon a time there was a girl whose greatest loves were her boyfriend, Asian food, and movies. Although she often put in over 40 hours a week at work, she usually had the energy and desire to go out every Friday, particularly after a quick nap early in the evening. She and the boyfriend would eat at their favorite Vietnamese, Thai, or Indian restaurant, often with friends. After dinner, they would catch whatever independent film was released that week or drop by a club to hear her best friend's band. Or both. Saturdays were for catching up on sleep. Sundays were spent shopping at Central Market and hanging out at Book People. The girl thought she was too tired to do much else.
Eleanor is crying, and I pretend not to hear her. I start counting. One, two, three. If I can count to sixty and she doesn't cry, I don't have to go in again. Four, five, six. Kevin stirs beside me.
"Is that the baby? I guess it's her teeth, huh?"
"Yeah, that's right," I lie, knowing full well that she cut her fourth eye tooth last week and has no others coming in. Seven, eight, nine.
"So, should we do something?" he asks.
"Let's give her a few minutes." Ten, eleven, twelve. I'm the expert here. I babysat, tended to younger siblings and cousins, took early childhood courses in college. I was never sure about marriage, but I always knew that I wanted a child. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Most likely, we would have never married if I hadn't wanted children. We dated, then lived together, for seven years before finally eloping, primarily because I wanted a baby. After four years, six IUIs, surgery, one miscarriage, and an IVF attempt, I had Eleanor. Everyone calls her our "miracle baby." I am now contemplating medicating our miracle baby even though there's nothing wrong with her other than she napped too long today. Sixteen, seventeen. If only we could get one night of uninterrupted sleep. Eighteen. I'm up.
Once upon a time there was a girl who had an uncomplicated, envy-worthy life, but who was often inexplicably sad and lonely. She took day trips with her boyfriend to the hill country, used vacation time to attend music and film festivals, and started an afghan. She bought a new couch. She took adult education classes and learned to play golf, foxtrot, and speak conversational Spanish. The girl seemed to want for nothing.
I have a secret. Despite what my husband thinks, despite what my mother, sisters, and in-laws assume, despite what I've told my doctor, I am still breastfeeding Eleanor. She's only 16 months old, a baby really, but there's been a lot of pressure to wean because I'm pregnant again. We needed so much medical help that I never imagined another baby would be possible, but here I am, expecting my second child at 40, and this time it happened the old-fashioned way.
Tonight, Eleanor is standing in her crib when I enter her room, reaching for me. I put on her Sara Hickman CD (our music), low so we don't disturb Kevin, lift her from the crib, and pull her into my lap. She gently tugs on my shirt.
Eleanor watches me while she nurses, stroking my cheek and smiling. She's been waiting for me.