Brad Green, author of: mostly unrequited hope
Age of kids: 1, 4, 10
What is lost:
No time most of all. There’s also no space. Everything is crowded as a room full of elbows, a hallway of mother-in-laws. Reach out a hand and there’s a wall or a task or some child’s warm face demanding a pat. Something must always be done. Homeschool, diapers changed, bills paid, a dish that needs a scrape, fourteen balloons having popped now demand their shattered skins gathered up, the trash, of course, don’t forget that, and where the little one drew on the wall, please clean there, dust too, laundry as well, and the TV’s messed up, please check that and help me upload these pictures to Facebook, a faucet’s leaking too, the furnace appears congested, some squeak or squall, perhaps a burning, plus there’s something foul in the east corner, a mouse got in or worse, another skunk—we’re out of oranges too, get the organic kind as the store brand tends to be bitter, or perhaps the potatoes have sprouted roots in the bag or the tub of butter is suddenly lacking, the dog’s eaten all her food, the baby is hungry, or my (she’s always mine when being difficult) daughter will only eat ketchup or cupcakes today and all afternoon she cried, look at her, she’s regressed, the baby has a rash, the diapers are bad, the diapers are sick with chemicals, look what they’ve done to between her legs, my god the rash! so let’s try cloth, or wet napkins, or the off-brand, the softer kind, the sensitive-skin ones, the package with the pleasant picture, you know, the fluffy clouds as those can’t possibly burn, or the flowers perhaps, which would be the best? Look at my hair! Look at my hair! It’s a mess. I can’t do this. The cat howls. The dog barks. A baby cries. What are you writing? Can’t you spend a moment paying attention to us? Can you get a glass of water? Can you be part of this? Press and the heart grows smaller, self-obsessed, the way a folded sheet can no longer spread easily beyond its shape, having come to love the crease. There’s a leak in the water line from where the ground clenched with ice. The car’s dirty, a tire looks low, the snow broke another branch on the old oak. There’s two novels to write that both need a horizon for thought to roam, some quiet at least, an hour of gentle breath. There’s an essay, a post for a blog long ignored, submissions to be read, feedback to offer, interviews to be done, days and day to labor through. There are things to be done. Everywhere I’m crowded and I have no time, no time most of all.
What is learned:
That a baby’s foot clenches in the shoe, that birth is a wet affair, that the cord is a deep moon blue unlike any color you’ll encounter elsewhere. You learn to crave sleep and to do without. You learn that people assume it’s ok to pick up your child, that it’s expected that she be passed around. You learn that showers by yourself are a rarity, that sex is a hushed, panting affair done with constant worry that the baby will rise to stare at you through the crib mesh as you labor to be human. You learn that corn syrup is everywhere, in everything and you worry. You worry that you won’t learn enough, that you won’t be able to meet her needs, that you won’t know the answer later, that she’ll hate you because you’re frail, or fat, or self-obsessed. You learn that a baby’s cheek against your chest is a singular warmth. You learn that language is a game and arbitrary. You learn that your concerns pale. You learn that your work comes second, often third, and occasionally it won’t come at all. You learn to write in smaller snippets of time and with your thumbs on a phone. You do whatever is necessary. Or you don’t. Sometimes you give up, sometimes you snap and bark because a sentence was interrupted. Sometimes you wonder what it would be like if you were alone. But then you remember. You recall the way she waddles and clutches your leg. You recall her belly laugh, her questions, the wonder that takes her face when you fly her through the air. One day she’ll believe you invented the grilled cheese sandwich and another she won’t. Nothing waxes without a wane. What you learn most of all though is that children enrich and bring depth to what’s likely an otherwise superficial plane. They help to deepen your fiction with concerns that matter. But sometimes you’ll stand in the light of the refrigerator stunned that you’ve done this thing, made this person. Sometimes you’ll stand at the square of the black window in the kitchen and stare out into the night. Your breath will fur whitely on the glass. You’ll watch that white bloom rise and fade, rise and fade, content that you’ve done something so ordinary it’s a miracle. But then you worry that she’s not breathing and creep over to the crib or to the bed, concern lodged in your throat. You hold your wrist over her open, sleeping mouth. She’s so small. Her limbs pale in the moonlight. The little toes, the hand balled to a soft fist, those soft fingernails. Panic seizes you. The tops of your ears warm with fast blood. You think she’s blue, that she’s been tangled in the blanket, that she simply stopped working, that she’s been taken away because you’re not good enough. But then she senses you and stirs. Her chest rises. Your hand finds her head, strokes the fuzzy hair there and you watch her chest fall. And that’s all you needed, really. That’s what gives you hope. The warm blush of her breath reaches you.