“No one really loves me except you,” L tells me one recent night, because he’s mad at his dad for taking away his Pokemon cards at bedtime.
“Lots of people love you,” I tell him. “Especially Dad. You’re just angry with Dad right now.”
He wants me to tuck him in that night. He wants to tell me about the upsetting thing that happened at recess. He wants to hold my hand on the way to school the next morning, for me to head up to the second floor (dragging my 30-pounds-heavier body up the steps) to show me how the guinea pigs in his second-grade classroom have grown. Do I say yes? Of course I say yes. Because I know that I am the sun, and L is the earth. He always knows where I am in the world. I am his life raft, his default, the one who really counts.
Luckily, we can also be apart. L is secure without me. He does not, as I did at seven, dread leaving mom for school or a play date or a sleepover. When he’s not mad about Pokemon, his dad is the coolest person in the world, his other life raft. When they have “Guys’ Night”—a phrase I came up with to describe any night it’s just the two of them—he’s delighted, can’t wait for me to leave. Once, after B and I returned from being in Hawaii for five days, he asked us to go back. I guess I don’t make meatloaf like my mom does, or indulge quite like Grampa.
I hold onto this—I think they call it “secure attachment,” those psychologist types—gratefully. I feel like maybe it means we have done something right. I do not want L so attached to me he can’t be apart. Honestly, the idea terrifies me. But still I find myself surprised by how true and deep his love is for me, by how fully his understanding of the world revolves around mine, by how, when he comes home from a birthday party or a weekend away with his grandfather it is to me he beelines, his mouth full of words. “I had so much candy, Mom, you wouldn’t believe it,” he says, or: “We went to the zoo, Mom, and out for sushi, and watched a movie, and…” or simply an urgent “Mumma. Mumma. Mumma—” and I await what comes next.
I am his touchstone.
And here at 39 weeks pregnant with his little brother, it’s making me pensive. Early on in this pregnancy, I suffered from an intense depression. It surprised me, and it made me feel really, really ashamed. I had engineered this pregnancy using the best 21st-century technology; I had finally won at the infertility game. I was supposed to be so deeply grateful and humbled to be pregnant I should have been falling over myself. Instead, I felt like I wanted to die. I couldn’t stop crying. I’d walk all over town, sobbing, feeling like I wanted to vomit, my perpetually full bladder pressing into my yoga pants like a reminder of the crazy thing we’d done, the crazy mistake we’d made. Eventually, once the feelings abated, I realized that intense hormones were mostly to blame—but also, and this surprised me, grief: all those long, infertile years, it was just L. There was something so beautiful and redeeming about his constancy that I knew I would finally be giving up. I was terrified of betraying him, and of losing him as my one and only: the inside jokes and the tuck-ins and the way we just get each other.
Because, truth is, he is my touchstone, too, my measure of nearly everything.
That time in my pregnancy passed, thank God, and next week, or maybe tomorrow, or maybe in three days—who knows?—our lives will all change forever. It makes me weep a little, to write that (but what doesn’t, these days?). I’ll have a new baby in my life, a new planet for my sun. Maybe this one will want his dad more. Maybe this one won’t get my jokes. With this one, I won’t be able to play the “who’s the cutest person in our family?” game (L: “you!” Me: “No, it’s you….”). Maybe this one won’t be a talker like L. Undoubtedly, he’ll be different. Undoubtedly, in some ways he’ll be the same.
But I won’t be, ever again. And L won’t be, either. And I’m smiling when I write that, because in the end, you know, it feels just fine.
For a funny take on a similar subject, read “The Default Parent” on Huffington Post
And a cheerful retort (“How Being the Default Parent is Your Fault”) on Dr. Mama Esquire