Dear Lily June,
Before I had kids, whenever we’d invite my sister, your Aunt Loren, somewhere, it was generally agreed amongst the family to just tell her the event started an hour earlier. If you told her to show up at one, inevitably she’d be there sometime around two-fifteen. It was a good system, and with a few eye rolls tossed in for good measure, I could accept that this was “just my sister.” I was so wrong, little Lily. It is the life of almost anybody with kids.
It was your dad’s mom’s (Granny Gramma Alison’s) fifty-ninth birthday this weekend, and we wanted to take the two hour drive to see her for the last year of her fifties. I imagined, with a good enough plan, we could hit the road by noon, stop off at Lake Loramie to feed you a quick bottle and get there, with time to spare, no later than three.
First off, your daddy accidentally woke me before I’d had my full amount of sleep. This is akin, little Lily, to sticking your hand inside of a lion’s mouth just to see if his tongue feels sticky. It’s a dangerous game to wake a horribly sleep-deprived mommy, and I was the perfect picture of your future: I acted like I had a mean case of the Terrible Two’s. I dragged my feet and threw under-caffeinated tantrums until there was coffee in me. After my coffee, I just threw tantrums that looked more jittery.
Once I finally hit my morning stride, making the sausage balls my mom, your Grandma Raelyn, taught me the recipe to (so easy and so bad for you: a tube of Jimmy Dean’s maple sausage, 2 cups cheese, and 2 cups Bisquick, combined, rolled into balls and cooked at 375 until brown) and was ready to hop in the shower, you, too, realized you didn’t have enough (read: “any”) coffee in you. That didn’t stop you, while I showered, from throwing an energized fit like I’d abandoned you on a street corner instead of sitting you on the bathroom floor in a bouncy seat. Your daddy got you so that we could proceed.
We hit the road around twelve-thirty (which was only 99% my fault for taking too long to get ready). When we went to pick up ice from the gas station (what should have been the last stop before the drive between Indiana and Ohio), we realized we left your Grandma’s gift at home. So we turned right back, your dad headed upstairs to get the frame we’d bought her, and we moved right along, an hour behind schedule.
You were a perfect doll in the car, sleeping like you never have at home. In fact, you drifted into slumberland so deeply, we couldn’t completely rouse you when we got to where you were supposed to take a bottle. You couldn’t have cared less how picturesque the scene. You were tired, it was hot, there were bugs, and you didn’t want to eat. This was after two less than fully full bottles in the morning, so your dad and me were paranoid. We passed you back and forth across a shaded picnic table, trying every trick we had to wake you–singing, shouting (lightly, if there is such a thing), bouncing, blowing raspberries. To no avail. Your zen outwitted our agitation.
And your dad’s cell phone kept ringing. It was three-thirty. We’d been trying to feed you for forty-five minutes already. We relented; you weren’t ready, and with each passing minute, I was stepping more firmly into the shoes of my sister. We got to your Granny’s by four, only to learn that everyone had been waiting on us (impatiently).Then you were awake. And then, and only then, were you hungry. More like hangry.
We gave you an ounce, which took another fifteen minutes, while a chaotic circus unfolded before us. In one tent were your cousins–Bryden, Elijah, and Cal, ages five years, three years, and nine months respectively–who were like Russian bears on unicycles, tearing through the living room at high speeds. Your Uncle Bryce and Aunt Jan would slip into and out of the tent to place a bear here or there back on his seat.
In the second tent, your Granny and her partner, Jeanie, and their two bichon frises, Lisa and Lady, were coordinated like an act of the trapeze. One would lift a puppy up like her hands were the rings, and the yippy dogs would go flying into the arms of a partner. They passed the cute canines back and forth across the air, telling story after story about how this one hurt his tail, or how that one can balance upside-down in a chair.
In the side tent, your dad and I were jugglers, keeping a stream of objects in steady movement the whole time. First it was a bottle, then a diaper, add a wipe, then another wipe, then another wipe, then a changing mat, then a paci, then a blankie, here a burp cloth, there a car seat, until our arms piled up so precariously, we could have been tossing flaming torches and chainsaws through the air.
And finally it was time to drive from Grandma’s to the big top: your second-cousin Jeremy’s in the middle of a two-acre corn field for a cookout. I can’t describe what it was like to care for you, an almost three month old, in this crazy of a scene, with dozens of cousins and second cousins running around screaming, or depending on their ages, passing sage advice about lawn care around as often as they passed brewski’s.
Most gruesome for me was when a host of children, ages ten down to three, thronged to the trampoline. The sight of their cirque de soleil antics made me queasy until your second-cousin Amanda gave me the best advice of the day: When it comes to trampolines, “it’s best to just look away.” Temperatures ran around the eighties, and whenever your head would deposit a halo of sweat on my shirt, I would sweep you inside into the blessed haven of quiet and AC.
And it became clear quickly that you were the main attraction with aunts and female cousins coming to me with tickets they’d bought from the barker called Motherhood and pleading to hold you. And I would pass you off, trying not to appear as nervous as a high-dive jumper about to leap from the board a hundred feet into a tiny glass of water.
And you did something so awesome for me: You put me on the other side of every party I’ve attended like this in the past. Too scared to ask to the be the first to hold another’s new baby, I would shyly wait until I was the last to be passed the child, only after he or she had reached their limit and was about to erupt into Mount Grumpy. Babies who’d seemed calm a second before would squinch their faces purple and wail when handed to me, and I would wonder, If babies detest me this much, could I ever be a mother?
But bless your heart, you knew your mommy. When the circus–with all of its clowns and bearded ladies–got to be too much and your sweet little lips would purse into a pout big enough for an elephant to sit on, the aunts would hand you back to me, and you would quiet almost instantly. At one point, a cousin ran into where you were almost asleep on the couch at full steam, smacking your tiny soft skull, and the crowd dropped their peanuts to the floor and the claps gave way to audible gasps.
And you screamed, an emcee to a parade of emotions including fear and pain and confusion, until I picked you up and rocked you on a hip and you were fine and you, my darling dear, were wholeheartedly mine. It was my first big chance to soothe your hurt as your mother, and I kissed where it ached and handed you the umbrella and we walked across that tightrope together. And we made it to the other side.
There were plenty of times throughout the day that didn’t go nearly so smoothly–more times when you were hungry but too excited to eat, times when you were too tired to sleep, times where your spit-up beautifully streaked highlights into my hair. Your daddy ripped his pants in the seat; your mother’s shirt got pulled down with you on top of me enough to give Janet Jackson, with all of her wardrobe malfunction fame, a run for her money. We had thought beforehand we could pull it all off without a hitch, but in words most often attributed to circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum,
“There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Your dad and I agreed on the drive home around eleven in the evening, like two teenagers hungover the day after a bender, on the two-word promise parents have been making for centuries: Never again. It was a fine circus, and you were an adorable master of ceremonies, but we may not endure an outing like that again until you’re thirty. Or, more realistically, at least until you’re old enough to make some memories.
Until then, I’ll say this now and believe it forever: Your Aunt Loren, my sister who has five kids and who has been to more of these kinds of events than I can count, has all the bravery of a lion-tamer. She’s more talented than a spinner of plates and more graceful than a stilt-walker. I will never again roll my eyes when she shows up late for dinner. I will ask her, if she’s only an hour from the time we initially told her, how she worked such a magic trick.
- “Trapeze Artists in Circus” by Copyright by the Calvert Litho. Co., Detroit, Mich. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trapeze_Artists_in_Circus.jpg#/media/File:Trapeze_Artists_in_Circus.jpg
- “Lake Loramie Bridge” by Dph414 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lake_Loramie_Bridge.jpg#/media/File:Lake_Loramie_Bridge.jpg
- “Bichon Frise” by Editor at Large – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bichon_Frise.jpg#/media/File:Bichon_Frise.jpg