I took the picture in the header one spring. I passed this field every morning before seven on my way to talking my daughter to preschool. One morning I finally remembered to bring my camera–my five megapixel point-and-shoot Sony camera. The resulting pictures were a huge disappointment. In no way did I capture the breathtaking beauty of the flowers. I did not consider that the sun, at 6:45 on a spring morning, would be an uninvited character in my story. It’s interesting to me how reality can fall flat under the lens of a camera, just as words can fall flat when they hit the page.
I had undiagnosed post-partum depression after the birth of my daughter. I also don’t do well when sleep-deprived. I was never one to stay up all night, even in high school and college. My daughter has a lot of characteristics of what they call a “difficult to manage” child. One indicator is that the “difficult” characteristics have been present in some form since birth. In retrospect, now having a second child for comparison, my daughter began displaying her nature before we even brought her home from the hospital. This all made life during her infancy…interesting.
My daughter slept in her crib in our room. She would sleep until around three, but then would wake up every hour after. She did this until she was almost a year old. We had a spare bedroom, and whoever was on feeding duty would take her there for the rest of the night, once she had woken up that first time. That way one person was able to sleep. We would have formula and water measured out and waiting in the spare bedroom, and I would prepare bottles for her using the light from outside–street lights, the moon. Then I would sit on the bed and stare out the window as I fed her.
The window in the spare bedroom overlooked an alley that separated our row of townhouses from the next row over. I would sit and stare into kitchen windows, all dark–except one that was a little to my left. In this window, every night, I would see that a small lamp had been left on. At first I wondered who would put a lamp on their kitchen counter. Wouldn’t it get wet from the sink? As the seasons wore on, I constructed a back story for the lamp. The resident of this unit, I decided, was a woman. Only a woman would put a lamp on a kitchen counter and leave it on all night, I decided. She was single, no children. A career woman, but not yet successful. Our townhouse community was for “young professionals.” I imagined that she was planning for the day, soon, when she would buy a house. I imagined that, in the mean time, she slept peacefully, night after night.
As much as I hated seeing that lamp because it meant I wasn’t sleeping, because it meant another day of struggling to make it through to yet another night when I wouldn’t be sleeping, in retrospect I realize that it was a reminder, in the dark of the night, that I was not alone.
Late at night I like to go into my daughter’s room to watch her sleep. She and I have a relationship characterized by fierce emotion. That’s a nice way of saying we fight a lot. Sometimes I think she wants (needs?) a level of emotional commitment that I’m not capable of giving. At least not while maintaining my own mental health.
I love to watch her sleep. She doesn’t argue with me or yell at me late at night. I like to seek out the fat parts of her–cheeks and arms. She is getting thinner as she gets older. I morn the passing of her baby-ness while I try to reclaim a moment from the past that perhaps never took place.
So, I try not to wake her as I bury my lips in her fat cheeks. I watch her make those little noises with her mouth, the picture, I imagine, of the serene, loving mother. Late at night I am the mother I always wish I could be, but never am.
I find it interesting to think about how I’ve defined myself at different points in my life. The summer before I started fifth grade, I had to start wearing glasses. This was after spending the bulk of fourth grade tapping the shoulder of the girl sitting in front of me to ask her what was on the chalk board. Ahhhh…chalkboards–now there’s a post for another time.
I was excited about the glasses for about five minutes. I have astigmatism, so I have to wear glasses or contacts all of the time. I wasn’t prepared for that kind of commitment in fifth grade. Soon, my glasses became the symbol for everything that I didn’t like about myself, for all of my pre-teen angst. I remember at the beginning of seventh grade, being in my home economics classroom (Remember when they used to call it home economics?) and listening to my teacher explain how another student had told her a trick for remembering my name: Barbara Eye wears glasses. Even as I type this I feel the embarrassment, the awkwardness inherent in transitioning out of childhood …
The following summer I talked my parents into getting me contacts. I don’t think I have one picture of me in glasses from eighth grade on, until perhaps I was in my twenties. I felt such freedom at no longer having to wear those stupid glasses, at being able to wear sunglasses. How funny it seems now that something so seemingly insignificant was so important to me then. If you need me, I’ll be in the bathroom, putting in my contacts. And maybe I’ll go out today and get another pair of sunglasses.