The Answers

FullSizeRender-18 This weekend was warm enough for a knee-length skirt tan and for Zaley to build gravel castles on the beach. But tomorrow there's a west gale, which Luke says he has never even seen. 16-foot waves and an airborne chowder of fog. The rain in town is winter-like, misty, shrouding the lighthouse, coastline, mountains, and water we can usually see out all the tall windows in the house we are staying at this summer. "Socked in" they call it. This is apt. These days you must put on socks. You're better off staying in. Zaley's feet blister in her boots when she gets them on before I realize the lack of socks. Then we are out. Then there are tears. There is a forgotten raincoat. A swim lesson gone wrong. The early interventionist arrives at the house when frozen chicken nuggets have just burnt in the oven, the boob is out, both kids are screaming, and Dad has left a beer in the My Little Pony house (which the speech therapist notes aloud).

FullSizeRender-19One night at dinner a few weeks ago, when Luke's youngest brother, Max, was here, he asked, "How much does the ocean fill when it rains?" Luke said "It never fills, it evaporates, that's where the rain comes from." I had never thought of this. Sometimes I wonder why I don't know simple things. I thought I was being a supermom and made blueberry muffins the other day while Jules and her kids came over and swam with Zaley in the hot tub. But I put way too much sugar on top and it crumbled off in brown powdery chunks when we ate the muffins right out of the oven, hot. I do not wait for baked goods to cool. I always miss one step in any set of directions. I over-sugar, over-cook, over-think, under-estimate how long it will take us every time we leave the house. The only thing that makes this better is not when I get it right, but when other people are late or their muffins are gummy.

My friend Jill who has two young kids lays out smoked salmon, sliced cheese, a ring of crackers, fresh banana bread with a perfectly glazed, flat top. She blow dries her hair! Her house is spotless when we arrive. Secretly, I consider where all ten decorative pillows go when people like Jill--people who make their beds--sleep. There must be a pile! I love other people's piles. I think of the preparations we forget in the presence of perfection till I think of the pillows. Nothing is easy for any mother, I think, when Jill's son keeps announcing his farts and when I get home and look at the crumbs on my stove, the half-eaten, un-organic, frozen whatever in the sink. I must believe this or I will crumble like that topping.

I ask all my mom friends, "Is it easy? Is [this] easy for you? Is [this other thing] easy for you?" Why are we supposed to make fishing season look easy? Why doesn't one mom just throw her hands up and say, "Hey! You know what? F-- this! I'm done!" And then we will all mutiny and the boats will all go away and the kids can play wrestling games with Dad and we will eat late, greasy, family breakfasts at The Nugget. That's what my ideal life looks like. Just Luke here more, really. But because this won't happen, I keep asking The Questions. I want to know when other moms quilt/knit/write/shower, when other kids wake up in the morning, if they want their moms to hold their hand for 15 minutes at nap time. Does your toddler run circles before she collapses with rage when you tell her she can't have macaroni at 6:30 AM? The answer, which I don't always remember: all phases shift. My mom reminds me, this always-consolation.

FullSizeRender-17Anna smiles now when she sees me. I'm becoming more aware that when I'm out of sight, she can't sense me because she can't hear me, but I still say, "I'm here, shhh, I'm here." One nurse says, "Anna, yes! A good old-fashioned name." Most people say, "Oh, she is so tiny!" I don't notice her smallness anymore, pulling her up from resting places, her head wobbling back as I catch the weight with my fingers. At two months, she is Zaley's weight as a newborn. Her legs are always warm. She wrinkles one side of her nose in anger when I haven't fed her or moved her in the last five minutes. In sleep, her eyes twitch and roll and I have to tell other kids she sleeps with her eyes open so they don't try to kiss and pet her. Sometimes just one eye opens and surveys the scene from left to right, a judicious little pirate's eye. I google this, scared that what I don't remember about Zaley at two months is maybe the cmv virus making Anna abnormal. In the case of open-eyed sleeping ("nocturnal lagopthalmos"), the internet offers its rare comfort: "this is very normal."

I am still skeptical--a constant, internal uncertainty underlying everything Anna-related right now. I'm wary of anything stated with finality or confidence since everyone said they were sure her hearing would be fine. I look for alternative sources of comfort both for her and for me. The chiropractor at home recommends me to an herbalist in Glenwood Springs who is sending up a tincture of lemon balm and astralagus I should take 20 minutes before I nurse, plus some topical essential oil to put on Anna's skin where the smooth, dark pink rash spots up--the one physical marker of this quiet monster virus. Another chiropractor in town sees Anna and says something that sends relief through me, viscerally, like a wave: "If she were going to be immobile at any point, I think we would already see signs."

My brother sends Padre Pio oil and prayers in the mail, passages from the Bible about Mary's wounded heart. I have a hard time ever seeing my way out of right now, out of myself, and this helps. I do think of Mary in this line of other mothers who struggle so gracefully as to make me feel alone. I remind myself that I am less important than all the suffering Anna's suffering has made me aware of.

A friend needs a blood transfusion. A friend's son goes to the hospital for meningitis. A friend miscarries. A little boy we know here is mute, may never talk. A friend across the country calls me to tell me what worked best for her child with autism. Jules says her school-age kids are attracted to other kids whose parents parent the same way. I pray for such continuity between will and outcome. I know the parents I want to be like are the parents who have shouldered through very hard things.

I postpone making (what I know will be imperfect) bread today for lying in bed with my tiny child. I will never be another woman. My daughters will never be other children. The ocean will not rise.