I used to picture time as a rope you followed along, hand over hand, into the distance, but it’s nothing like that. It moves outward but holds everything that’s come before. Cut me open and I’m a tree trunk, rings of nostalgia radiating inward. All the years are nested inside me like I’m my own personal one-woman matryoshka doll. I guess that’s true for everybody, but then I drive everybody crazy with my nostalgia and happiness. I am bittersweet personified.
― Catherine Newman,
I take variations of the same photos each year. Some things stay the same; baskets, hidden eggs, golden hair bouncing in the sunlight. But with each passing year, faces change and babies get added and milk teeth fall out and bodies grow into next year’s versions of themselves. Cut us mothers open and we are tree trunks, rings of babies to toddlers to children radiating inward, memories of them reaching that primal part of our souls we are the keepers of.
At four years old, Billy calls vegetables veggie-bles, his lisp punctuating an already sweet mispronunciation into something even more unbearable. He protects me in any scenario he senses a threat; in card games where I’m losing, when Joel and I disagree on something, if there aren’t enough bits of toast to go around. I think, daily, how damn lucky the girls are to have him. He loves fighting, guns and bad things. He told me just that the other day that the girls at his kindergarten are boring because all they like are unicorns and pretty things, but he just wants to be bad. I secretly love that he loves to be bad, mostly I think, because of the irony of it. He is the first to forgive, to give up what is his, to sacrifice anything as long as it means he just gets to be a part of us. He is good in a way I wish I could be. Billy grounds me like no one else in my family. He is funny and uncomplicated; his simple love a resting place for the burdens I carry.
At six, Ella rests on the cusp of needing me and needing to be seperate from me. She sinks into me in the morning as she’s waking up, but by school drop off she is rolling her eyes and saying, “Mum” with the kind of embarrassed exasperation that signals her personal identity is in stark contrast with my outdated one. She questions me, challenges me, holds me accountable, and in doing so, she teaches me to treat her like a person and not a lowly, thoughtless child. The teaching has a flow on effect to the younger two children, a trait typical of her and her place in the birth order. I often feel like I’m messing her up. That she’s the one we practice on — that by Billy and Georgie, we have streamlined and somewhat perfected what we’re doing here. Watching her is like watching myself as a child; her mannerisms and loves and behaviours a window into who I once was. It heals my six year old self in a way I could never thank her enough for, nor expect her to ever quite understand.
And Georgie. Good lord, Georgie. At seven months old, the tiny trace of newborn smell she still harbours is on her breath as she leans in and sucks my face when I do something that makes her happy. She is a delight of a thing. Never have I had such an easy baby, but then, never have I been as confident and centred as a mother. I wonder if it’s me or her that is making the experience easy. She and I are still so part of each other that we beat in time. I’m rarely suffocated by it, not like I’ve felt in the past. She doesn’t sleep for long periods at night; she never has. In seven months, I haven’t slept for more than two or three hours at a time, lately even shorter. We’re getting to half hour intervals. Somehow I am hardly bothered by this. Again, I wonder if it’s me or her that is making the experience easy. Perspective is everything, it turns out. She has sprouted four teeth, all at once, and it makes her look so much bigger than I like to think she is. She still doesn’t care much for food; her favourite place of all nestled to my chest. She has just started the bouncing lunging phase that preceedes crawling and gosh does she get cranky when she gets stuck, unable to move forward like a beached whale stranded on the sand. She remains everyone’s meeting place; the site we gather to fuss and croon over, that we start and end our days with. She took the string of our family’s semi-circle and joined the ends; as such, her birth and life has a very full-circle feeling to it. She ends us, completes us and solidifies us all at once; where once our family was a haphazard experience of trial and error, we are now the real deal. She has drawn a circle the five of us now live inside, a circle that is ours and ours alone. She is the finishing touch, the cherry on top, the white picket fence that encloses our home and lord have mercy, do I ever love her.
All the little details of who my children are will be replaced next year by something different. Equally lovely, but different all the same. Teeth gaps will be filled. Baby smells erased. Stuffed toys replaced with figurines and chapter books in exchange for picture ones. The details of today are leaves in the wind, flapping and flicking for a short time in front of us, soon blown away, lost forever in the great cycle of life and time we are part of.
But the leaves are ours to notice. They are ours to watch and be moved by. They are ours to find the beauty in and suck the marrow out of, to drop to our knees and contemplate heaven because of.
And when they blow away, we grab a couple with our flailing hands, tucking and pressing them into another tree trunk ring, one by one, until they eventually radiate all the way to infinity.
The Easter of 6, 4 and 7 months old, preserved:
“To the Easter Bunny. I am going to have lots of fun. Thank you for coming Easter Bunny.”
And a favourite Easter quote:
Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there. ~Clarence W. Hall
Hope you all had a restful and life-giving long weekend.