When you were born, I worried when it got too quiet. Though you slept beside me in your bassinet, sometimes in my bed, I looked over at you again and again making sure I could see your chest rise and fall. When it got too quiet, I laid awake, listening for your breath. Were you breathing right? Did I hear you wheeze? How many seconds had it been between your breaths? How could I sleep while you slept knowing one day you might not wake? Your tiny life in my hands.
Now, when it gets too quiet I feel relief. Finally I can do something — anything other than entertain you or keep you from throwing a fit. I can do anything other than feel guilty when I’m not entertaining you. I can regain the strength I need to be your mom. I take solace in those quiet moments to make myself feel like me again. I can read a book other than “Go Dog Go” or even wander the aisles of Target without “snack” being repeated over and over. I never realized how precious alone time at Target would be but smelling each shampoo and finding the perfect relaxation candle has become a sweet ritual.
When it gets too quiet in the afternoon, I wander around the house wondering when you’ll wake up. As soon as I open a book or start to clean I know your cry will rise in the monitor. Another nap over, a million things I didn’t get done. I start and stop the smallest tasks feeling a nervous feeling in my stomach that my time may be up at any moment, ruled by a person no taller than my knees. As I open my mouth to eat the breakfast taco I’ve quickly whipped up — I hear your sweet and deafening voice repeating “mama mama mama.” As hungry and disappointed as I feel knowing this taco will become yours, no smile feels better than the one you give me when you wake, the one that says you missed me as you slept.
When it gets too quiet I’m surprised you’re not crying and pulling at my legs as I try to keep you away from the hot kitchen. I cut with a sharp knife with no toddler nearby to warn “ouch! Mommy has a sharp knife! Ouch! Stay away,” I think to myself there is no way she’s been captivated by the TV for this long. As I turn the corner, you show me the art you’ve made on the wood floor. Like, actually on the wood floor. At least this time it wasn’t the walls.
The sense of fear that you’re coloring where you’re not supposed to or pulling all the books off the shelves subsides as you become more independent. Lately, I see you in you playing, “reading” a book by yourself, or quietly coloring on paper. Sometimes, you load your shopping cart and yell “bye!” as you head to the door. We learned quickly to keep them locked. When I’m sick, you make me lie on the floor as you tuck me in, give me a pillow and a stuffed animal, and sit down to “read” to me. You pat me on the back and I’m so thankful for this game and for your empathy.
When it gets too quiet, I feel your presence. It never feels quite right to be in the house by myself. As much as I need to collect myself, take a deep breath, and remember I’m more than your mom, I miss you when you’re not here. This house became a home when we brought you home. All your memories fill it and all our memories live here with you. Though it is peaceful, I miss the chaos of your laughs and even your cries when you’re not here. This is what I need to be better for you, I tell myself. When I see you hug your friend goodbye at daycare, I know it’s okay. You’re tiny but you’re a person and it makes me happy to see you happy, even without me.
When it gets too quiet, I think about the future, when our home will be quiet for a long time. Your first nights away might feel good. Your first sleepovers might feel like a free date night for your dad and I. Later, you might go to parties. We will hear a car honk in the driveway and listen as it pulls away. We will wait until we hear your footsteps in the hall, and let out a breath that you’re home safe.
When it gets too quiet, I will miss you. I will leave your room as it was, the imprint of your body still on the bed. I will hope that I did good enough. I’ll miss holding my breath as you took a nap, the relief of you sleeping over at a friend’s, the sound of a car pulling back in to our driveway, and your footsteps in the hall. I’ll wait for you to come back and our home to fill with noise once again.