When the world no longer aged, learning did not cease but development did. Husbands loved their expectant wives with their rounded bellies & tiger mom stripes, & the mothers loved their little one(s) within, who floated as if in a state of suspended animation, the mothers, in suspended celebration. The babies born were loved for who they were & who they would never become. Developmental milestones became a thing of the past; educational milestones became the next big thing. There were no more birthdays— just calendars marking each day since the last birthday had been celebrated; there were anniversaries, however, for Time continued marching on, leaving a lighter bootprint with every passing year.
It was an era of endless childhood: of childhood sweethearts who would never marry, of teenagers who would never know wisdom, of young parents who would never become grandparents, & of grandparents who would never pass away. Those who loved their age loved their lives; those who wished to be young again would be old forever; & those who wished to grow up would never know independence, for no matter how much they learned, they would never mature. There were no more conceptions or births, no more deaths from old age but unnatural causes. Those who loved what they did would do it seemingly forever, & those who did not could not bear an eternity of hating their livelihood, so they went back to school in acknowledgment & the reclaiming of their perpetual personhood, for they had all the time in the world.
In this reverse Groundhog Day, where the days changed, but the routine did not— the world began to live in an almost hypnagogic state, for the only promise of tomorrow was that it would come. For some, this cessation was the spring of eternal life, for others, a never-ending winter. And for those who were too young to know any better, it was all they knew.
Her childhood had been sweet, filled with marshmallow hugs & chocolate kisses, of butterfly, angel, & Eskimo kisses, of kisses that flew from her hands like cosmic dust to decorate the sky, & of kisses from Grandma from that gold-paved paradise over the rainbow; of stork bites & tales from the Cabbage Patch, & monsters in the closet & under the bed that disappeared with the always precise aim of Mom’s crafty glue gun; of make-believe games & make-it-yourself puzzles; of art class with junk mail scraps & broken crayons, & a refrigerator that had become a museum gallery, with Lego magnets holding up hodgepodge collages; of music class with the laminated lyrics of hymns, folk songs, & Christmas carols; of PE in the park, field trips to everyday places, & lunch where cookie butter & Nutella sandwiches were always on the menu; of science class on the beach & Sunday school under the trees; of math class with numbers that had special significance— in her life or the lives of others or the history of the world; of a 24/7 library with fairy tales, folk tales, & tall tales, & thick scrapbooks that told the family history— the history she would end up repeating— that of happy marriages & childhoods, with written instructions & real-life examples on how to make them happen.
The frazzled, second-time mama, whose nerve endings were frayed, grieved for the time she robbed from Penny to spend on Polly, for the times she snapped at Penny because of Polly, & for the times she did not even hear Penny because of Polly, whose color of hangry ranged from tomato red to beet purple. As the principal of Sally Jane Richards’ Homeschool for the Housebound (& wife of the dean) cradled her colicky cuddlebug, her other hand reached out to reassure her doodlebug— this shiny new piece of change who had come into her life without a heads-up & put her into a temporary tailspin— that Book Club & Reading Club, Math with Monopoly Money, A.M. & P.M. Bingo, Wheel of Fortune-inspired Hangman, & Alphabet Soup & Word Salad with Bananagrams, had to wait for the not-so-secret formula to do its disappearing noise magic trick.
Since reaching late thirtysomething, Anne had wanted to know what it was like to have a child who would tell her she loved her without prompting, & the awareness she saw in the weeks-old bundle was sometimes more than she had seen in the years-old bundle who was crawling towards the age of accountability. As she looked at her children, one cradled in one arm, the other, snuggled under the arm that had yet to fall asleep, she knew there was not one daughter she preferred over the other, for how could one choose a right eye over a left? This mother— a family tree whose feminine, blue-eyed branches reached for the sun in opposite directions— brought the fruits of her labours closer to Solomon’s twin fawns. When Anne of the 1000-plus days looked to her husband, the king of her 900-square foot castle, she saw confirmation & absolution of her beliefs, reflected & shining from within the deep green pond, for to this ageing former head-banger now headmaster, they had the best of both worlds: a child who may never leave them & a child who may know well enough to do so.
She didn’t yet have a name, but she had a job— to someday watch over the sister, whom she would never outpace in age, after their parents had returned to Heaven; to watch over the sister who some saw as a cute little dot on a wide spectrum— this blitheful child who wrote in smileys & spoke in echoes & laughed at movement, not jokes, & whose dreamlike gaze noticed the page numbers but not the words. But as the mother looked at her rapidly expanding belly that contained an entire universe of being, she wondered if this unknown quantity would outpace the one outside her body; for every parent’s worry about their child whose needs were different than most was Who will love them when I am gone?
When she had a little girl, she remembered what it was to be one— swinging in the park while leaning back with her hair brushing the ground & the world going about its business upside down, drinking chocolate milk with macaroni & cheese, watching Looney Tunes while laying on the floor with her legs up against the wall, reading Dr. Seuss & Mother Goose, & singing “Old MacDoodle had some vowels, A-E-I-O-U (& sometimes Y).” She played with things the wrong way & the silly way, made animal pictures out of Spirographs & refrigerator masterpieces out of Spin Art. But when she saw the Calico Critters dollhouse with the Hopscotch Bunny family— so much cuter than the Barbie Dream House that she’d wanted once upon a time at Pensacola Christian School— she brought that house home & made up scenarios for her daughter— just as she had made scenes out of cardboard boxes & paper dolls out of newspaper for herself. For her, motherhood wasn’t reliving her childhood but creating a magical one for her daughter.
His father’s hands had been used to punish, his mother’s, to cherish, but when he held his baby daughter for the first time, he realized that his hands, for her, created the consummate cradle of warmth, softness, shelter, & strength.
When her son was a baby, she took time off to be with him, missing the promotion. When her son was 5 & going into kindergarten, she went back to work at a reduced rate, for it was important that she was there every night to read him a bedtime story. When he was 12, she won a 6-month writer’s residency in New England, but she couldn’t afford to bring him with her, & she told herself that it was enough to know that she had won, for she could write anywhere with him in the next room or playing at her feet. When he was 16, she’d looked straight at him & gave him the car keys— not giving him to God as a priest but to the world as a man. When he was 18, she looked up into those eyes that were no longer questioning but knowing, & she saw herself reflected back in them. And it was then that she saw herself in him for the first time, rather than the father who had gone before his; she saw that she’d made something of the world by making something of him.
When the world changed from 6 degrees of separation to 6 feet, the longer this change became a way of life, the more that distance began to be measured by time apart. Children seemed to disappear like caterpillars into the cocoons of their homes, their siblings their only friends; but for the only child, Mom & Dad became their whole world, other children, a voice & a face on a screen. FaceTiming with the grandparents, whose hugs had become something dreamlike— the spicy scent of Grandpa’s Clove gum & wiry whiskers that felt like pine needles, the intoxicating scent of Grandma’s Charly perfume & powdery, rouged cheeks that left their mark— began to fade into something indescribable.
When she tried to be Mom & Dad to her children, she diminished the uniqueness of each role. When she realized that trying to be both was as crazy as trying to treat a boy like a girl, she tried to be twice the mom she had been in half the time. When help came in the form of a man who loved the 3 of them, her heart was soft enough to let his head make an imprint there & fill it with his love.