4:17am – Hear noise. Panic. Grab monitor. Huh...where is she? WHERE IS THE TODDLER? Sit up. Fumble with camera controls in the dark. Up...no...down. Down! Left.....dammit! Right, riiiight, there we go – what the – she’s sleeping on the floor? Did she fall out of bed? Did she hit her head? IS SHE UNCONSCIOUS? No....she’s holding Dolly. Probably not unconscious. Just sleeping on the floor for some reason. I hope I can get back to sleep.
4:55am – Can’t get back to sleep.
4:57am – Think about pieces I’m working on, the one about my parents, the one about my husband’s brain surgery. How to include introduction of my father? What details are important? Can’t remember when he immigrated to Canada. Think about wording of opening sentence. Try to remember details of day husband went into hospital.
5:03am – Make notes on phone: 1. Talk to dad 2. Compare opening sentences: ‘I sit in my car and watch my parents almost die’ versus ‘I watch my parents almost die’ 3. Make point form notes of memories from the day husband went into hospital.
5:38am – What the....ahh, baby’s awake. Bring baby into bed, try to keep her quiet and not wake toddler. Hope we’ll both fall back asleep.
6:15am – Nobody falls back asleep. Toddler’s awake. Bounds into bed, nearly kicks baby in the face. Reposition everyone so flailing limbs will miss each other. Baby sneezes, snot balloons over top lip. Baby smacks lips. Use my sleeve to wipe glob, turn up my cuffs, remind myself to put shirt in laundry. Toddler watches. Sigh. Admit laziness to toddler and tell her she can’t do that and she needs to use a Kleenex to wipe her snot. Toddler sings and yells. Baby laughs and crawls to the edge of bed. Sit up. Lunge for baby’s leg. Get out of bed.
Everyone travels to the bathroom. Place baby on floor. Toddler pushes past me to toilet. Tells me “You can pee on top of my pee, mommy.” Baby holds onto edge of bathtub. Wobbles. Push visions of her smacking her face out of my head. If that happens, don’t actually know where any clean towels are – everything is in the laundry. Don’t know where my phone is to call 911.
Everyone travels to baby’s room. Change baby’s diaper while toddler climbs into baby’s crib. Says she’s a baby; a recurring theme since her sister was born. Starts making baby noises, goo-goo-ing and ga-ga-ing. Nearly tumbles out of crib just as I turn around. Catch her with free arm, the one not holding the baby, and help her out.
And so the rest of the morning goes, alternating between toddler and baby:
6:45am – Toddler wants to pick own clothes. Carry baby to toddler’s room and place on bedroom floor. Open top drawer for toddler; she throws herself on the ground wailing. Close top drawer for toddler. She opens top drawer herself, chooses red pants with white polka dots and rainbow striped shirt. Approach baby, now in corner, and remove lamp cord from mouth, pull her back to the middle of the room. Toddler fumbles with underwear, remind her tag goes in the back, she yells she can do it herself! Baby now near bookshelf, remove book from flapping arms before more pages rip. Watch toddler dress herself, tell her shirt is going on backwards. “No, it goes this way,” she tells me. Bite tongue. Remove another book from baby, give her colourful squeaky ball. Toddler yanks squeaky ball. “It’s mine!” Gently repeat that some of her toys, as chosen by her are off limits to the baby. The others are fair game.
At top of staircase, toddler holds water bottle, Dolly, and stuffed panda. Hold squirming baby. Remind toddler to watch her feet going down the stairs. Pull my glasses out of baby’s hand which she has just snatched off my face. Toddler thrusts armload of treasures at me. Negotiate for her to at least hold water bottle. Carry Dolly, stuffed panda, and baby.
Toddler sits on bum and slides down stairs, yelling “Plop! Plop! Plop!” on every step. Laughs hysterically. Baby watches sister from my arms, laughs hysterically.
D e s c e n d. S m i l e a t t h e l a u g h t e r a n d m a r v e l a t t h e l i t t l e
h u m a n s m y b o d y m a d e. W o n d e r w h o t h e y w i l l b e c o m e.
Trip over husband’s shoes at bottom of stairs. Curse under my breath—how many times have I told him? Flash of memory: paramedics entering home, explaining husband is upstairs, too dizzy to sit up or move. Paramedics trip over these same shoes on the way up, those damn black runners with the green laces. Make mental note to document details of memory, when I get a chance, in case it can be used in a story. Carry on with the morning routine:
7:23am – Put baby down on kitchen floor. Put kettle on. Toddler wants pickles for breakfast. Explain pickles don’t make a good breakfast. Pull baby away from cat food bowl. Slice pickles for breakfast. Take cat food out of baby’s mouth, put her in high chair. Mash banana. Slice more pickles. Feed baby mashed banana. Pour tea.
Toddler drops pickle. “You pick it up, mommy.” Stand-off with toddler; we both refuse to pick up pickle. Baby sneezes. Toddler reaches for pickle and grunts “I can’t reach, it’s too far.” Use Kleenex to wipe snot and mashed banana combo from baby’s face. Ask toddler again to pick it up. “No, YOU!” Take a deep breath.
8:00 am - Leave kitchen a mess (at least the toddler picked up the pickle from the floor. And ate it). Wake husband after his overnight shift to watch baby. Getting the toddler ready and out the door for daycare is like trying to guide a tornado by blowing at it like it’s a candle: Wrestle her into jacket. Pull wood chips out of coat pockets. Tell her she has to wear socks and boots and ‘bare feet’ is not an option. Pack water bottle. Pack Dolly. Pull wood chips out of boots. Put boots on. We’re out the door. Forgot daycare bag, back inside, kiss baby sister and husband good bye. Out the door again.
Come home, nurse baby. Pass her to my husband to deal with getting her to sleep for her first nap of the day. We have one of those non-sleeping babies, and it’s past the return date. We’re stuck with her and the sleepless nights. Notice my full cup of cold tea.
9:00 am - Sit. Breath. In.......and out. Streeeeetch. Roll my shoulders. Shake off what I can of parenthood, while always having one ear cocked for the baby’s cries. This is (mostly) my time. And I have no idea how long it will last.
I pull out my notebook, and open my laptop. Both sit on the dining room table, much to my husband’s dismay. More clutter for the house. But here allows me easy access instead of retreating to my normal ‘office’, a space in the cold, even-more cluttered basement. Here, when a moment presents itself, like when the baby is happy to play on her own in the living room, I can jot a few notes, or create new sentences, or if I’m lucky, write a hundred words that will likely be edited or deleted later. Here, I can make sure the baby doesn’t put the cat’s tail in her mouth, again, and watch her figure out how to grab that just-out-of-reach object. I resurrect pieces from the past, foundational words already laid. I don’t have the time, creative energy or mental space to produce new work, so revision suffices. I research journals and literary magazines, compose cover letters, and submit when I can.
These writing days aren’t my ideal. But the divots of time allowed to me throughout the day are what I have. There are other things to prioritize also, like showering and eating. Or picking up the dust bunnies in the corners so that I can pretend the house, at a glance, is clean. Sometimes I buy food for us to eat. My husband cooks. Little gets done. Unless I count raising the munchkins, making sure they feel loved, and heard, and safe, teaching them to use Kleenex to wipe their nose, to be responsible for the things they drop, to be fair and compassionate and kind, to dress appropriately for the weather, to be self-confident and self-assured, and to laugh and learn from their mistakes.
And if I can get a few words down on paper on top of all that, and no one hurts themselves, I call it a good day.
Lina Lau is an emerging non-fiction writer based in Toronto, Canada. According to the ‘About The Author’ section from her first book, written at age six, ‘Lina likes to skip, work, do cut and paste, help her teacher and read a book.’ She still enjoys reading (less so about the cut and paste), as well as writing. Her work can be seen in Skirt Quarterly, and is forthcoming in Hippocampus Magazine. She has written guest posts for The New Quarterly, Invisible Publishing, and author Chelene Knight’s Life in CanLit blog.