Last night I trimmed Dot’s hair again. She loves haircuts, have I mentioned? She asks for them often, and thinks it’s a big treat if I actually cut her hair. I fear for what this might mean later on in school when they start letting her have the good scissors, but it’s one of the things I love about her – that she doesn’t think girls need to have long hair, that she’s willing to try new things (or some new things, at least).
She looks like a tiny Ramona Quimby right now, which gladdens my heart and also makes me a bit sad. Like Ramona, Dot is a little sister. Unlike Ramona, however, she also isn’t a little sister. I want my boy here. I want to know what he would be like as he neared five years old. I want to know how he would play with his little sister. I want Dot to know she has a big brother who loves her.
This is one of the saddest questions that hovers in the dim attic of my mind where I put the things I don’t want to think about too often – did Teddy get a chance to love? He was loved. Knowing that is one of the very few comforts I have, that we loved him wholeheartedly during the too-brief time he was with us. But to love others is such a big gift, such a big part of the best of what it means to be human. I want for him to have had that, too. And even if he had a taste of it, of course I want him to have had more of it.
Dot has a friend at school with a baby brother. A sweet, good-natured baby brother who lights up whenever he sees Dot. Any time that baby enters the same room as my daughter, she runs over to him, coos and touches his hair and cheeks with her small hands so gently that it’s hard for me to believe that this is the same child who still can’t resist an occasional tug on the cat’s tail. Her teacher is expecting a baby in March, and Dot told me happily the other night about being able to feel the baby in her teacher’s belly. “Soon I am going to have a baby,” my almost-three-year-old tells me.
“Well, not too soon,” I say, my mind fast-forwarding to the dangers of teenage hormones and sexuality and pregnancy. Then, veering off in an equally dangerous direction, my mind returns to the vexed question of whether or not Dot should have a living sibling.
If we lived closer to family who could help out, if we had more income and less residual debt, if I knew that I’d be tenured this year and therefore obtain some job security, if we had a savings account that could do more than survive a summer where N teaches only one class, if I were healthier and more active, if I were younger, if I were convinced I could give two children enough attention, if both N and I had more energy…
I want a chance at it again, the love and the terror and the hope, those late-night wails, the joy and pride and humility of looking at a small human being and thinking I helped make you. I want to cup a small head with my hands and cuddle a small, warm body close, and feel my heart expand into a whole new wing of love again. I want to watch Dot touch her own small sister or brother with her gentle hands. And I want to watch my children grow up loving each other.
And more ifs
I look at pictures of houses for sale and dream and worry and wonder and I brim over with envy thinking of women who will live in this or that house and plant their gardens and look out those windows and write in those perfect corners while their children play in a perfectly manicured and safely fenced in back yard. Failure looms over me – all the things I did wrong and my floundering efforts to correct them.
But my brother and his wife got it all right, all the things I didn’t – the beautiful house, the savings in place, the stable careers. And I have a feeling they’d give it all up for a Dot of their own. And the part of me that wants to be jealous of them for their well-organized lives and for their lovely things is pulled up short and I’m left realizing how lucky I am and (again) how damned vulnerable we all are. The world is so full of beautiful and crazy and cruel ifs and possibilities and impossibilities.
I vacillate between longing and contentment and fear. I wish and I wonder, and I wait. Does anyone ever get used to this? Maybe there’s some emotional/spiritual/mental equivalent of sea legs and eventually the rocking back and forth between fear and gratitude, gratitude and covetousness, becomes something a nimble person can manage without falling over and clinging to rails.
Maybe being able to cling to rails and keep (mostly) going is progress enough?