Though I don't always let myself think of her in these terms, she's almost four. (Almost four!) She's spontaneous and ebullient. Just when I think she's paying no attention to me at all, she drops her book and calls to me. Mama! Oh, Mama! "Yes, my love?" Oh, Mama. I love you all the way to three rocket ships! I smile at the recognition of her expansive expression, just as she adds another word. I love you all the way to three rocket ships crashing! She giggles. I question her. "My love rocket ships are crashing?" Yes! Because they're so far into the dark they can't even see each other - that's how far I love you!
A classmate of hers, he's almost three. Or maybe just three. For some reason tonight when I was kneeling to pack E's bag, he wordlessly came up to me and high-fived me with both hands. At least, that's what it would be if I had open palms on my nipples. He's almost three, or just three. Did he just smack my breasts? Or was he just in a typical weird little kid way getting my attention, not even noticing breasts against his hands? Is he carefree and goofy, or three-going-on-15?
The other girl, she's even closer to two than the big one is to four. She backs into me as she finishes her juice box. I kiss her, zerbert-style, at her nape. She turns around and yells at me. No kisses! No kisses, Mommy! "Okay, my love," I tell her, faux-chastised. As soon as her back is to me again she smiles slyly at me over her shoulder. Again, again! I zerbert until I'm out of breath.
Then there are the years when they will be 15, or 22. When designs of affection, verbal or physical, will be needfully thwarted, avoided. When they will learn not to give so freely of their bodies, of their hearts.
And then, I hope, they will find the part where with careful judgement and maybe a few lucky guesses they won't need to be so guarded. That they can love without defense.
IV. Without regard
And then a woman finally reaches comfort and confidence with her own body. She can walk and sway and smile. She needn't skulk or gaze at her toes. And then she has kids. And just when she claimed her own body, dignity and ownership were stripped. There were stretch marks and specula and cervical checks and lactation consultants and the babies, for which she was anatomically designed but not mentally prepared.
V. In the public domain
And for myself, I've come to acceptance that my body is no longer mine, no longer meant to be mine. The younger girl's version of snuggles involves belly flopping on my face, her forearm to my throat so I can barely breathe. And through oxygen deprivation still I hold her, I squeeze her and tickle her and kiss her and my own discomfort? Not her concern, nor barely anymore mine because she gives herself over bodily to me, for love.
The older girl, I snuggle her at night and she drapes across me. I am her pillow, her ottoman, her fainting chair perhaps. I extricate finally my arm from beneath her head and she snatches at the air. No, Mama, I'm not done with your arm! She grabs at the night and swipes it, holds it against her heart. "Fine, my love," I tell her each night, pantomiming my own amputation, "keep it. I like that arm, though, so just give it back in the morning, okay?" I throw my invisible limb in her direction. She tucks the unseen against her pillow. Thanks, Mama! Sweet dreams! I love you to the rocket ships!
And the other one: I'm in my third trimester now. He's closer to baby than fetus. He could be Baby, if he needed to be. Though for now he's content to keep simmering, his bubbles burble to the surface all day and all night, reminding me to mind the clock, keep stirring. He kicks and punches me. He's not even here and he already knows that he doesn't have to respect the boundaries of my form. A mama's body is not for her.
In these tender years, when phantom limbs hold real comfort and zerberts are the currency of love, why do they not know how beautiful it is that they give themselves so freely? And why are the years of loving so uninhibitedly so terribly short?