5:28am, Thursday. The alarm shrieks and I lie still in protest, mentally reviewing the tasks ahead. Suddenly I think of the video camera lying dormant in the closet and all of the baby milestones that have gone unrecorded anywhere but in my heart. I think of the footage not taken: first meals, rolling over, crawling, standing, walking. I think of Christmas and Easter mornings, birthday parties and Halloweens. And now my babies are no longer babies; my chance to chronicle their lives on film is gone. Propelled by guilt and piercing regret, I lurch out of bed and stumble into the bathroom, unfortunately forgetting to avert my gaze from the mirror. Yikes! Who is that woman with the sleep-crumpled face, all bags and creases and lines shooting every which way?
5:45am. Frozen Go-Gurts are packed into the pre-made lunches (yes, my children eat lunches that have sat in the refridgerator all night. As infants, I never warmed the occasional bottle that they had to suffer through and I never, ever heated their food!), Thermoses are filled with ice and water, baggies are filled with home made crackers. They would much prefer Flavor Blast Goldfish, but I cringe at the price and the list of ingredients; they have to suck it up and eat a concoction of white whole wheat flour, cheese, a touch of butter, and buttermilk to hold it all together, hand rolled, cut into squares and baked golden brown. They eye the crackers with disdain, moaning at the unfairness of having me as a mother, but they eat them all the same.
6:00am. My teeth are cleaned, backpacks sit ready by the door. I eat my bowl of quinoa and drink coffee, reading on-line newspapers and relishing the stillness of the pre-dawn house.
6:30am. Up in Fashionista's room, smearing toothbrushes with a green paste that is meant to mimic the flavor of fresh watermelon. Usually, Fashionista sleeps on while I do this, snoozing through the bright overhead light, the running of the tap, the opening and closing of drawers. She has to be kissed and coaxed out of sleep. Now she sits up in bed as if hinged at the middle, eyes glassy but alert.
"Mom! Guess what? I've been up since five with a headache and I feel dizzy."
I touch my lips to her forehead: warm.
"Stay here while I find the thermometer," I tell her, handing her her toothbrush.
There are several thermometers in our house; I am always finding them on shelves and in drawers or lying conveniently on nightstands. Except when a child is flushed with fever and the house lies in darkness--then there is no thermometer to be found. I always tell myself that I will put them in a logical, designated spot, avoiding the time-wasting, frustrating hunt while my fevered child languishes in bed, but day follows healthy day and I forget all about the thermometers until the next time illness strikes and there I am again, hunting and violently cursing myself. This time, I know I saw a thermometer very recently. I saw it in passing and thought "Oh! A thermometer!" I can see it in my head: light pink, with BD written in purple letters, but for the life of me I can't think of where it is.
I search the bathroom cupboards. I find ointments and lotions, pills and medicines, washcloths, razors, Q-tips, and baskets of little soaps and bottles of shampoo pilfered from hotel rooms. I find the expensive, one-second ear thermometer purchased when Almost-Teen was a baby. It seemed like a good idea at the time, saving the unpleasantness of shoving a lubricated thermometer up a baby's bum and holding it there for a minute or trying to keep it encased in the armpit of a wriggling toddler, but alas, the device was proclaimed by the medical community as being inaccurate and now it sits uselessly in the cupboard, the batteries long dead.
6:37am. I temporarily give up on the thermometer and head to Babygirl's room. I flick on the light and she squeezes her eyes shut tight in protest. She sleeps on the pull-out trundle, next to The Husband, who sprawls across the daybed, his mouth slack. He is sleeping there to avoid disturbing me with his snoring, he says, and I wonder if he is simply avoiding me. His hair is tousled, and there is a patch of dried drool on the pillow.
"Time to get up!"
I insert the toothbrush into her closed pink mouth and scrub her little white teeth. The tiny smear of toothpastse foams alarmingly, making her look like a rabid dog who has just been eating watermelon slices. She groans, hands over her eyes while I toss her a pair of shorts and a shirt.
"Put these on," I tell her, ignoring the ensuing pleas for help.
6:40am. The thermometer is still MIA. I step carefully into Almost-Teen's room, turning on the closet light. The room has not been cleaned for weeks; the floor is obscured by a jumble of clothes--both clean and dirty--books, papers, pencils, highlighters, shoes, scraps of cardboard, Starburst wrappers, and empty bags. The sink is coated with toothpaste and grime, the countertop covered with lotions and cosmetics.
"Wake up call! It's almost seven!" I touch her shoulder. She squinches her face and waves me away.
"OK, OK. Just go!"
I leave. Babygirl is dressed and stands solemnly while I brush her hair, a blonde streak fetchingly framing her face.
6:48am. I settle Babygirl in front of a bowl of cereal and continue my hunt for the thermometer. There are cups full of writing implements and bins of school pictures, old birthday cards, and keys to god-knows-where. There is a drawer of AC adapters, screwdrivers, dead batteries, and chargers to cell phones long gone. What kind of mother can't find a bloody thermometer??
I dash back up to Almost-Teen's room. She is still asleep, tangled in her comforter.
"Come on! It's almost seven! Wave at me so that I know you're awake!"
She waves and frowns.
"Go away," she mutters.
"OK, but up! Up, up, up!"
"OK!" this time yelling.
I head to my room again, intent another quick hunt through the bathroom. And there it is, in the planter of the discarded fake tree that used to decorate the corner of Almost-Teen's room, cheerfully adorned with artificial birds, their wire claws clutching the plastic branches. There lies the thermometer, pink against the brown-green straw that is tangled around the artificial tree trunk. I snatch it gleefully and run down the hall to pop it into Fashionista's mouth. She reads her book, waiting patiently while the numbers climb: 96, 97, 98...they stop at 100.5.
"No school for you today! Go back to sleep."
Nodding, she leans back and opens her book.
I glance into Almost-Teen's room and see that her bed is empty.
"Good! You're up!" I call encouragingly.
6:59am. The Husband still sleeps on in Babygirl's room, his overly-muscled arm flung over the pillow. I know I shouldn't complain, but to me, sharply defined muscles just mean that a man is spending too much time lifting weights and not enough time turning the pages of a book, preferrably a Jane Austen novel.
I help my kindergartner on with her backpack and zip a hoddie over my nightgown and we head to the bottom of the cul-de-sac to wait for the bus. A Ford Expedition sits idling at the corner while a neighbor waits inside with his second-grader. It is astounding; the man has fired up his massive SUV and driven to the end of the street, saving himself the trouble of having to walk the length of four houses. He is not on his way to work or to run errands; when the children are safely on the bus, he reverses carefully up the street, backing into his driveway, ready to drive his sixth-grader to the corner when the middle school bus comes in forty-five minutes. He waves and walks into his house, his belly leading the way.
7:07am. I walk up the street with the neighbor, Rabid Catholic, who extolls the virtues of making his homework-enshewing seven-year-old stand on a stool in the middle of the room for ten minutes. Apparently, this is a great motivational tool for kids with ADD. Rabid Catholic wears his white socks pulled up high and the barn door of his shorts has been left wide open. His left eye, shot out by his brother's BB gun in his youth, stares emptily.
7:10am. I can hear The Husband stirring.
"I'm hungry!" declares Fashionista. "Get me some cereal."
"How do you ask?"
"Um...please?" in a questioning voice, as if she's never heard the word before and has no idea how to use it in context. I sigh, bracing myself for a day of quality time with this treasured darling. Then I open the door to see how Almost-Teen is getting on. She is still in bed, still asleep, the bedclothes no longer giving the illusion of an empty bed.
"Honey! It's ten after seven now! Get up!"
Now she sits up, clutching the comforter and glaring at me balefully out of her bleary eyes.
"MOM!" she shrieks indignantly. "Why didn't you wake me up sooner!"
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