Boxer in Rain
I hesitate. The moment is a gift to myself, a spoonful of hope and a split-second daydream. From my phone, I open the email. I read only the last line.
“It’s not focused enough on motherhood for us, so I’m afraid we’ll have to pass.”
I’m aware again of the rain drops, the squee, squee, squee of the wipers, the audio book droning. I close the email, set my phone down, and put the gearshift in reverse.
It is a good rejection, my first. Later, at home, I would print it and tape it to the wall above my writing desk.
My son. I realize he is magic on a summer night in our chain link fenced yard. The world is fuzzy and dark grey, and the grass is cool beneath my feet. We are alone with the moon. I hold him on my hip. He wears a white cotton onesie, a thick diaper beneath. I brush away wisps of hair falling into his eyes. He is still a baby, will be for just a moment longer. “Look,” I say and point to the sky. “Look, Bubba.” I whisper into his ear and my lips brush his skin. He looks up, his eyes wide. The moon is big, full, and warm white.
He reaches his hand to the moon. “I hold it,” he says.
He looks at me, brow furrowed, wondering why I don’t reach up and grab the moon, hand it to him. He doesn’t know yet how big the world is, how small he is. How small I am.
Dear Editor, I don’t write about motherhood. I can’t find the words. They are slippery, fragile, turn to dust the instant I close my palm around them.
My daughter. For a thousand nights, I hold her in the dark. The house is quiet except for the occasional whoosh of the furnace and the click, click, click of the rocker. Her plumpness is wrapped in terry cloth pajamas and she smells of lavender soap. Her delicate fingers grasp my thumb. I close my eyes to ease the exhaustion. She roots again, and the pain of her latch steals my breath and makes my stomach turn.
Finally, she sleeps. I rise catlike. When I set her in the crib, she stirs, and after a heavy soundless moment, she cries. I want to cry, too, to let out a long piercing wail. I want to run and lock myself in the bathroom. I might explode.
For a thousand nights, I don’t explode. Over and over, my body leans over her and my arms scoop her onto my full, sore chest. I hear myself say “shhhhhh,” then feel myself sit, rock, and offer my raw nipple to her mouth.
Click, click, click.
Dear Editor, I can’t tell you about this woman who rocks. Her resolve and patience, like the milk that fills her breasts, are mysteries to me. They come from someplace primitive and wild, are not of my doing. No, I am too ordinary to write about such things. The woman I know wails from the bathroom, the cold tile floor hard against her knees. The woman I know feels as if her body is running a marathon without her, despite her. She is simply the observer, and the experience is both a miracle and torture.
My son. It is the scary cough, the kind that forces my eyes open from sleep, the one my body knows from the not-scary kind. It’s deep and tight and too loud to come from such smallness. I bring him to the bathroom, run a hot shower, and hold him in the dark. The steam grows thick. He is restless, desperate for sleep, yet can’t stop coughing. It’s not working. I take him to the living room and fumble with the machine they’ve given us to help my son breathe. I turn it on and put the mask to his face. The hum of the motor fills the night.
My son breathes. In two hours, I must put on a bra, wash my face, then smile and say hello when I walk into work. But he breathes, and finally sleeps, his head against by chest, and this is all that matters.
Dear Editor, did you know my cells are inside of him and his are inside of me? We are truly each other’s survival.
Come with me, Editor, let me take you years ago and thousands of miles away. See her in a bikini, her flip flops beside her. She digs her painted blue toenails into the cool, heavy sand. See her body, smooth and tan, before she had scars across her belly. A notebook rests on her knees and she holds a pencil, looks out to the ocean. Hear the waves, smell the salt in the air. Watch the wind blow her hair all around. She is the wind.
Today, I change diapers and fill sippy cups. I pour cereal and sweep cereal from the floor. I pull out my laptop to work on this essay, Editor, but someone wants something: more milk, a book, a diaper, a kiss. I reheat my coffee in the microwave three times before I realize it’s no longer morning, and I finish this essay six months later. I am a mother who writes, not a writer who mothers.
No longer the wind, I am the ocean, filling the crevices that remain in each day, spilling out the sides when there is no room, transforming, reducing, and expanding into what the universe needs me to be.
Dear Editor, I dream and I write from crevices now.
My son. He struts in a blue and white jumpsuit with boxing gloves dangling heavy from his arms and a satiny cape trailing behind him. There are haystacks, jack-o-lanterns, princesses, and superheroes. When the rain comes suddenly and surely, crowds shriek and run to find shelter beneath eves. I reach for his hand to urge him along, but my boxer stops, throws his head back, and sticks his tongue out. He laughs a true, wonderful laugh deep from his belly, the way you laugh when life is light and funny and exhilarating, when instead of running for shelter you let the rain soak your hair and run down your face, when the earth gives you brisk and unexpected gifts, when you feel alive.
He grins at me, my boxer in rain, urging me, daring me. I stick my tongue out, too, and we laugh together. I am alive.
My daughter. Her first spring, we head outside one chilly morning. She squints as she looks up to the brightening sky and sees the birds. She has watched them from the window for weeks, as the earth slowly came back to life this year. Now, not just a spectator, she is part of the show. They swirl and swoop around us. Fl-fl-fl-fl-fl-fl-fl. Her brows lift, her eyes widen, and she points, urging me took look at these marvelous handfuls of color, sound, and flight that sprinkle the world, perform, and sing songs for us. Sparrows, cardinals, robins, blue jays, chickadees.
“Bird,” she says.
She sleeps with me now, the nights of rocking and cribs giving way to my bed. I sleep to her rhythm, turn when she turns, wake when she wakes, and pull her close when she whimpers.
She, with wild hair and sticky hands, is my moon. I am the ocean, my tides ruled by her.
Dear Editor, I can’t tell you what motherhood is. I can only tell you about that girl on the beach, the girl who was the wind, and what she didn’t know. She didn’t know what would be her life’s greatest effort, her most creative gift to the universe, or the one thing she would do with her whole body and heart. She didn’t know then about magic, about marathons and moons and birds.
My son. When I take him to school, he hugs and kisses me, then walks by himself into the classroom and into circles of kids wearing light-up sneakers and superhero t-shirts, and away from me. It is as if my arm has fallen off and is suddenly across the room with a will and life of its own. After he was born, I couldn’t sleep for fear he’d stop breathing or somehow evaporate if I looked away for even a moment. Now, he is talking to a teacher and doing puzzles with children whose names I don’t know. Every morning goes this way, and every morning I am disoriented by our separateness. I must leave, get into my car and go to work. It is not easy or hard. It is impossible.
I am not whole again until late afternoon when I walk into the school, down the hall, past the handprint flowers and lost-and-found table, and into his classroom where I wait for him to notice me, for his face to light up, for his tiny arms to wrap around my neck.
This is all that matters.
Dear Editor, the words you read now have been written upon layers and layers of others typed and erased. You see, I tried to write about motherhood, but I can’t. If I did, I would have to tell you about my smallness, my powerlessness, my inextricable vulnerability. I would have to face the shattering truth, that no matter how enormous my love and no matter how close I hold them each night, I will not always be able to protect my children from this big, scary world.
I would have to tell you that no matter how much I ache for it, no matter how many times I inhale their scents or kiss their warm naked backs while they sleep, I don’t get to hold onto this forever. Their weight in my arms, the sound of tiny feet, plastic dinosaurs and broken crayons scattered on the kitchen floor. It’s all so deliciously ordinary, so ephemeral, so devastating.
I don’t write about motherhood. Instead, I fold basketfuls of tiny pajamas and colorful socks, wipe noses and adjust car seat harnesses, check the temperature of the bathwater and dream up bedtime stories about dragons. I do none of this on purpose. I do it in willful oblivion because there is so much bliss to be had in the unconscious doing of it all.
Dear Editor, if I had to write the truth about motherhood, I would have to tell you about how it could all be gone – will all be gone – one day.
Julie Sylver is a business executive by day, writer and artist by heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Michigan.