I don’t know how it happened. One day I was cradling the newborns with my friends Tad and Dianna, reliving the glories of spit-up and burping and footie-pajamas, soft round heads and necks to be supported. Mothering floods back, the curve of a baby against the neck, tiny fingers arching and gripping. I love the way time stops and the baby and I test one another’s long gaze.
And days later I am attending my first soccer practice with my nearly-seven-year-old Brendan, watching him fly at the ball with no concern that he knows nothing, has not even seen a soccer game. I ask Madeleine, nearly nine, each day if she needs to remember her violin, the love of her life. Soccer. Violin. He crafts things with great precision. She reads, with a strand of hair stuck in her mouth. Each night I ask Madeleine to find a good place to stop in her reading of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Sometimes she is kind enough to read Winnie the Pooh stories for Brendan, and sometimes she agrees to give him a violin lesson. I watch her just now, practicing after her bath, kneeling in her nightgown and damp hair dripping as she concentrates on “Old MacDonald” and a French carol. She begins a new piece that turns out to be our favorite lullaby, Ode to Joy, and hears me gasp in recognition. “I thought I’d surprise you, Mama!” she laughs.
“Oh, play it all! Play for me!” I continue typing at the keyboard, while Brendan sews buttons and Madeleine finds the notes. She’s been playing for three weeks, and while expertise is somewhere in the distant future, she uses her bow with great love and great long strokes, while Brendan and I sing.
Brendan’s imagination soars to all kinds of things he can do. Projects are hard for him to let go for another day. He is so much like me in this respect: when he likes a task, he likes it in great detail. He’d been bugging me to find him a sewing project for a week or so when Scott lost a button from a dress shirt. Brendan ran to find the sewing kit while Scott and I shared a knowing “aha.” Mending? We have an ongoing supply of mending. Where to find buttons? The boy knows the location of twenty odd buttons, in drawers and treasure baskets and piggy banks. I show him the matching replacement buttons which are sewn to the bottom of the button placket of dress shirts, and he runs to show the me similar replacement buttons sewn inside polo shirts and trousers.
“Yes,” I say, “the people who make clothes know that buttons sometimes fall off. This one just needs a grown up to snip it free, and then I will show you a few things to look for. See how this button is sewn with two bars of threads? See how that one is sewn with an ‘x’? See how that other button’s hole is in the back?” He sees. He has an eye for detail. I demonstrate one time how the knot needs to be underneath the shirt, how to wrap the stitches for strength, and he is off, searching for more buttons to replace. There are many. The urge to find and replace buttons may not last more than a few hours, or it may last a month, and I want to catch it while it lasts.
Both Madeleine and Brendan are tempests, but different kinds of tempests. Brendan’s fury is a full-body freight train of strength—but he can suddenly drop the fury for a good distraction. Madeleine’s fury starts small and escalates step by step to high drama, and at times it seems that “there is no going back” from very early in a strategically-planned parent-disassembling tantrum. I think back, each time, to her first tantrum at age 18 months, how I was so mystified that I grabbed the camera and made a photo essay of each of the stages, right up until she was her laughing self again.
I miss the newborn days, and I don’t miss them. I miss the days before “no,” the days when food and sleep and warmth were all the worries, days of sitting in long stretches, waiting for the baby to nod off or settle down. But that violin charms me, and my son’s thrilled description of team practice warms my heart. He sleeps well, with all the buttons in the house sewn in place. She dreams of string ensemble, begging for one more Mozart song on the CD player before bedtime. I’m glad for how they are unfolding, just now. I wouldn’t trade mine for the cuddly ones. We’re just getting started.