I walk past the three baskets of laundry, lined up in a perfect row, and I sigh. It's the second day in a row that I have walked past these baskets and I know I'm not the only one who has noticed. Rob sighs as he walks past them. He actually washed all the laundry and brought it upstairs for me to fold. But he knows I'll get to it. Eventually. When Malachy runs into our bedroom he runs toward the laundry baskets with joy, eager to pull out the clean clothes and fling them, one by one, onto the floor. I'm faster than he is, at least for now. I grab the baskets before he can get to them, shoving them into the closet before he gets the chance to liter the floor with his tiny T-shirts and pajamas.
Laundry was the thing that had to fall by the wayside today. And the day before. I'll take care of it tonight, I tell myself. I actually might. In the meantime, Malachy is pounding on the clock radio. He wants to dance. I'm happy to oblige. They'll always be T-shirts to fold and pajamas to put away. But I know there won't always be a day when Malachy's favorite thing to do is dance to the clock radio with his Mommy.
So I pick him up and give him a big hug. He lets me hold him for all of about 30 seconds before he wants to be back down on the floor, running and dancing. I place him down gently and he takes off, full speed. We dance around the room together, his infectious laugh bouncing off the still-empty walls we've been meaning to fill with pictures.
He darts across the room, over to my nightstand with the two bookshelves underneath. This time it will be my books that are strewn on the floor, pulled out one by one by tiny little boy hands. They're a jumble, his books mixed with mine. Dr. Seuss and Jane Austen. I make a feeble attempt to stop him, but I have to admit I love how much he loves books. Once he is satisfied with the amount of books on the floor, he sits down and opens one up. Doesn't matter to him if it's his book or mine. He looks up at me and then pats the floor next to him. "It!!" he implores. He wants me to sit down next to him. I'm happy to oblige. We sit, each with a book open on our lap. And for a few glorious seconds he leans his head on my arm.
In that moment I ignore the books laying all around us that I'll have to reorganize in just a few minutes. I forget about the laundry that fell by the wayside, sitting in the closet just steps away waiting for me. I let go of the pots that sat in the sink for days last week, filled with soapy water and good intentions. I don't even notice the still-empty walls surrounding us.
Because Malachy couldn't care less about any of those things. And moments like these are all that really matter anyway.
It was a hot day in the early fall of 2011. The kind of hot, sticky day that makes you wonder if fall and it's sweater-weather was every going to make an appearance. We had just finished the then incredibly routine trek from our apartment to our doctor's office downtown. Three blocks to the station, down two flights of stairs then up another to reach the center subway platform, traveling many stops on the C train, up three flights of stairs in the next station and then two blocks to her door. All for a visit that usually took all of 5 minutes (sometimes including the wait to see the doctor).
I was hot, I was bothered, I was uncomfortable and (let's be honest) I was as big as a house. We walked the two blocks to the subway station, passing the chic TriBeCa moms in their skinny yoga pants and super-expensive strollers and arrived at the subway platform just in time to hear the train moving away from us in the distance. We would have to wait.
The platform was always full of interesting people (the NYC subway is a fascinating cross-section of people from all walks of life) and I would often spend the time between trains doing some people watching. A construction worker in his work clothes, covered in plaster dust but looking relieved to be done with his day. An older business man in a suit that could use an ironing and a briefcase that was so worn the leather had lost its sheen. A twenty-something girl in skinny jeans, managing to look bored and completely engrossed in whatever was on her phone at the same time. Then there was a nanny with a kind face and tired eyes, holding the hand of a little boy. He was probably about 8 years old, dressed in a preppy outfit with his shirt tucked in and brand-new backpack that clearly had not yet been weighed down by heavy textbooks.
Rob was standing next to me, hands in his pockets. He was fidgeting just a bit, eager to get back to the studio. The train pulled up and Rob leaned in to say something to me. I couldn't quite hear him over the sound of the subway brake screeching. I wasn't sure what he said, all I could make it was that it was something about the C train (which we were walking onto). I didn't think much of it. Rob was always pointing out to me the different subway cars - the older ones, the newer ones, the ones with the plastic seats, the ones with the leather seats, the ones that were on the north-south trains versus the ones that went across town. He was fascinated by this; I was decidedly not. I guess I could have asked Rob what he said, but I was hot and bothered and not exactly interested in the particular features of this train. I was more interested in getting a seat.
We ended up sitting near the nanny and the little boy, they were just across from us - close enough that I could hear him when he spoke to her. "This isn't the normal C train," he said. I looked up. It was then that I realized what Rob had said to me. Because it was exactly the same thing this little boy was saying to his nanny. This little boy noticed the same things that Rob did! "These are the cars that are on the A train," the little boy said. I turned to Rob and told him what I had heard. He wasn't anywhere near as surprised as I was. He said an "Of course," like everyone should have noticed and then told me what made this train different than the usual one. We traveled a few stops and when the train screeched to a halt, I went to get up. Rob gently put his hand on my arm, reminding me that we still had several more stops to go. Then I heard the little boy again. "This is 14th street. Then it's 23rd street. Then 34th street. Then 42nd street," and on and on. He had memorized the entire subway map. Just like Rob had done when we first moved to the city.
I looked over at the boy and then down at my very large tummy. I'm growing one of those, I thought. Not just a little boy, but a little boy that will probably notice the subway cars. A little boy that will memorize maps and get excited for the little things that not everyone notices. In short - a little Rob. And there, in the not-usual C train, I smiled and rubbed my stomach. I took Rob's hand and held it. When our stop arrived, we walked out of the train together. Down one flight of stairs, up two more, onto the street and up the three blocks to the studio. All the while I thought, just a few more weeks and we finally get to meet our own little boy. And I hope he's even more like Rob than that one we saw on the subway.
* * *
In the seventeen months since Malachy arrived I think of that day on the subway often. From early on when I would see a look on Malachy's face that was so distinctly Rob to the every single day I look into his eyes and see Rob's gorgeous blue eyes staring back at me. The truth is I have moments like that day on the subway every single day. Moments when I look at Malachy and see Rob, clear as day. Like when he grabs a napkin and wipes the tray of his highchair, the way he meticulously lines up his blocks, how he insists on closing every drawer and pop-up feature in every toy he has when I help him put them away.
And in those moments, I feel proud. Prouder of anything else I have ever done. Because Malachy is incredible. And because the world was desperately in need of more men like Rob. And knowing that I have given the world one more piece of my wonderful husband, makes me happy.
And I know I have many more moments like that to look forward to. And that one day we will all ride on the subway together on another sticky, hot late Fall day. I'll sit next to them. Rob will tell Malachy all about the different subway cars - the older ones, the newer ones, the ones with the plastic seats, the ones with the leather seats, the ones that go on the north-south trains versus the ones that go across town. And they'll each have someone who really gets them. I'll hold their hands. And smile.
The first Valentine's Day Rob and I spent together was not a date. I made that emphatically clear. Those were my exact words to Rob, in fact.
You see, at this point in my life I was very much single. I kept telling myself that was what I wanted. After a long series of disappointing dates and bad boyfriends, I was done. DONE. I felt like I needed to take a mental breather from the whole dating scene. Colin Firth himself couldn't have talked me into dating back then. So even though Rob had already told me how he felt about me a few weeks before, I was hoping that we could maintain the friendship we already had since I was afraid that dating would just ruin the whole thing.
Valentine's Day was a Monday that year. Over the previous weekend, I had hung out with one of my friends and somehow we had ended up with one another's belongings. She had left her sneakers at my apartment in CT and I left my glasses at her place in NYC. She was headed on a trip overseas the next day and needed her shoes, so I offered to drive to the city to give them to her and to pick up my glasses. Rob, very generously, offered to come with me for the ride. I was glad to have the company.
It had just started to rain when I pulled in front of Rob's apartment building in my Corolla. Rob came walking toward the car wearing in a freshly ironed shirt and nice jeans. I wasn't having any of it. In case you didn't already know, I can be a bit blunt from time to time. "Why are you so dressed up?" I asked him. "This isn't a date," I said emphatically. "I know!" Rob answered and played it off like he wasn't dressed up even though we both knew he was. Our friendship was really important to me, so I decided to let it go and play along. He knew I wasn't ready for any kind of relationship and I knew how he felt about me. It could have been weird but within a few minutes we fell into our usual pattern on long drives - talking, laughing and singing along to the radio (that last one might have mostly been me, but hey - he listened.)
To give you a small window into my life at this point, I was a bit of a mess. I wasn't sure what I wanted in life and I had let so many things get cluttered - figuratively and literally. My room was a mess, my desk at work was often overflowing with papers and my car - that was a whole new level of disaster. The backseat was filled with random things - clothes, CD cases, bags, shoes. The gear shifter was stained with chocolate Tasti D-Lite. Tasti D-Lite that I had eaten back in August. This was February. So it goes without saying that I wasn't exactly on top of car maintenance. As the rain picked up, I turned on my windshield wipers and discovered that they were so old, so worn out that they were pretty much useless.
Then the rain got worse. It increased in intensity. It started coming at us sideways. Pretty soon it didn't even seem like it was raining, it was more like someone was just throwing buckets of rain at the car. I could no longer see the lines in the road, the brake lights of the car in front of me were my only guide. I put the wipers on full speed. They just smeared the rain onto the windshield. As we got further down the Merritt and onto the Hutch, I was completely white-knuckling the steering wheel. Oh, I forgot to mention. The glasses we were on our way to get? I wear those for driving.
Rob could see the panic in my face and he calmly asked me to pull over. I was very happy to oblige. He took over driving from that point on and for the first time since the rain had picked up, I was calm. I knew I was in good hands. At this point one of the windshield wipers just gave up all together. If I remember right the rubber just started dangling and streaking across the windshield with every wipe. It was a disaster. But Rob got us there in one piece. We got to the city, met my friend, gave the shoes, got the glasses and headed back to CT. Before we left the city, Rob pulled over to go into a store. "I'll be right back," he said.
I was a little apprehensive when we went in because I had no idea what he was getting. I saw a bunch of flowers on display out front and felt a pit in my stomach. He better not come back with one of those, I thought. That would just complicate things. When Rob came walking back with a small bag, I was curious. Even more so when he didn't even get into the car right away. Mind you, it was pouring buckets of water from the sky. He stood next to the car and opened the bag. Then he reached onto the hood and pulled up the windshield wipers and replaced them with brand-new ones. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and took a mental note of that moment. I wasn't ready for us to be any more than friends still, but he was definitely keeping my attention.
Our drive home was decidedly smoother. Everything was bit more clear. Literally and figuratively. We could see the lanes of the highway ahead of us. And, in the back of my mind, I could see path we were headed down. Sure, I wasn't ready for us to be more than friends that Valentine's Day. But I did take note that Rob always seemed to know what I needed, even when I didn't. Five months later, I grew a brain and figured out that what I really needed was Rob.
The following Valentine's Day, we went on a proper date. As a couple. That time, we both dressed up.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, as it was becoming abundantly clear to everyone we would see (even chatty strangers in NYC) that I was due any day, we would get the same question over and over again. "Are you ready?" they would ask. And each time the question would leave me completely flummoxed. We had the crib, the diapers, clothes - all the essentials. In that regard, I guess we were ready. But I know that's not what people meant. They were asking it in a larger context. Were we ready for the late nights, the round-the-clock feedings, the fact that we were now going to be completely responsible for another human being? Had we read the books, looked into schools, started a college fund? I stumbled over my answer the first several times we were asked that question because, in truth, the question completely overwhelmed me. Eventually I realized there was only one true answer - to ask another question. "Are you ever ready?"
It made me think back to another time we were planning for another significant event - the final weeks and days before our own wedding. It was a whirlwind of working on the last minute details, scheduling dress fittings and planning logistics. There were many, many trips back and forth from Connecticut (where we were living) to New Jersey (where the wedding took place). Whenever we would get together with friends or family during that time they asked us that same question. "Are you ready?" In that case they were asking just about that one day. Did we figure out the table assignments, get my dress, pick out the flowers? But now I wonder, what if they had asked that question in the same context? What if they were really asking - are you ready to be a married couple, ready to completely integrate our lives, ready to be responsible for the happiness of another human being? And I'm sure if they had asked it in that way, my answer would have been the same. "Are you ever ready?"
Once Malachy arrived I realized that there was only one answer to my own question in regards to being a parent. No. You're never really ready. Becoming a mother is the single most amazing thing I have done. It's also the hardest. There are the questions. Am I doing this right? Is this the best thing for him? How do I balance everything? There are the challenging moments. But for every one of those, there are a hundred tiny moments that make those challenges seem miniscule. The uncontrollable giggling when you tickle his tummy, watching him stand for the very first time (and then clap for himself in celebration), teaching him how to play peek-a-boo (which he finds hilarious). Ten and a half months in, I still don't think we're ready. But I do know that we have learned so much. Learned how to juggle the day-to-day, learned how to encourage his curiosity and harness his unstoppable energy, and, most of all, learned that there's never one "right" way of doing anything. We are doing everything within our power to give Malachy the happy, healthy life he deserves. And at the end of the day when I check on Malachy before I go to bed and see him sound asleep, I know that all is well in the world. Because as long as I love him this much, everything else will fall into place.
Today marks our fifth wedding anniversary. Five years. That's longer than high school (which seemed endless at the time), longer than college (which seemed way too short at the time). It's equal to the number of years we knew each other before we got married. In that time I have learned that the answer to that "Are you ready?" question is the same when it comes to marriage too. No. You're never ready. As much as I thought we knew each other when we were dating (and engaged), I have learned more about Rob in the past five years than I ever did in the first five. I've learned things that make me love him that much more (like how unceasingly generous he is, how he is an incredible father) and things that make me think he's just a little bit nuts (like when he insists on cleaning a room that, as far as I can tell, is already spotless). And I'm sure it's the same for him. I know it's not always easy to live with me. Rob loves me anyway. Even when I'm cranky. Even when I make a mess in that very same room he just cleaned. Even when I make us late because I forgot my keys...and then my phone...and then my bag. And during any challenge I may be going through, Rob sees it. In those moments, he takes my hand, pulls me to my feet and wraps his arms around me. Everything is going to be alright, he says, without uttering a single word. Right then, I know he's right. I also know that it doesn't matter if we're "ready" because we have learned so much about what it means to be in a relationship. Learned that those things that drive you crazy are also the things you can learn to love, learned that having an argument doesn't have to ruin a perfectly good day and, most of all, we have learned that our greatest responsibility is to one another. Because, after all, the main thing Malachy deserves more than anything else is to have parents that make each other happy.
Were we ready five years ago? Ready to live in three different states in five years? Ready to not only live together, but work together too? Ready to balance work and a family? Absolutely not. But I have to wonder...is anyone?
All I know is that when I go to bed at night., after I check on Malachy one last time, I climb into bed and look over and see Rob sleeping soundly next to me and I am confident that all is well in the world. Because as long as I love him this much, everything else will fall into place.
Happy Anniversary, Robbie. Thank you for an incredible five years. I love you.
I found a picture of myself the other day. It was from years ago. Tucked away, forgotten. Intentionally so. It was a photo that, at the time, made me cringe. Yikes, I look so fat, I thought back then. Looking at it with fresh eyes, years later, I realized that I was being way too hard on myself. As I sit here today with baby weight still to lose, I would gladly look that "fat." As I looked at the picture, I laughed at my own foolishness.
Then I thought about it some more. It really wasn't funny. I had hid this picture away and for what? For the 10, 15 extra pounds I thought I should have lost? It was a time in my life, a moment worth remembering and I tucked the image away because of my own vanity? How many times have I done this before? How many pictures have been shoved aside, memories forgotten, only for me to discover years later that I didn't look nearly as bad as I thought. The picture wasn't completely about how I looked, it was about how I felt. It was about what I was feeling at the time, a feeling that came flooding back as soon as I stopped starring at my thighs and paid attention to the rest of the image. Because the photo was so much more than merely a snapshot of my flaws. From then on, I vowed to look at a picture of myself and not allow my eyes to go right to the places I'm insecure about. Instead I will remember the moment. Think about what I was feeling when the picture was taken. Focus on the way I'm smiling. On what the other people in the picture look like. Cause as much as I might think otherwise, it's not all about me. Or the extra pounds on my tummy.
I'm sure I'm not the only one that does this. And the fact that this realization took me nearly three decades to really figure out makes me want to hop in a time machine and shake some sense into 16-year-old me. To tell her to embrace her flaws. Tell her to accept that she will probably never have a completely flat stomach. And that's okay. To say that the pictures of you that might not love of yourself now, might be the ones you cherish later. I was lucky that the picture I found was an actual print so that I was able to stumble upon it again. It's worse with today's digital cameras. How often do you delete a picture in an instant after only looking at your "flaws"? How many moments do you think you have quite literally thrown away because of that? Is it worth it? I say no.
So to all my fellow flaw focusers out there, I implore you: Stop. Be kind to yourself. When you look a picture of yourself, try to see what other people see. See what makes you beautiful. See the moment. Feel the emotion. Forget about whatever it is you're feeling insecure about at the time. Cause the people next to you in the picture? They love you. Just as you are. And that's all that matters.