What is it with schools and fluorescent lights? They do nothing to ease my pounding head as I pace in front of an empty classroom.
“They must be in the gym now,” says another mom, bland to this whole First Day of School affair. She’s been through it all, by the looks of her wrinkles and hips, at least once before, likely twice. Whichever one is in 3K is not the Troublemaker of her brood.
She does not know my sons.
Biff and Bash were evicted after 37 weeks with the help of any and every drug doctors allowed. They slid out, two minutes apart: Biff pale, Bash ruddy. They were given stocking caps straight out of M.A.S.H. with smudged permanent marker: “A” and “B.” It took longer to remove the placenta than to give birth.
Two little souls, so different before they even left my womb: “A” so quiet, so tucked away, while I couldn’t sleep because “B” kicked and somersaulted. Two sets of sleepy eyes, clasping hands. Bo and I held, traded. We had our sons. We had both wanted a boy. God blessed us with two. At last, our family, overwhelming, perfect.
“Do you want to use the potty today?”
“N-n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o,” says Bash.
“NOOOO!” says Biff. This fingernail scrape of a scream is new, and drives me fucking nuts.
“Fine. Fine. Then get over here. New diapers and clothes. You have school today!” After several more No’s and kicks to my chest and arms, the boys are changed and dressed. Biff wears a white polo patterned with motorcycles and classic cars; Bash wears a blue plaid button-down shirt. He looks…old. Like, “I’m off to first-grade, Mumsy” old. Could they really be ready to exit this house and co-exist around other human beings of various sizes?
November. The boys are eight weeks old.
Blondie naps soundly. Thank God she’s a heavy sleeper like her father.
The boys have nursed. They are changed, swaddled, laid in their cribs. I close the door. Exhale.
The afternoon is cloudy, plain. Nothing new in the house or outside to dwell on, work on. Nothing to consider but an hour of peace, of me conscious, by myself, in the quiet. I look at the half-wall in the middle of the living area; it surrounds the stairs to the basement. Yes, I’ll go below, get some Mystery Science Theater 3000, and—
I bolt into the room and remove Biff before he can wake Bash. He is crying. He’s fucking crying, like they always do, because they can’t just fucking sleep at the same fucking time.
They. These two. Why the FUCK do I have two, I can’t handle two. Why did God give me two
The half-wall is lit in sunlight.
There is no sunlight today.
Perfect for what?
It’s an accident.
Oh God no
It’s a fall, it could happen.
No it can’t please GOD no it I can’t
Shut up shut up SHUT UP
Biff howls in my arms as I cower in my bedroom, afraid of my own house. Of my own mind.
Bash’s smiles are made of pure cheek. He half closes his eyes and peers about, and you know his wheels are turning. He revels in running away from command, laughing with maniacal glee. He sees a game to be made in everything, from hiding cars in every drawer of the house, to provoking Biff with a whack on the back.
If reality doesn’t amuse him, he creates his own. He gathers little trains, or takes a picture of the latest Thomas and Friends line, and begins. “Once upon a time, there were three engines…. ‘Hello, Thomas, I’m Toby!’ Toby peeped. …. ‘But Diesel, you can’t go to the sea,’ Gordon chuffed.” And so on. You can hear him change character, stretching his voice for each train, adding dialogue tags for of course, one must have dialogue tags. His imagination bores Blondie, occasionally amuses Biff. Impresses Bo. Brings me to tears, knowing this could not be happening had I left him on the roadside one winter night years ago. (I describe this night in “The Machete and the Cradle.”)
“Come on, little dudes, let’s get some breakfast.”
“No I’m NOT it’s time for breakfast.” Bash never misses the chance to contradict.
Biff never misses a chance to rattle Blondie’s cage. He goes to the seat next to her. “Hi, Mr. Blondie.”
“I’m not a Mr. I’m a MISS!” Blondie tries to scream, but morning phlegm makes yelling hard. Shuckie-darn.
Fork battles, tossed milk cups, crumbled muffins everywhere.
Bo comes in, unfazed, and sits by Blondie for breakfast. Muffin shrapnel lands in his milk. He sips it anyway, and looks at me. “Just wait until they’re with other kids.”
I imagine bruised legs, scabbed faces, and pissed off moms pointing at my hellions. THEY did this, Can’t you DO anything about them
Biff teeters between fixation and boredom. He took to books in infancy, sitting alone or laying on his stomach, blanket at hand, slowly turning the pages. Vehicles fascinate him. Numbers and letters fascinate him. If it’s in a book, he’ll stare at it for ages.
But if he’s bored, trouble brews. You know he’s bored when he rests his head in his hands, eyes wide and off and up, mouth slightly drooping. Everything falls under his disinterested gaze. He’ll half-close his eyes, just like his brother, as he sits there, checking out the dining room, the living room. Bash has cars, cars are boring today…and you can see his head nonchalantly turn towards his sister’s room, and the look of boredom fades.
The drive to 3K lasts roughly twenty minutes. Ten minutes in I realize the birthday treat they were due to bring because the first day of 3K also fell on their birthday is still in the fridge. No time to turn back. No time to stop on the way. Where to stop, how to stop… Of COURSE I forgot the one thing that would impact others because I was too worried about clothing and shoes and diapers and change of clothes and backpacks and car seats and coats and DAMMIT.
All the while the same song repeats, because if I let the next track start, the boys scream. The boys call it “The Song.” Blondie calls it the “Dinosaurs Die” song. Adults may know it as “Demons” by Imagine Dragons. Not a bad song, especially when a five-year-old explains which part of the song is for the T Rex’s eating everyone, which part is when the dinosaurs die, and which part is when they come back to life.
I rush Biff in. The principal, a Wonder Bread version of Jason Bateman with crusts removed, holds out his hand, “Hi, welcome to—“
“Hi.” Up the stairs, dump the boy. I don’t look back.
“Have a good d—“
“Not done.” Out to the car, grab Bash. Rush him in.
“Hi.” Mr. Wonder Bread Bateman holds out his hand and then realizes it’s me again. “Oh, yes. The twins.”
Yes. THE twins. Dumped and I’m gone, because all I can think of is where the hell to buy a birthday cookie to drop off before snack time.
I didn’t hug them. Didn’t say goodbye. First day of school, and I’m hung up on a goddamn cookie.
Both boys adore Blondie’s room. It’s filled with the “good stuff”: little boxes, sparkly toys, cars she tries to keep for herself. Plush ponies and a bed without another bed directly on top of it, which makes it perfect for bouncing.
Yet today, when I find them there, they are not playing with her toys, nor are they bouncing. They are both focused on something hanging from a clip of her picture string. It’s a printout of two pictures my dad took in 2012.
Me, in the hospital, holding them, newly born. Blondie a wisp of a toddler with even wispier curls around her ears, clings to Bo. One other picture: my parents, each holding a grandson.
“Mommy, Mommy, who’s that?” Biff says, fat finger on the middle of the paper—near no one, of course.
“Who is that?” I repeat him to avoid the Shrill Anger of Misunderstanding.
“Mommy, Mommy—there’s Grandma!”
“Mommy, Mommy!” Biff stiffens his back as he sniffs his blanket. “Who’s that?”
“I don’t know.” I really don’t—he wasn’t even looking at the pictures.
Biff turns around and thrusts his face into the image of my parents. “It’s Grandma and Uncle Matt!”
“No.” I choke. “That’s Grandma and Grandpa.”
I have to correct them every time. And every time, it hurts. My father died some months after their first birthday, which means they will never, ever have a memory of him.
Had my postpartum won out, there would be no boys to remember anything at all.
There would be no boys before me, staring at their newborn selves. I would not have memories of train stories, dutiful board book study, or maniacal giggles. I’d have none of the pain, which, yes, was pain, from scars on my psyche to the bruises on my body. These boys brought so much pain into my life. They still do.
But that is not all there is to them. They are mischievous, imaginative. Fearless. They’ve shown me I can face the worst darkness in myself, and fucking beat it.
Screams from the stairs below.
“Oh, someone’s unhappy,” Bland Mom says with that stupid sing-song tone that makes me want to slap her.
Which one of mine I don’t know, and I don’t feel like explaining.
The door opens to Bash, sobbing, gently prodded along by the Teacher. He isn’t throwing himself to the ground, skinning his knees to blazes. He isn’t slapping her. He’s letting her guide him back to the room.
Some more sniffly ones, and there’s Biff, white polo covered in paint, birthday crown still atop that big head of his, wandering away from the line. Teacher’s Aide calls to him, “This way!” He immediately turns and follows the other children inside.
“Someone had a birthday,” Bland Mom keeps it monotone this time. Good.
I exhale for the first time all morning. “Yeah, mine.”
More cries in the classroom. I approach the doorway and see Biff and Bash refusing their backpacks. They look up, and rush towards me.
“Time to go?” whimpers Biff.
“This way!” Bash points to the stairwell out.
Teacher hands over the backpacks. Not a mark on her. Hell, her hair ain’t even frazzled. “It took a while for them to calm down, but they had fun. They really did.” She emphasizes that last bit. I know she’s seasoned enough to tell a mother her kid’s not ready for school. She’s not telling me that. Just the opposite.
I half-carry, half-escort the boys down the stairs. Mr. Wonder Bread Bateman stands at the door. “Hey, you kids have fun today?”
He stares, toasted.
So I say “See you next week!” and head out the door.
In the car, buckled up and unable to escape, I risk asking for myself. “Did you two have fun at school today?”
“Had fun at school today!”
“No, I didn’t have fun at school today!” Oh, Bash, you can’t stand not contradicting.
“The Song” repeats the whole way home as the two debate over whether or not they truly did have fun at school today.
I wonder how next week will go. How 4K will go, Kindergarten. The time would come when these boys won’t fight me over using the potty or who gets what car….well we’ll probably fight over who gets what car, just not, you know, the teeny ones. God willing we’re not in tiffs over who uses what toilet.
Unique souls from the get-go.
Unpredictable in thought, word, and deed.
Unequivocally my sons.