I finished my book just in time to miss the best years of my twin daughter’s lives. My MFA, two chapbooks of poetry, and an unsold memoir had consumed me for the better part of five years. I guess I half-expected that they would wait for me, that the milestones: the walking, the rolling over, the talking, the first night sleeping all the way through, would be there for me on the other side, ready to repeat themselves and allow me to linger and actually pay attention this time.
Instead, when I finally lifted my head through the skin of the water, I found a pair of little girls, almost six, ready to cross that invisible threshold into “not a baby anymore” land. Suddenly there were too-tight shoes, missing training wheels, a pint-sized boyfriend, and sight words that rolled off their pink shiny tongues like water rolling downhill.
Don’t get me wrong, I did what I could. I kept copious notes in a black journal with embossed flowers on the cover. Triumphs and achievements stretched out across each page like webs catching every date and every age. But I had never really slowed down to experience them, to inhale their importance, and when I pulled that journal out weeks ago, after the dust had settled and my writing was dormant, it was as if I was a stranger glancing through a history book full of events I had never witnessed.
So, when Penelope, the baby (by one whole minute), came to me three months ago with a pain in her tooth and it was discovered that said tooth was loose, I reveled in the emotion of the moment.
“Your tooth is loose! Your tooth is loose!” I cried as if she had just informed me of a full scholarship to Harvard Law School. The afternoon sun lit up the kitchen and I danced her around the bare floor draped in the warm rays. I called all of her grandparents, and acted as if this loose tooth would be it: the one event, the one benchmark of her childhood I would remember forever. I imagined she would call me up twenty-seven years from now and I would relive the loose tooth with as much vigor and detail as I had remembered her birth. Still, just in case, later that night through weary eyes, I pulled out the journal and wrote: Loose tooth, October, 2012.
Now, three months have passed and already that moment is gone from my mind. I remember the date, obviously, but I can’t remember the sequence, the order in which anything happened. Did she wake up with the tooth pain? Had she pointed it out earlier and I blew it off? Did I know to look for the wiggle of the tooth or did she mention it first?
This is what has happened to my brain since I decided to live the writing life. I used to remember moments effortlessly. In my early twenties, I could have told you every single detail of every relationship I’d ever had: How the leather back seat felt under my bare skin the first time I went parking with a boy, the smell of Jeff’s cologne, and how my stomach flipped every time I heard Mike’s voice. I was able to recite the phone numbers of my very first girl friends, my employee badge number from SEARS, the first nine numbers of Pi. Now, I cannot recall the simple historic moments of my own children’s lives. The events most mothers have living on the tips of their tongues.
It’s easy to make excuses. I’m teaching six classes this semester, that’s 120 students give or take. That’s a lot of papers, a lot of deadlines, and a lot of emails to answer. I’m also involved with a few literary magazines, host of a reading series, and mentor to some budding writers. I’m overwhelmed, clearly, but that’s not all. What’s taking up so much precious real estate in my mind is my next book, play, poem, short story, essay, and haiku. On any given day, there is a whole host of images and characters just floating around my head, taking up space. I do everything I can to hold onto the important things, to tether Penelope’s loose tooth to something that will help me remember. Penelope’s first tooth wiggled one week before Halloween. I was teaching Creative Nonfiction, it was right after I finished the book. I secure the rope tightly, but deep down I know it’s in vain. A little loose tooth is no match for the high tide of unwritten stories. The memory of my daughter and me in the kitchen, spinning on the balls of my feet while she laughs and beams with big-girl pride will be lost someday soon, the magic of the moment relegated to four words in a handwritten journal. This is the life of mother, a writer, a captain of uncharted waters just trying to stay afloat.