When the time came, and she had left boyfriends and a fiancé behind, she found herself in love with another woman. The two filled their dogs’ Christmas stockings with biscuits and chew toys every year. For the woman who had always wanted children, this wasn’t enough. She negotiated with the woman she loved.
“I’ll give up the wedding for you,” she had dreamed about silver boxes the size soup tureens come in, “but I won’t give up the babies.”
She pulls warm baby socks and tiny sleepers out of the dryer, scrunches them all into a tight pile, and presses it to her chest. The warmth seeps through her tee-shirt and into her skin.
III. Below the surface
Their kiddie pool has a rounded lip, and the floor is a raised pattern of fish lined up mouth to tail. Inside the kiddie pool: pink bucket with a yellow plastic handle molded like rope; a dozen plastic Easter eggs pulled apart, some floating, some sunken; plastic fishing pole with string and plastic hook; drifting paper towel; cow head coffee creamer; pink sand castle mold.
At the co-op preschool, the mother of boys has begun to wear a hole in the right knee of her jeans from kneeling on it over and over. One day, a little girl climbs off a bench where she has been playing with Play-Doh, squats and pees on the floor. It’s a wide, forceful stream, like that of a sheep or goat peeing into wood chips at the petting zoo. Except there are no wood chips here, and three mothers scramble to find paper towels to soak up the wondrous puddle.
She knew tonight’s moon would be a slender sickle. It sits low on the horizon, fuzzy, as if hiding behind cheesecloth, trying to light up the sky but failing. What will wake her tonight? The heater clunking when it turns on? Maybe it will be one of her children shrieking, “Mommy!” as if he is being beaten. When she checks, he will be uncovered and lying sideways across his bed, asleep. She will roam the house in the light of the slight moon.
VI. Welcome back
When she opens the door, he is sitting Buddha like in his crib peering through the rails. She says, “Hi” or “Hello, lovey boy,” or just, “Thomas!” He smiles and his eyes scrunch up, sparkle, glisten, and beam, and he says, “Mommy!” It’s a love song, a duet they sing every time.
Benjamin rolls into a ball and squeezes onto her lap. “I’m your baby, Mommy. Pretend.”
“Okay,” she says, even though he’s five and spills over her lap. “You’re my baby.” She strokes his face and pushes his hair back behind his ears. “Here baby, here is your bottle. Now I need to change your diaper, your poopy diaper.” She tickles his side lightly and pretends to change him. He laughs. “Change me again.” His brother walks into the living room and Benjamin’s eyes become narrow slits. “Don’t talk to him,” he says like a cat spitting, protecting her litter of newborns.
VIII. Pure exuberance
After his bath tonight, Benjamin stood next to the sink tugging on his penis, stretching it until the veins on the side stood out. “Be careful with that thing,” she said, worried about the danger. “You’re going to hurt yourself.” He laughed. “It doesn’t hurt at all.” With his finger he pushed his penis into his scrotum so it disappeared briefly, then let it pop out again. He did this several times as she watched in horrified fascination. “I love my penis and scrotum,” he said. “I’m glad,” she said.
IX. Summer vacation
Yelling. Slamming doors. Name-calling. Time outs. Too much family time. There is so much crying, whining, arguing, pushing, punching between the boys that she is weak from absorbing it. She’s calm until something ignites her own anger as with a flint, and it sparks, arcing and smoking. Taking away the ice cream tonight got their attention.
X. Once in a while
When they picked up Thomas from preschool, his big brother gave him one of his crackers. Another mother saw this and put her hand over her heart. “Isn’t that sweet?” She has no idea.
At the farm, Thomas and his mom are watching two pigs. They are huge, and she thinks they should be called hogs because of their size. The girl pig is all pink and the boy pig is black with a pink stripe around his belly. From behind, the boy pig’s scrotum is arresting. His testicles are the size of cantaloupes, each packed into a smooth, tight case of hirsute black skin. They sway when he promenades around the pen. Thomas doesn’t say anything. Maybe he doesn’t understand what he’s seeing.
XII. Monkey Boy
When she gets home tonight, her children will be asleep. One will be on his back with his arms wrapped around his stuffed monkey. She’ll have to wait until her eyes adjust to the dark so she can see what is monkey and what is little boy. The other will be sprawled out, one leg hanging off his tiny bed, arms outstretched. She will go to each and stare down at them, smell their steamy bodies, and, because they are finally still, she will kiss them firmly on their damp foreheads. She’ll get into her bed and arrange her pillows. She’ll drift for a while, then slip into sleep.