“I need one of those.” Clara points to the Q-tip I’m using to dry out my ears.
“Do you want Mommy to clean your ears?” I get Clara her own Q-tip from the drawer, and approach her, ready to help.
“No. I need it for some-sing else.” I hand it to her, but follow closely behind. Skeptical. Curious.
Clara walks up to the full-length mirror in the hall. She removes her pacifier with her left hand. She uses her right hand to twirl the Q-tip inside one nostril. She turns it over and twirls the other side up the other nostril. She takes in a big breath to test out her experiment. She blows the air out of her nose.
Oh, okay. That’s an idea.
“Here, Mommy.” She is apparently satisfied with her results.
“Oh uh…right there, babe.” I point to the bathroom trash, and shake my head. Some projects don’t need a middle man.
Clara Jane Emily was born October 7, 2013; she is 2.5 years old now. My older 3 daughters (Margaret, Hazel, and Audrey) were 11.5, 10, and 8.5 when Clara was born, so she has siblings, yet she has also been a pseudo-only-child because they are so much older, always at school, and very busy. So it’s more like she’s had 4 moms. She was a pseudo-only-child, that is, until my 5th daughter Rebekah was born (Feb 2016) when Clara was 2yrs and 4 months old.
Clara is smart and sweet and hilarious. She reminds me so much of each of my older three daughters for different reasons. Margaret was born to be an independent older sister; Clara too. Hazel is sweet and helpful and likes everyone to be happy; Clara too. Audrey is HILARIOUS and will do anything to make everyone laugh; Clara too.
When I only had 4 daughters, top photo–wearing their hats made by my cousin Nadia. Bottom photo–pinkjamas.
“Teeth? TEETH!! Yaw-ch me!” We’ve told Clara that his name is KEITH. K-K-K-KEYTHHHHH. She stares back blankly, as if to ask–what am I saying?
She likes to show Teeth her tricks. She once lifted his hat and said, “That’s all you got?” She likes to fix the hair he does have. To rub his face and say,”You got whiskers. You need to shave.” She likes to pile her dolls and toys on him.
She loves baby dolls–every ethnicity, every size, broken ones, weird-looking ones, ones you can squeeze to hear creepy giggles, ones at the gym that look like they have been dragged through dirt for decades–ALL the babies. She is especially crazy about her baby sister Rebekah (2 months old now); Clara was born to be a big sister.
And Clara loves Teeth. Soon she will call him “Keith-baby” for a few months. And later, she will choose “Key-key.” When she first called him Key-key, he smiled and accepted it, “My grandparents used to call me that.” Key-key is the nickname that stuck.
“Teeth! Yaw-ch me!” Clara spins in a circle until she stumbles around losing her balance. Keith stays close waiting for the opportune time to swoop in and catch.
He’s good at that. He sure caught me.
“Guess I’m going to the garage.” Keith grabs his pillow and leaves our dark bedroom.
“Mommy?” Clara is rubbing my arm. I know she needs to sleep in her own bed. I know. I pull her in bed next to me.
“Clara. I’m going to take you up to your bed, okay?” Clara snuggles close to me, nods. I scoop her up and stop by the garage before I head upstairs.
“Can you go in there with Rebekah, please? I don’t see why it’s a big deal if Clara is on MY side of the bed for a few hours.” I hate being irritated in the middle of the night; I can’t go back to sleep when thoughts and feelings are racing around my head and heart.
“It’s a big deal because Clara’s not going to go to her dad’s house–‘oh yeah, I sleep in the bed with Keith.’ I can just sleep on this couch in the garage, and you stay in there with them.” I stand there holding Clara. He grabs his pillow and heads back to our bedroom to lay with Rebekah, our newborn daughter. I head upstairs with Clara in my arms.
“See the sky? See how it’s dark?” I open the curtains. She nods. “When the sun is out and the sky is light, you can come back to Mommy’s bed for morning snuggles, okay?” She nods as I lay her in bed. Why does this break my heart?
“Mommy? Will you rub my back a little bit?” She hold her thumb and finger an inch apart to show me–a little bit. I climb in bed with her. I start rubbing her back. My mind remembers our life 18 months ago…
* * * * * * * *
Clara HAD slept in her own bed, almost all night, since she was 6 months. It had been a slow process. First–half the night in the bassinet in our room, half the night nursing in bed with me and Demetrius. Then half her night in the nursery, half with us. Then all night in the nursery.
But she was back in my bed now…all night…with only me. Her first birthday was days away. Demetrius left us when Clara was 11.5 months, to stay at “his mom’s” house.
Maybe it was for me and my own loneliness, but after he left, I never felt like struggling with Clara to put her across the big house in her nursery any longer. I didn’t want to lay alone in our bedroom with a baby monitor. I wanted to hold someone who loves me. Clara was home. I held her all night. She petted and patted my face.
I hadn’t been sleeping. I looked terrible. If by some chance I ever did fall asleep, the first time I woke up…that was it; I would be awake for the day. Whether it was 3am or 1am or…some nights, I never slept.
I was in a half-sleep stupor one night when I felt Clara wiggle herself from my arms. In her own stupor, she slowly sleep-crawled to Demetrius’ empty pillow. She patted around for him. She crawled some more.
I woke fully just in time to feel her leg slip through my fingers, to hear her little head bang onto the leg of the bedside table.
“Clara!” I rushed to pick her up off the floor, “Oh Clara, I’m so sorry.” I was awake for the day.
How many nights did I hold that child tightly and cry? How many days? I sat with my back against the bed, knees bent up, feet on the floor. I can be your lounge chair, Clara. Go to sleep, baby. Mommy’s not sleeping anyway.
* * * * * * * *
I rub her back, knowing it’s my own fault. I know my older girls slept in their own beds by age 2. But they had each other. I know I messed up the routine Clara had established. I know I let Clara use me for a pillow. I know I have to fix it. And I did.
But just to be clear, it wasn’t a bad life–being Clara’s pillow.
“I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m sorry. I accidentally got Rebekah’s eye booger and woke her up. Sorry. It was an ACCIDENT.” A crusty chocolate goatee surrounds the pacifier that she holds in her teeth like a cigar. Wide eyes, using words that are bigger than she is, sweet and helpful and agreeable. My Clara.
I found Rebekah upside-down in her bouncy chair, crying and being shushed by Clara, “Shhhh it’s okay. It’s okay. I try to pick her up because I’m the big sister and she’s the baby sister.” Clara pats her own chest when she says ‘big sister.’
“Okay let’s just…let Mommy be the one to pick her up from now on.” …and not tell this story to Keith.
Oops. Guess I blew that secret, too.