Today's Image

There are two loaves of pumpkin bread baking in my oven, filling the house with the smell of nutmeg and cloves. I love to bake, though I haven't done much of it recently, and I don't usually need a reason to toss a quick bread together and enjoy the aroma from my busy oven. These loaves, though, are special, and I'm baking them for very good reason.

Gabe, big and little

I slipped my hand into Sam's a few minutes ago as we were walking the block home from his school bus stop. "There's pumpkin bread in the oven at home," I said to him, "just like there was pumpkin bread in the oven at this very time, two years ago. Do you know why I was baking pumpkin bread two years ago?"

"No," he said.

"I was baking and baking because something in my head told me that I needed to bake," I said, "and I'm afraid that I was also scolding you. I was feeling very grumpy because my tummy hurt. Why was my tummy hurting so bad two years ago?"

"I don't know."

"Something inside me was making it ache very, very badly. Sometimes I would squat and go, 'Ohhhhhh.' Now do you remember?"

"It was Gabe!"

"That's right! Two years ago, Gabe was coming, even though we didn't know it would be him, or even whether he'd be a boy or a girl. He was coming, and ladies who are getting ready to push out babies do very strange things, and so I was baking pumpkin bread. And that's what I'm doing today, too, so I can remember. And also because Gabe hates cake, so...bread."

I'm smelling those loaves, and I'm sitting in the same chair where I sat and griped at the internet about my on-again, off-again labor pains. It really feels like it could have been just a few weeks ago, honestly, but that's just maudlin motherhood for you. After all, the product of that labor is crouched in the living room, studiously stacking blocks into a tower and watching "Clifford the Big Red Dog" over his shoulder. A few minutes ago, he was griping at me because I was making bread instead of chicken, and he groused that Daddy wasn't home to kill whatever mystery "bug" he happened to spy (a game he seems to enjoy greatly and which insect-hating Eric loathes for the way it exacerbates his paranoia of infestations). Tomorrow, Gabriel will officially turn two, and he's undeniably ready for it, whether I am or not.

Gabe's partyWe had a birthday party for him with his playgroup this weekend past. I should say that while we were celebrating the day of his birth, it also felt strangely notable to be also celebrating our ability to even host such a party. We moved to Wisconsin when Gabe was well along his intrauterine way, and in the interceding two years and change, I wondered many times what on earth we had done in making that move. Now he's blowing out a pair of candles, surrounded by friends he knows and enjoys, along with their parents whom I know and enjoy. It took a while, but we're finally settling in here; Gabe's growth is mirroring that adjustment, as we all grow into our new places in this increasingly familiar environment.

I read the entry I wrote on Sam's second birthday, and the most noticeable thing for me is my own perception of what it felt like to parent a two-year-old. Reading between the lines, I can see how I thought Sam was simply huge (what was I thinking, buying him a bicycle for his birthday?!) - a great, grown child only a few steps away from driving or lawn mowing. I look at his brother now, and he's very definitely not that "big boy" in my eyes. Whether it's because he's "the baby" or because I've matured as a mother or even because Gabe isn't as verbally developed as Sam was at that age, the fact is that I still feel as though I've got my cuddly little baby in my nest, and I'm in nowhere near as much of a hurry to nudge him off the branch as it appears I was back then. The days may stretch interminably, but now that I know just how quickly will pass the years that contain them - I'm resisting the urge to grab a receiving blanket and beg him to let me snuggle him in it.

But the cuddles are different, alas, though he still gives them. Instead of lying peacefully in my arms, he pokes at my face. "Mama nose," he chirps. "Pat, pat! Mama cheek...Mama teeth!" with a jam of his index finger between my lips. If I try to cover us with a blanket, he laughs uproariously and kicks it away. Like his brother - perhaps like most children - he wants to handle his relationships on his own terms, and those terms don't usually involve silence or relaxation.

Gabe in his rockerTwo years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into with this new baby. I had no idea what I was getting into with this new life. Truthfully, I'm still learning about that child; after all, I've known him less than half the time that I've known Sam, and with his limited vocabulary, it's not as though Gabe can discuss his hopes, dreams, and aspirations with me over breakfast. I'm still learning about this new place, too, and I think I've begun to feel as optimistic about it as I am about him. Maybe it's just that he's here, and we're all here, and it's slowly becoming a part of our identities. Fittingly, Gabe is even wearing a little Green Bay Packers warm-up suit today, though as far as he knows, it's just "pants and jack-ee."

Tomorrow morning, he'll wake up and proceed about his day as usual; he's still not quite at an age where the idea of a birthday will mean much to him. Perhaps we'll go out to eat somewhere fun, someplace where they'll sing to him or let him blow out a candle. He'll grin his cheeky grin, enjoy the attention, and love the little gifts we've gotten him. Larger concepts about personality, environment, and a mother's struggle with her baby growing up - these will escape him for now, and he'll just keep on growing, living, and being Gabe, all sparkly and energized and yet still "the baby." I don't think any of us will be ready to let him cast off that title any time soon.

Pumpkin oatmeal bread

previous one year ago:
"I miss Daddy so, so much!" sniffles Sam, close to honest-to-God tears.
two years ago:
Last night, when I groggily woke to roll over in bed (yes, I have to wake up to do that now), I had a fuzzy thought that if I just pushed hard enough as I was, I could break my water and get the show on the road.
three years ago:
Happy twenty-eight to me; I feel about fifty.
four years ago:
I have a toddler. He's the light of my life, but he's going to drive me insane.
five years ago:
Next week, though, I think I'll take extra care to be sure he's done nursing before Eucharist.
six years ago:
I wouldn't have panicked, except that all the women to whom I've been speaking who happen to be due around the same time as I am have been fighting the exact opposite problem, and I'm not comfortable being the odd man out at a time like this.
seven years ago:
I am blessed because my thesis advisor told Dr. Beall to demand to listen to the MIDI of my thesis, because (she told him) it was marvelous work.
In the ears:
"Arthur" on PBS

On the Bookshelf:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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