Essay by Stacy Bolt
It’s tempting when doing these little retrospectives to focus entirely on the things I did wrong over the course of the year. And then I think, “That’s wrong! I should focus on the good things I did.” And then I realize that thinking that thought was something I did wrong. And then I go make myself a gin and tonic and start all over again. Because sometimes, it really seems like motherhood is just one long, embarrassing slideshow of missteps and questionable judgment calls. Like, should I have started referring to ‘Blues Clues’ as ‘Booze Cruise’? No, I shouldn’t have. I should have had the foresight to know that even though you weren’t talking when I started doing that, one day you WOULD start talking and that little joke would bite me in the ass. In fact, that’s probably how I’d characterize my overall performance in the past year: Lack of Foresight. For example, I considered myself pretty well prepared for your infancy. There’s a lot of books out there about babies and I had plenty of time to read all of them while I was waiting for you. And really, babies are easy, all things considered. Or at least, you were. Once your father and I got over our slack-jawed terror at your very abrupt arrival, we began to realize that your needs were few and very specific: food, sleep, diapers, human contact. All we had to do was figure out what they were and meet them. But just when I thought I had you all figured out, I came face-to-haggard-face with the quintessential lesson of parenthood: just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, everything changes.
You’ve always been a fairly advanced child, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you started your “Terrible Two’s” on the day you turned one. After a relatively docile first year, you began your second by launching into a spectacular anti-diaper tantrum that caught me completely off guard. And so it’s been with your entire second year of life — a year that seemed to be filled with nothing but maddening curveballs and gasp-worthy moments of wonder, none of which I had the foresight to prepare myself for. Because, while you might have been a ridiculously easy baby, you weren’t always the most fascinating one. I remember sitting on the floor with you when you were about six months old, watching you drool on a teething ring for the third straight hour and thinking, “I am going to die. Right now. Of boredom.” In retrospect, I can see what you were doing. You were lulling me into a false sense of security. If I could go back in time, I’d go back to the day you first rolled over on your own and I’d smack myself on the head and say, “Batten down the hatches, woman! Hurricane Pickle is about to hit!” Because once you started rolling/crawling/walking/climbing/torturing the cats, things got really interesting, really fast.
First, there was the blood. There were days when it seemed like you woke up determined to injure yourself and usually, by the time you were ready for bed, you had exceeded your goal despite my exhaustive efforts to stop you. You launched yourself off the couch and raged at the world and its stupid gravitational pull. You fell in the bathtub as if to demonstrate that head wounds really do bleed more than other kinds. You fell down the front steps like Scarlett O’Hara in an Elmo shirt. And every time one of these things happened, I was convinced I was The. Most. Horrible. Mother. Ever. The only thing that could make me feel better was three glasses of wine and a couple of episodes of Supernanny.
Then, there was the fury. Mine, not yours. I’ve worked in advertising for 17 years, and yet I don’t think I ever really understood the true meaning of the word frustration until this year. I had no idea how many times the word NO could come out of my mouth in one day (current record: 8,562), or that I was even capable of sounding like a banshee. But now I know that if a World Banshee Competition were to be held, I wouldn’t just represent. I would dominate. That’s what being the mother of a toddler can do to an otherwise intelligent, accomplished human being: it can reduce her to a shrill, shrieking she-beast with adult acne and two-inch gray roots faster than you can dump a bowl of oatmeal down a heating vent. One day, your dad was asking you about animal noises. “What does a dog say? What does a cow say?” I was in the other room listening to you getting all the answers right when he threw in a trick question: “What does Mommy say?” I closed my eyes and braced for the inevitable: “Mommy says NO! Nononononno!!!” But you didn’t say that. When he asked “What does Mommy say?” you said, “I love you.”
If this year was about nothing more than me losing my shit every time you colored on the walls, then this letter would be the kind of thing you’d submit as evidence at your emancipation hearing. Fortunately, even my battle-axiest moments from this year were far outnumbered by moments like that one, ones in which I was utterly dumbfounded at my good fortune. When I used to think about motherhood in the abstract, I assumed there would be times when I would love my child more than I could possibly comprehend. But what I didn’t know was what that would feel like. I had no idea how breathtaking, how satisfying it would be the first time you said ‘Mama’ (Fun fact: Mama was not your first word. Nor was it Dada. It was Baba Booey. What’s a Baba Booey? Go ask Dada.). And I didn’t — couldn’t possibly — understand what it would feel like to get one of your rare but highly effective bear hugs. Screw time. I’m pretty sure a toddler’s hug heals all wounds. And if that’s the case, we’re going to need our fair share of them in the weeks ahead.
The biggest curveball this year threw at me happened at your 12-month check up. In general, I really like your pediatrician. She’s smart and funny and she spends a lot of time talking with us, even when she doesn’t have time to spend. But on that day I wanted nothing more than for her to shut the hell up, because that was the day the words “It’s probably not a brain tumor” came out of her mouth. She said it as she was looking over your growth chart and noting that the size of your head no longer fit on it. We used to laugh and joke about how big your head was. Right up until the brain tumor comment. That was the beginning of what has been a decidedly un-fun journey involving MRIs, pediatric neurosurgeons and lots of ill-gotten Xanax for Mommy. Over the last twelve months, my carefully constructed wall of denial has been dismantled, brick by brick, as we found out that 1) you have an arachnoid cyst on the frontal lobe of your brain, 2) it’s getting bigger, 3) it’s going to keep getting bigger and 4) it needs to be surgically removed. With brain surgery. The kind they do on your brain. In case you were wondering, this is why Mommy sometimes has to leave the room and when she comes back all her makeup is gone.
The surgery is in a couple of weeks and there are exactly two good things about it. The first is that once it’s over, we’ll probably never have to worry about that cyst again. The second is that you won’t remember any of it. And hopefully, by this summer you’ll just be a normal, happy kid who drives his mother bonkers. But until then, things might be a little shaky around here. I’ll do my best to hold it together, but I won’t make any promises. I will, however, tell you two things that might help both of us get through this: I don’t like to attach meaning to strange, random occurrences and I don’t like reggae. Why do you need to know this? Because for many years, a strange, random thing has been happening to me: Whenever I’ve been facing a difficult situation and have been low on optimism, I’ll hear the Bob Marley song “Three Little Birds.” It might be in the car, or in a store, or on an elevator. But it always happens, and it’s always right when I most need to hear these words: “Baby don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be alright.” What does it mean? Who knows. But it’s happened so many times that I’ve started to expect it. And ever since your neurosurgeon called and said he wanted to operate, I keep waiting to hear it on the radio or somewhere. Anywhere. But it didn’t happen. And I was honestly starting to freak out about it. Then the other night as I was getting you ready for bed, I realized that your bedtime playlist has a lullaby version of “Three Little Birds” on it. So we’ve actually been hearing that song every single night and I didn’t even realize it. So baby, don’t worry about a thing. Because every little thing really is gonna be alright.
Happy birthday, buddy. I love you.