Yesterday began with a curious tearful melt-down (Gabriel: Mama, the syrup is touching the pancakes!! sob sob sob...) and continued with many more tears, tantrums, refusals to cooperate, sibling-baiting, time outs, and odd complaints pulled from the air (Me: It's time to go to school, do you have your homework packed? Frances: Mama, why do I have to have a summer birthday? I HATE having a summer birthday. Let me tell you the eight reasons why...). Even though I worked half the day alongside adults, by the time Mike and I were cleaning up after dinner I was completely exhausted and ready to strangle both children. They were relentless, I tell you. Everything remotely frustrating, bad, or disappointing in their universe was my fault.
There were so many moments over the course of the day that I could do nothing more than endure. Unsalvageable nadirs of parenting. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking this must all have something to do with the baby's imminent arrival. On Tuesday I brought the kids with me to see the midwife who, upon hearing some of my symptoms and discovering I am 1 cm dilated, gave me a very hard time about the fact that we didn't yet have a bag packed. Or a clear plan for what to do with the kids. "A third kid can make or break a family," she told me with unforgiving firmness. "You need to get organized."
So the kids watched, or at least were dimly aware of, the flurry of activity that followed that appointment. They may have noticed that Mike has not left the house since without casually reminding me to call him if I'm going to have a baby.
At bedtime Frances seemed just as off as she had all day (after a monstrous post-dinner Clean Up Time) so I exhaled, climbed into bed next to her, and asked if she was worried about me or the baby.
"Not like, worried you'll die. But maybe you'll get really sick or hurt, and then you won't be able to talk care of me anymore ... actually, I think no matter what you won't be able to take care of me for about the next six years."
The worries came out in a flood then: how she won't be special anymore because she won't be the only daughter, how I won't have time to spend with her, how adults will only want to pay attention to the baby ("and just say dumb things to me like Isn't it nice to be a big sister!"), how I won't do things like make her snacks and help with her homework anymore. Which, apparently, I don't do often enough as it is.
I flashed back to a day in Lancaster almost five years ago. I was leaning over the tub, giving two-year-old Frances her bath. She was chattering about what we could give to the baby, until she got very quiet, and I noticed her lower lip was trembling (the tell-tale sign of deep sorrow that she still manifests, and still causes tears to spring to my eyes before I even know the cause of her sadness). Then she asked if she would have to give the baby her special blue and green socks too, and started to cry.
I picked her up right then and wrapped her up tight, and told her those socks were just for her. I still have them saved in a box, though Frances doesn't remember them or understand why a dirty worn pair of socks is tucked away alongside special mementos and tiny hand knit sweaters.
We talked last night for a long time. I tried to be honest with her about the big changes, and listen, and emphasize the unconditional boundless love that surrounds her and always will. And then, my daughter - the one whom (many of you know from experience) can talk without seeming to breath or blink for hours on end - rolled towards me and peacefully said good night. It may have been the first time she has ever initiated the end of the day.
I couldn't help but notice her sweetness this morning, and the relative calm with which she made it to school and walked into her classroom. Exhale, exhale, exhale.