“And,” he suggested. “Maybe you should start writing more about Patrick. So if he ever reads it he won’t feel like Gus got all the attention.”
I'm afraid Patrick will feel like Gus got all the attention, no matter what I write or say or do, because Gus is an attention-seeking missile, whose current career objective is to be an Artist, Author, Actor and Better Than The King of Pop. None of which, he informs me, will require him to go to college. Patrick has more modest dreams. Last night he told me he wants to be a skeleton.
“You mean for Halloween?” I asked him.
“I want to be a skeleton for Halloween AND when I grow up," he said.
And then, as if rejecting what he perceived to be my own secret yearning for him, he said, “I do NOT want to be a paleontologist."
Well, don't let me stand in your way, son.
Like many parents, before my second child was born, I wondered how I could possibly love another baby as much as I loved my first one. And like many parents after the arrival of their second child, I discovered that there is nothing in this world easier to do. Love, it turns out, does not have to be added. It multiplies. Like magic! (Or some nerdy sticklers would call that ‘math’.) But either way, before it happened, I had this sense that I’d have to somehow find or generate this extra love and apply it to the new baby. How pleasant to discover that it was already there, bubbling up from that same trusty well, just when we needed it. Add to that the fact that Patrick was a perfect baby in every way, and you can begin to imagine my relief. My joy. Yes, this second one is going to work out just fine.
And it’s been so much better than fine. Patrick is the soft-spoken, cherub child I never dreamed I’d have. My sturdy, good-natured, blonde-haired, blue-eyed son. To write about him every day would be to turn this blog into a collection of Elizabethan sonnets or a “My Child is an Honor Student (at the School of LIFE, BABY!)” bumper sticker. And despite my temptation to proclaim publicly--and daily--all of the reasons why this particular child is so dear to me, I suspect that's not why you come here. Still, you should know Patrick.
People marvel at how different he is from Gus, but to me the boys are not so much polar opposites, as they are a study in parallels and contrasts. Gus's smile, for example, feels like an invitation to a party that could very well get out of hand, while Patrick's feels like a gift. And while I don't even like the feeling of comparing the two, it is the curse of the second child, I suppose, to be defined in part by the one who came before. To know Patrick is to know something of his brother and how it all began.
Truth be told, I was terrified of Gus when he was born. Terrified and confused. Twenty weeks prior to my due date, the ultrasound technician told us we were having a girl, which as you’ve probably figured out by now, Gus is not. So, Larry and I had entered the hospital on the morning of May 25th, 2004, anticipating the arrival of our daughter. A daughter for whom we’d had (COUNT WITH ME) one, two, three, four, five baby showers. Five baby showers that yielded a nursery full of pink curtains, bedding, clothes, accessories and one velvet crib pillow with the words “Daddy’s Little Princess” embroidered on the front.
Holding Gus for the first time, Larry looked at me and said, “We havegot to get rid of that pillow.”
Gus struck me as a very serious baby. As serious as a person can be, anyway, when his head is the size of a tennis ball. His furrowed brow and distinct overbite made me think of a turtle. And of the actor Wallace Shawn.
“If that happens again,” the nurse told me firmly, “Hit the call button and say MY BABY IS CHOKING.”
I felt all of eight years old in that moment. Choking? I didn’t know my baby was choking. I didn’t know anything. Which was sort of starting to present itself as a problem, seeing as how THEY’RE GOING TO LET ME TAKE HIM HOME TOMORROW WHEN I DON’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SNARFLE AND A CHOKE OH MY GOD THERE SHOULD BE LAWS ABOUT THIS.
Gus was born on a Tuesday. We came home on Thursday. Larry had a gig on Friday night. I'll never forget that first night I was alone with Gus. I was terrified--panicked--by Larry's leaving. I had no confidence. No sense that I was capable of keeping this tiny creature alive. I didn’t know what to do with him. I felt like an untrained receptionist with a 50 line switchboard and no instruction manual, and everyone wanting me to take a very important message. So much so that I would not answer our actual phone when it rang. (Jammie, I will always remember your voice on the answering machine. I did hear it, and it helped.) I would furiously scribble in a wire-bound notebook every feeding, bowel movement (mine, his, whoever’s), wet diapers, dry diapers, every perceived abnormality (4:17: his fists are very clenched!) in case they were clues the doctors would need later.
In those twilight days—-all day, every day, seemed like twilight--I wondered how I would ever be able to act “normal” again, now that there was this whole other person I could accidentally KILL or just leave somewhere … Or! Someone else could kill him! Or? He could just die! How about that! Any second my baby could just stop breathing and die and then what? Then. Nothing. There would be nothing. Because he was everything. This tiny stranger with an overbite was everything to me.
Oh, first time mothers for whom it is not all plush sheep and lullabies, I beseech you to hang in there. It gets easier, so much easier than this. You can’t imagine life without your baby, of course. But damned if you can imagine life with him either. It is a limbo. For me it was, anyway. A sleepless land ruled by a strange, almost rote, anxiety. A place where anything from a dwindling stack of little diapers to the nice plate of spaghetti Larry covered with Saran Wrap and left for my dinner would reduce me to helpless gushing sobs. So sweet. So kind. So much LOVE in that spaghetti. It unraveled me.
And then. A week. Two weeks. Three weeks passed. Which could have been years. Followed by an epic simulation of energy and focus and an offer of employment.
I sent one resume.
I went on one interview.
I quit my job working for a magazine.
And when Gus was five weeks old, I put him in daycare and went to my fancy new job in corporate America. I don’t know how I did that. Or how or when exactly the fog lifted. But I was, somehow, mercifully okay.
(To be continued.)