I won’t say anything. I won’t scrape back my chair from the café table, smooth my black cotton sweater against my black wool skirt, and shuffle over to that impenetrable circle of motherhood, where four young women bounce drooling, chubby babies and tell each other how hard it is. Those gummy infant smiles beckon like a siren song, but I won’t do it. I refuse to be one of those little old ladies who goes gaga over babies, blathering nonsense like “Cherish every moment,” or “Blink once, and he’ll be grown.”
I remember such ladies from back when I too had shiny auburn hair and plump, velvet-smooth skin, back when all I could see of my gorgeous young self was the extra fifteen pounds of baby weight bulging over my girdle top. Tragic waste of energy, that girdle. But I always flashed those well-meaning grannies a smile and let them coo over Stephen Jr.’s ruddy apple cheeks and chestnut curls. Inside I was indignant: Cherish every moment? Surely not the hours of colicky screaming, the poop on my hands and spit-up on my blouse, or the endless, endless hours of washing and rinsing and hanging diapers?
“I’m drowning in laundry,” the brown-haired girl says. She’s wearing nothing but shimmery black pantyhose and what looks to be her husband’s button-down, so indeed, she must be losing the laundry battle. I won’t tell her how much easier they’ve got it now, what with their electric dryers and grocery deliveries and especially the husbands who do a thing or two around the house. In my day, you’d better have met your man at the door with a Scotch and the newspaper, if you wanted to keep him. Which I didn’t. But that’s neither here nor there, and I don’t begrudge modern girls their conveniences.
Three of the women squash together on the leather couch, nursing babies beneath matching fabric tents. Hooter Hiders, my granddaughter calls these contraptions, and I wonder what they’ll dream up next. The fourth mother also has a toddler, who keeps darting away from the circle. When she stands to pull him back an umpteenth time, her baby wakes, wailing. Not to be bothered with a Hooter Hider, this mom simply lifts her shirt and pops out a fat pink nipple. Way to go, sister, I’d like to say, except I won’t, because all my babies drank formula.
She’s clearly the unspoken leader, this confident mother of two, and the others keep asking her questions. She answers with gravitas. “First year is the hardest. But don’t worry, after that it gets much easier.”
I sigh, shaking my head. Easier, maybe, because her older son is not yet two and hasn’t started throwing tantrums. Easier, because he’s not in school and can’t get teased for being short and skinny. Easier, because he isn’t a teenager who skips class and steals liquor from the cabinet, or a college student who takes pills to deal with the pressure, or a father himself, who gets laid off but would rather let his family suffer than accept help. But I won’t say, “Small children, small problems,” because I remember those early days, bleary with sleepless nights and the exhaustion of small hands grabbing, grasping, touching every part of me, all day long.
Suddenly that scamp of a toddler heads my way, his round, freckled face smeared with chocolate croissant. Dimpled knees peek out from his denim shortalls as he pumps his little legs, fleeing his beleaguered mother just because he can. I slide my walker into the aisle, blocking his path. He stops short and stares at me with wide grey eyes that look just like Stephen Jr.’s.
“Thanks,” his mother says, shifting the baby to her other hip and and snagging the boy by his overall straps. “He’s a slippery one.”
I press my lips together. I won’t say it. Until an image from yesterday flashes to mind, that last moment I gazed upon my son’s face before they closed the casket. Sixty-seven years together, but not long enough.
“Cherish every moment,” I say. “Blink once, and he’ll be gone.”
Hadley Leggett lives and writes in Seattle, WA, and her recent work has appeared in Literary Mama and 50-Word Stories. When she’s not chasing after her three children, she’s working on yet another draft of her first novel.
© 2020, Hadley Leggett