Her face crumples and there’s so much frustration and disappointment there that it hits me like a lash.
I don’t listen or watch closely enough to understand.
I can’t or won’t give her what she wants.
Why can’t I understand?
Why can’t she open the box/put on her shoes/take off her diaper/pour her own bath/have more chocolate/wear rainbow jammies to school?
She arches her back, screaming, and flops to the floor, waving us away. Our hands are useless and annoying, our voices infuriate her, our worried faces apparently just piss her off. She is mad, mad, mad and she will not suffer any more of our foolish bumbling because she is mad, dammit.
It hurts N dreadfully. He wants to fix it, fix her, make her happy. Here, darling, have some more chocolate. Want to dance? Want a song? Want to go for a walk and look at the moon? Want a bubble bath?
It hurts me, too, but I’ve been toughened by a bit more exposure to her tears. Also, I think, already, she’s a bit like me, sometimes needing some space. We have a baby book that says I should hold her, but so far I can’t bring myself to use a hug as a restraint, even for her own good. I sit next to her on the floor, and I tell her I’ll stay with her. Sometimes I put my hand on her forehead, or rub her belly, but usually she flails her arms at me until I stop. Sometimes I pick up one of her books and read it, slowly, calmly, stopping to look at her, to let her know I’m paying attention.
She can really scream, this daughter of mine. Her cheeks bright red, her eyes squeezed closed, her small legs kicking.
But, after not too long, she pauses, gasps, looks at me with frightened eyes, and holds our her arms.
Now, I can hold her, hug her, wrap her up in my arms and rub her back and make soothing noises and kiss her head. Her arms wrap around my neck, strong and tight and hot, and relief washes over both of us.
“Was that frightening, baby? You were really frustrated, weren’t you?”
And we re-enter what passes for normal life around here.
I used to joke about how hard life must have been for Jesus’ younger siblings. “Why can’t you be more like your big brother?” would be something they’d end up hearing quite a lot, I imagine. I try not to compare my children, and in many ways that’s easy. They are so very different – Teddy is a boy, Dot is a girl, Teddy is dead, Dot is alive. Teddy (or his ashes, anyway) rest quietly in my dresser drawer, Dot runs through the house testing out new words, like “ferocious.” I don’t think I do compare them, really, but I do wonder how his baby- and toddler-hood would have been, and I seem to have convinced myself somehow that Teddy would have been my calm and snugly child. I have no reason to think this, and if Teddy had lived he may have treated us to some wicked tantrums, too. I’ll never know.
As it is, he is remarkably well-behaved and tantrum-free, isn’t he? My quiet oldest child. So well-behaved and quiet I hardly notice him in the room.
I don’t want to turn Teddy into Jesus. I don’t want Dot to ever have to think of her big brother as some sort of canonized, pedestal-ed example she can never live up to. For one thing, she can’t live up to him, and she is remarkably and joyously alive, my girl. For another, I really don’t want to idealize Teddy too much. He was a beautiful little boy who kicked and wiggled exuberantly in my belly, who nestled in my arms like he belonged there. He was our baby and we loved him. That is what he was. Not a saint, or a godling, or a message, or a lesson. Just our baby.
I wish he could have been more. I wish I knew what his tantrums looked like, or that he could be here to watch Dot with a puzzled look on his face, or that he was here to clamor for attention. Of course I wish that.
But he’s not here. So I hold Dot and wonder if her brother would have done this, too. I miss the arms that never wrapped themselves around my neck while memorizing the feeling of my daughter’s arms, that do. I hold her and I’m grateful for the ferocity of her, for the strong will, the climbing, the vigor with which she grabs onto life, even when that vigor is manifested in a shrieking, flailing, yelling tantrum.