A Close Shave

Sometimes I feel so wrapped up in Drew’s psychology, moods, preferences, needs and exclamations, that it’s almost like he is my one and only child and Madeline is more of a pet schnauzer. Sure, she might wail and stomp her itsy bitsy feet or give me an eternal, transcendent look, but her general presence feels puppy-ish. She is there for my amusement and delight, but Drew is there for teaching me about life and God. Is this a typical first-born/second-born phenomenon?

That’s not to say Drew doesn’t delight and amuse. The other night after weeks of asking and waiting for right timing, Drew was able to take a shower like a big boy with Daddy. My in-laws have an amazing shower the size of the delivery room in which he was born, and it’s all Drew talks about when he comes home from their house — especially the squeegee. While we don’t have a squeegee-worthy shower at our house, Drew has still been interested in taking his bathing to the next level. (Thing Two also seemed pleased to have the bathtub all to herself, especially the foam alphabet letters Drew is always hoarding.)

“Look at this,” Gordon said under his breath after getting out of the shower. He pulled the towel away from the back of his left thigh to reveal a pale rectangle of bare skin. “I thought he was inspecting the hair on my leg,” said Gordon. “Turns out he found your razor.”

Coolly, calmly, without hesitation and with the eye of the tiger, Drew had finally satisfied the curiosity that had plagued him since toddlerhood. It was almost as if his whole shower campaign was a conspiracy to get at the old Venus and wield its dreadful power. Fortunately for Gordon, he didn’t hit the femoral artery or get into the calf region past swimsuit cover.

Things have gone downhill since the Monday Night Shave, particularly Thing One and, well, This Thing. Which is to say, myself. We have spent the past two days sick with a phantom virus whose only symptoms are drastic fatigue and fever. On VBS on Tuesday, I came to get Drew from his class and he was curled up like a cat in the lap of one of the volunteers. “Take care of me, Mister Mommy,” he said. We came home and I put him to bed.

Then something started occurring to me, something I should have seen happening all day but couldn’t quite put a name on because I was busy checking kids in and fraternizing with my coworkers: I was clammy. And a little hot. Feeling like a baby gorilla was doing pull-ups around my neck. Almost the moment I got into bed, it was as if 86 Lilliputians were pouring cement all around the perimeter of my body — between fingers and toes, across legs, down into my ears, soaking my hair. When Drew started saying “Mommy? Mommy?” from his room, I felt helpless and horrible and ready to fall down through the bed, down to the first story, through the foundation, past the bedrock and lava, all the way to China.

Then I was a little girl, curled up against my dad’s chest, sobbing. Breathing him in. I grasped his neck, wanting him to take me away. My daddy didn’t say anything, and I fell asleep. Or did I wake?

After about ten minutes, I knew I needed to muster Hulk-ish strength to check on Drew. I crow-bar-ed open my left eye and caught a glimpse of the time: 4:20.

4:20. That couldn’t be right. I had put Drew to bed at 2. More than two hours had passed?

“Mommy?” I heard him ask, again. He was at my door, probing underneath it with little fingers.

I told him to come in, and then he was beside me, curled into the C of my body, our heads parallel on pillows. “You not feeling well?” he asked. He sat up and looked into my eyes with his sweet brown mommy-melters. I noticed the circles beneath them. As helpless as I felt to care for him, as horrified as I was to have fallen asleep on the mommy job, the surprising sensation of pride overwhelmed me. I was proud of so much about him: that he noticed I seemed wilted, that he wanted to join me to commiserate. That he used the word “well” so correctly.

Fortunately, Madeline had been asleep the whole time. And when she started barking from her crib a few minutes later, throwing things out of it and stinking up the room with her diaper, I was serene, caught in a hammock of grace.

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