On my way up to bed, I stop in the dogs’ room and tuck them in. Lea winds her body into a tight ball, so I lean over and rub her ears and kiss her on the forehead. She groans. On the other bed, JoJo leans back and wags her tail, so I crawl in behind her and lay my head on her back until she settles. Until I settle. Then I pretend to sneak out, quietly locking the baby gate into place.
I do this every night.
Last night, I said to my husband, How do parents put their little babies and toddlers to bed and leave them alone in there, all night?
I’m working on a chapter that begins: Sometimes I pretend I’m a real mother.
I’m in line at a Minnesota grocery store and the exhausted mother in front of me is wrestling with her overstuffed cart and her 3 young children and out of who-knows-where I say, It’s okay, I understand, I have three at home.
I’m on a plane, flying home to visit my dying mother. The young mom sitting next to me is traveling alone with a 2 yr old and a crying infant. I tell her, Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. When the 2 yr old needs to go potty, she hands me her baby and walks away. I am overwhelmed with her trust.
I’m with my stepson at the social security office. He’s 12, and he’s recently received his little blue card with his SS#, but his middle name is misspelled. I hand the card to the stern woman behind the metal desk and explain what’s happened, that I’m his mother, and that we need to get this fixed. I hand her his birth certificate with his correct name …. where I am, of course, not listed as the mother. I wait, terrified that she will ask me for ID, for proof, that she will send us away, that she will announce to the crowded room that I do not exist.
There’s this one of baby-me in a white dress against white space.
I think of how I tuck my dogs in at night, how I stop, hesitate, before I leave them, and how I click the lock on the baby gate but leave my bedroom door open so I can hear them if they need me.
I look at the photo of this baby and it’s like she’s been plunked down on the rug. I wonder who she’s looking at, or for, and who left her there.