Six Years

The Next Family

By: Tosha Woronov

My baby turns six years in about as many days. Time flies, as they say.

Six years ago to the day my step dad accompanied me to Rite Aid to pick up a bottle of cod liver oil, against urgent pleas from my mother and husband (oh, god, don’t do that). My step dad – a chemist – was a perfect partner in this crime of mine, psyched, I’m sure, to see if the old wives’ tale would work. I just wanted the baby out. I’d reached forty weeks but was also afraid it wouldn’t happen before my mom’s one-week allotted visit expired and she went back to Colorado. In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t work, unless your goal is to spend fifteen miserable hours in the bathroom. But still I kept that drug store trip close to my heart. At the check-out line my step dad chuckled, “my treat” and handed over the $1.97. I saved the receipt in my “pregnancy box”. Now, six years later, my step dad and I aren’t speaking and haven’t for close to seven months.

Six years ago it rained and rained and rained. It poured down on my husband and me as we gently maneuvered the newborn car seat, hefty with a sleeping baby, out of the car and inside, where my mom and step dad and sister greeted us. My mom had cleaned our condo during the three days we were in the hospital, cleaned it just the way I would want it done, better even – laundry folded and the fridge stocked with good food. I was a slob as a teenager and it drove her crazy, but I had adopted by osmosis her ability to make a home warm and cozy –sanitized, but also dotted with flower-filled vases and a couch pillow thrown just…so. “Clean, but lived-in” she used to say, or maybe said once and it just stuck with me. That day my husband and I returned home as three, and our place was perfect, and the rain was perfect, but it was also time for my parents and sister to head out. We had maybe fifteen minutes together with the new baby before they left and I remember standing at the door sobbing, afraid to turn around and start this new life as a mother, this new life that I thought I wanted. Did I mention that my step dad and I aren’t speaking? Well, nor with my mom. Funny or sadly or ironically enough, it’s a fight – a bad one – about the parenting of my son and the parenting of me and I see no way out. Time flies, indeed.

Six years ago the Boston Red Sox made a historic and valiant comeback against the New York Yankees to win the ALCS championship, then went on to compete in, and win, the 2004 World Series. This was important to me because it was important to my husband, not to mention a “nation” of suffering Red Sox fans (a curse, if there were one, had been broken). I watched each of the four games deep into the night with my baby alternately nursing and sleeping, grateful to have something bigger to focus on than this thing in my arms, a miracle outside of the one in our living room. Today my almost-six-year-old thinks he knows everything about his and his daddy’s favorite baseball team, but he’ll never really get those thirteen agonizing and thrilling days shared by just his dad and me. He was there, of course, that little baby, but not like he is now. Six years later, I understand that those days were the thin and evaporating membrane between the life we had before he was born and the life we are now.

In six years we’ve lived in three homes: a two-bedroom condominium and a 100 year-old Victorian and a normal house in a family neighborhood. From West Hollywood to suburbia to Siberiaburbia.

As a brand-new mother I struggled with getting the stroller down the steps of our building. It was a feat – an accomplishment –to get the baby strapped in and the dog leashed and to make our way across Sunset Boulevard to the Coffee Bean. In our city condo my baby learned to sleep well to the sounds of fire engines and helicopters, but still I cursed them to shut up! I just got him down! As a new mom I pored over sleep manuals, highlighting advice from the Baby Whisperer, jotting it down for my husband to study after work. I taught us all sign language: eat, drink, cheerios. I stored breast milk in the freezer, puréed summer squash, and cried a lot. I fought with my husband about swaddling and sleep training. Convinced I had it harder, I kept score. I made my way to mom and baby classes, sang lullabies at night, and worried about diaper rashes and growth percentages. Many nights I woke in a panic, looking for the baby under the covers, or on top of my dresser. He was always in his crib. I held my palm before his slightly open, warm and sleepy mouth to ensure he was alive. I slept on the floor in his room. I was lost and found and lost again. I barely remember that baby, but I know it was a lot of just him and me and I wish I knew then to appreciate it.

The next home happened when my son turned two. It was huge and we learned a completely opposite type of space management: making a cavernous home cozy. We bought more furniture. Concerned he wasn’t talking, I arranged for a state-funded speech professional to assess him. There was nothing to worry about. I visited and applied to preschools and learned the hard way to not ignore my gut. We did puzzles and counted to 100. Bolstered by my passion for plastic bins and hobby stores, I stocked for him an art center like no other. We glued googly eyes to pom-poms. We set free on to my aphid-infested plants 1000 ladybugs and I marveled that it worked; they controlled the pests. We had tea parties which bored me, I’m ashamed to admit (small talk never being my strong suit). We picked lemons and grapefruits – the bigger the better –confirming my assumption that the bigger, better ones hang from the highest branches. I developed an intense fear of black widow spiders. I wondered about a friendly ghost in the spare bedroom, and the whatever-it-was in the basement (Basement! In Los Angeles!). We played a lot of catch. He turned two, then three…four, and five. I planned and we hosted three Easter egg hunts, four birthday parties, one bridal shower, three Thanksgiving dinners, and two Christmas Eve cocktail parties. In that house, I felt the first pangs of my age, mildly panicked by the latter end of 30s. I came into my own as his mommy and we cemented a bond that saves me still today. I started writing.

Now we live further out where the schools are better, or so everyone says. My gut does not disagree. I worry less about how much he’s eating and more about him making friends. We keep track of the animals we’ve seen up here: coyotes, hawks, rabbits, lizards, an owl, a skunk, a tarantula. We greet the goats across the street (Hello, Oreo! Baaaa!). I sit with my husband on various bleachers and watch basketball and T-Ball games. We giggle and whisper and share proud looks and I enjoy knowing that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I pack lunches and snacks. I recycle. I fill hummingbird feeders and brew my own coffee. I am “Mrs. W” every Wednesday in Leo’s kindergarten and I know all of his classmates by name and temperament. I care about the funding of his school and how to raise money, more money. I clip box tops. We dole out allowance on Sundays and come up with special chores so he can earn more. I argue with my husband that because it’s his own money, the boy should be permitted to spend it however he chooses. I stopped keeping score. (I was coming up short.) We do homework and practice drawing faces and sometimes I worry that he’s being asked too often to think inside the box. My gut is confused. I argue with my son about brushing his teeth and using his manners and not leaving red Gatorade on the couch. I buy red Gatorade. I think a lot about motherhood and my own mother and my place on either side of it and I’m left with no answers, only his face, and that heart. It amazes me still that he once wasn’t and then he was and that he’s more beautiful than I could have ever conjured and yet still I had something to do with it, didn’t I? I think of that baby turning six next week and I want to SCREAM to STOP THE RIDE – for a second – I don’t want to get off – I just want a second, a moment, please?…please…to just…hold on…to time.

But it keeps flying by.

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