the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Family of four

Saturday afternoon Leta returned home from a week spent with grandparents and cousins, a much anticipated “vacation” that had been planned for months. In the weeks leading up to Marlo’s birth we’d ask Leta if she was excited about becoming a big sister, and she’d say, “I’m excited that I get to go stay with Grandmommy when it happens!” Like, while you’re pushing that baby out of your body, Mom, I’ll be having chocolate ice cream for breakfast. You should get pregnant more often!

I had missed her terribly, achingly, and was shocked at just how big her hands and feet were when she walked in the door. She was implausibly big! HUGE! ENORMOUS! I was afraid that the gravitational pull around her gigantic head was going to suck all the furniture in the room into a spiraling black hole. I tried not to appear shocked as I can’t imagine a more unwelcoming face than one that says OH MY GOD YOU’RE A MONSTER.

But there she was, my vibrant, skipping, gorgeous five-year-old girl. I hugged her a little too tightly and buried my head into her hair so that I could smell the back of her ears, a scent very different than the one emanating from a newborn’s head, a bit rough, sweaty and full of life. I told her I had missed the smell of her hair, and she just rolled her eyes, like, this is why I needed to spend a week away from you people. WEIRDOS.

She’s handling the addition of her baby sister much like I had anticipated she would. She’s fascinated, and yet she doesn’t ever want to get too close. Why is the baby making that noise, she’ll ask, taking it personally. More than once in the last two days she has said, “I don’t want her to cry at me,” which is just about the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard. I’m quick to comfort her and explain that Marlo is not crying at anyone in particular, it’s just that sometimes it’s sad to find oneself sitting in a pile of their own shit.

Saturday night I sat on Leta’s bed with Marlo in my lap while Leta spun imaginary tales of princesses in various corners of her room. It had been raining all day, and the giant, west-facing window in her room resembled an abstract painting, a mottled palette of raindrops and setting sun. And I guess it’s the hormones, the RAGING, TERRORIZING HORMONES, or maybe it’s the sleeplessness, but I started bawling uncontrollably. I felt so guilty, like I had betrayed my first born by bringing someone else into our lives. Here I was forcing Leta into one of the most painful transitions of her life, and even though I knew I was being completely irrational, I just wanted to clutch her to my chest and apologize.

I had no idea I was going to feel that way. I was totally unprepared for it.

And then last night in an effort to tie all of the pieces together for her, we broke out a book of photos I had made of Leta’s first two months of life. There are shots of me and Jon in the moments before we left for the hospital in early February of 2004, of the first few moments of her life where she is clutching at the scale as they weigh her seconds-old body, of her adorable round face as she contorts it into a smile. When suddenly she jumped into Jon’s lap, buried her face into his neck and cried, “I want you to love me.”

Oh my god, the crying. Mine, not hers.

So when I put her to bed last night I spooned her tiny body for an extra few minutes and told her that of course we love her, we adore her, she will always be our first born, our special, brilliant child who first changed our hearts, and nothing could ever take that away. And maybe tomorrow when we woke up all four of us could have chocolate ice cream for breakfast.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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