My son wanted some iPad time before camp. Now I know this is a pretty bad idea. Experience tells me that having the iPad at breakfast, on a camp day, is likely to lead to complete and total meltdowns, an inability to get sneakers on, and a miserable, even dangerous tooth brushing experience. But he’d been so good this morning, picked out his clothes when asked, laughed when he realized socks are already folded in pairs and he didn’t need to find both orange socks, because they are already together in one little ball, that I gave in. I said “sure, you can watch PBS Kids.”
If you’re a mom with a kid with a device, you may know that the PBS kids app has little short bits of things instead of whole shows. My thought process was that, when breakfast was over, and it was time to get dressed, he wouldn’t be in the middle of something, and it would be easier to put the pad down and get on with the day.
He pressed the tab for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (DTN), which I usually like for its having originated on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. When we first saw DTN a while back, Dave and I were excited. We told C about the original neighborhood, the sweater Mister Rogers would change into, the song, the beautiful day, the sneakers. We even tried to interest him in some old clips of the man himself touring his devoted audience around a saxophone factory, or my personal favorite, the crayon factory. Mister Rogers was invaluable for life lessons. I remember distinctly riding in the car with my father when I was perhaps 14 and having him tell me that the reason he and my step-mom were having so much marital strife was because I wasn’t doing my chores on time. My first thoughts were of Fred Rogers. “Nope,” I thought, “No way. Mister Rogers already gave me the skinny on that one, Dad, your failing marriage isn’t my fault.”
So Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood was a safe iPad place, a good spot for breakfast, until this morning. A preview came on for an upcoming show, a big event. Apparently Daniel Tiger’s mom has a baby growing in her belly, and there’s going to be a new baby in the Tiger family. There was even talk of a brother. C paused mid-bite of buttery french toast. “I want a brother. Can you grow one in your belly?” I try to distract him. “Do you know all people are grown in bellies?” I ask, “do you know that you were grown in my belly? And mommy was grown in Gramma’s belly?” “Can I have a brother?” he asks, right there at breakfast. “I don’t think so, honey,” I say, “I think it’s just gonna be you and me and daddy.” But he is unfazed. “How come? I want one.”
I don’t want to get into all the personal reasons why his father and I have decided not to have another baby, despite our leaning one way and then the other on the issue. I don’t want to tell him how, because I’m four years older than I was when he was born, a pregnancy would carry a greater health risk for both me and this potential brother. I wasn’t a huge fan of being pregnant. I moved slow. I had to sleep more. Lots of foods were unappealing, pretty much all I could eat was fruit and spaghetti. Also I like to write. It’s hard to write when you have a little one, and from tales told from friends with multiple children, it’s even harder when there are two. Having an infant was hard, but having a four year old is exponentially harder. I think raising a child is just going to get increasingly more difficult until he bolts from my grasp somewhere in his early twenties and I’m left a quivering mass of uncertainty on my very own doorstep. My mom says that having a child who is out there in the world is like having an appendage that you have no control over, fluttering out there in the wind. I’m starting to get that sense.
I don’t tell C about my personal fantasies of having another child for the sole purpose of giving he who delights me so much a companion. Or about how Dave and I have talked about adopting, or fostering, once C is older, but are selfish for him, and don’t want to divert attention and resources from him, even for another wonderful child, or at least aren’t ready to decide in the affirmative just now. I don’t tell him about the emotional struggle that brought me to this place. Or the regret that I fear will descend once time and possibility make the choice for me. Dave and I talk about it at the end of the night. When the kitchen is clean and the child is sleeping and peacefulness seems perpetual. We share a small fantasy of another child, and suddenly I understand Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf that much better, the child they share, the child who never comes, the child in whom they delight, despite his fiction.
Since I found out I’d be having a son, lo these 5 years ago, a young woman has entered my thoughts. She is lithe and tall with dark hair like her father’s. She is a teenage daughter in pleated mini-skirt and combat boots, a black, slinky cardigan, extra bangles on her wrists. She struts through my mind with knobby knees, angular elbows, and a killer confidence. In my mind she’s always walking away from me, not in any hurry, but definitely away. She looks back at me, a glimmer of the trouble she’ll make in her dark eyes, tosses me her conspiratorial smile. A smile I’ve seen grow and change from her birth, a smile I’ve loved and cherished. She’s not afraid, walking away from me. She owns the world she enters into, that part of my soul where regrets live.
Instead of all these things, I tell C about time. I tell him that already in life, there is not enough time for everything that I want to do, that we have to make decisions, that opening one door closes another, that making the most of one gift may necessitate eschewing another, even with regret. These are the words I use. The child’s vocabulary is vast. “Y’know how mommy is always doing projects?” I ask. “Yes,” he says, “and I help you with them.” “You do,” I say, “you are my best helper. But the thing is, if I were to be a mommy for someone else, too, I don’t think I could do projects anymore, and I love doing projects. More than that I need to do projects, if I don’t do projects, I won’t be a very good mommy anymore.” “I think you’re a good mommy,” he says. “Well that’s pretty great, because I think you’re a great son, the greatest all time.”
He switches to Super Why. We eat our french toast.