It’s the smell that has stayed with me. After all these years the smell hasn’t changed. The smell of the paper and the plastic that surrounds the hardcover books. As soon as the door opens I’m hit with first the silence and then that old familiar smell.
There is a piece of advice I receive over and over - even from people who don’t have children - about how important it is for my husband and I to get away as a couple. Many people have been advising us since our youngest was only days old, that we just need to go on vacation alone, just the two of us, without our kids.
I am torn between making the best choices for family and wanting to work.
I think this is why the new show Workin' Moms airing Tuesday nights on CBC has really stuck a nerve with me.
I see so much of my life in Catherine Reitman's character Kate, a PR executive just returning to work after her maternity leave who is struggling with just how to fit her role as a mother into the eat-or-be-eaten world of an ad agency.
I stood staring at them with sweat dripping down my back. My hair disheveled and my face red, I felt defeated. I stood with my shoulders slumped and tears building up behind my eyes staring at their little faces. Each of them standing in their own corner, stealing peeks at each other, each of them willing the other to laugh.
I had been asked to host a fashion show for The Bay downtown Toronto and was instructed to pick out an outfit to wear during the show.
The kids each had their fittings; trying on the clothes that they would be wearing to walk in the show.
He was taken from me at just two hours old. Alarms sounded, nurses rushed in, codes were called and echoed through the hospital hallways. My husband and I stared at each other in disbelief as we each came to the realization that the codes were meant for us; everyone was rushing into our room because something was wrong.
At two hours old he was taken away from me and rushed to the NICU as doctors tried to determine what exactly was wrong.
I recently cleaned out my daughter’s closet and put at least four pairs of pants in a donation bag with the tags still attached. She never wore them. Not once. I tried to get her into the pants more times that I can count but my attempts usually ended in tears
I walked into my first school council meeting late. Tables full of mothers with name tags perched in front of them looked up at me as I quickly scanned the room looking for an empty seat. I squeezed in between two women who had moved over whispering my thanks as I settled in.
The first time I had to leave my son alone in the NICU, it almost tore my heart out. I delayed our departure as long as I possibly could, finding reasons why we couldn’t leave yet. One more lullaby, one more story, one more kiss. I sat in that rocking chair beside him, late into the night, stifling yawns and counting the hours until I knew we would be back.
“Are you crying mummy?” he asked, slightly concerned and quite curious as to what exactly is making his mummy cry.
We were cuddled up in bed reading, which is one of my favourite family activities. We all get in our pj’s early, find ourselves a comfortable spot on the king size bed and surround ourselves with books or an iPad loaded with our favourite magazines and newspapers and we read.
It feels like just yesterday I was sitting on my second hand couch with the springs that dug into my backside watching TV movies. I would make myself microwave popcorn and cocktail shrimp for dinner and the lack of air conditioning made me sweat through every summer.
I was happy.
In this ground floor apartment with its second hand couch and Ikea bedroom set, I was happy because it was all mine, second hand furniture and all.
She stood beside me, watching my reflection intently. Her eyes followed my every move as I put on my makeup and brushed my hair. No words passed between us as she quietly pretended to copy what I did. She make believe brushed a blush brush across her cheeks, finger mascara-ed her eyelashes and swept a thick coat of Vaseline across her lips.
When I smiled at her in the mirror she said “Mummy, you’re beautiful,” and my heart swelled. “I wish I looked like you,” she finished and my heart sank just a little.
He slept so peacefully that I would wake up and shine a flashlight on his chest to make sure he was breathing.
I often found myself wondering if that was just who he was or if his lengthy NICU stay, where he adapted to nurse checks, babies crying and codes being called every so often helped him learn to sleep through anything.
I had such wonderful plans. Museums, bowling, movies, swimming, skating, you name it - we were going to do it together. It was March Break, and I had taken the whole week off just to have fun! I wasn’t going to worry about deadlines or commitments or anything but fun with the kids.
That was the plan... until the flu took me out.
It knocked me out hard. Fevers, chills, aches. I could barely walk up the stairs without needing to lay down.
I pulled off his pj’s and froze as I stared at the big purple bruises that were scattered along his legs. My mind raced as I re-traced our day; who he was with, what he ate, what he did. The bruises looked almost as though someone had hit him across the legs with something. My heart started beating faster, tears began to fill my eyes, and I lost my breath.
“What happened to your legs buddy? Did you get hurt?” I asked him, trying to hide my concern. He shook his head no and I called for my husband who stared in disbelief at the bruises.
When I first discovered I was pregnant I instinctively knew that I didn’t want to find out the sex of our baby. The planning side of me was curious, wanting to prepare myself, the nursery, and our baby’s closet however the excited new mother side of me couldn’t wait to hear a nurse excitedly exclaim “it’s a boy!!!”
His little head lay cradled in my lap. Our eyes stayed locked, both of us struggling to see each other through the tears. He begged me not to let them touch him and I sobbed that I was sorry, pleading with him to look at me and me alone. He let out a moan and for just a moment, I thought of pushing the doctor away, of grabbing my child and making a run for the door. It’s a thought that has crossed my mind often over the years of hospital visits and tests. In cases like this, I just want to pick him up and run away with him, to hide him where no one can poke at him.