I wake up at a weekday hour of 5am on a Sunday morning with the mental to-do list I had put together while I drifted off to sleep last night. The two week-old laundry, the papers needing feedback, and the cluttered apartment needing cleaning seemed too daunting of an agenda with a love-hungry toddler. I battle against the thought of calling to ask if he will come see his son today. Sunday is supposed to be his day, but I don't want to hear him say he's got too many things to do. I fight to keep myself from asking for his help. I turn to admire the gentle face and the rising and falling belly attached to the skinny light brown frame. Echoes of his high pitched babble and stomping feet across the wooden living room floor play in my mind as I place the top halves of his still feet, neatly onto the palm of my hand. I feel empty at the thought of being fractured each night I come home during the week, though the sight of his little hands lifted towards me when I walk in the door places the pieces of me back where they belong.
The world deposits all of its sin on the backs and shoulders of its youth. When I am done keeping my own demons buried all day, to battle those both unleashed and hidden among my students, I arrive, piece by piece, at my apartment door. I listen for the little voice, wondering if he's asleep, so I know how hard or soft I should turn the key. I give him all pieces of me so that my mother can close her eyes or go downstairs to smoke her cigarette. The first thing he asks for is my milk. We play peekaboo games with his eyes behind the backs of his hands while he nurses, and he smiles with my flesh still in his mouth and milk pooling a little at the top corner of his lips. We read baby books, and identify stuffed animals with their sounds. We play a chasing game or have tickle time at the couch. When I try to plan lessons or grade papers, he demands the attention I owe him by placing a book or a toy onto my keyboard or papers. I stopped taking work home, and instead, I do it with granola yogurt and coffee before the teachers and students arrive at school. Its a small price to pay for raising my son for a few of his waking hours on most days.
He starts to wiggle, feels for the pointy flesh and aims with an open mouth. I situate our bodies at the middle and outside edge of the bed. The inside edge is still empty and cool alongside the window. The sun hasn't yet shown it's face, and I beg the sky to stall. I compromise with myself and try to pick one doable task on my list. A short selection of people I know float in my mind, and are quickly erased. I can't bare to hear the unanswered text messages and the "I've got plans" when I call for help. The papers won't get done. I turn away from my snoozing son to look over at the scatter of shoes and other things I don't strain my eyes to make out on the dimly lit hallway floor. I try to remember what the rest of the apartment looks like. Much of our two and a half years in New York City was spent trying to get out of this noisy neighborhood, or at least this noisy street. I try to carve out a few new escape routes in my mind, with just the baby and I this time, but the images are foggy. A light sweep of the house sounds doable; anything more seems meaningless, knowing the place will look and feel just as drab. The stubborn sun is finding its way up in the sky, but the sky still tries by keeping a thick blanket of grey clouds in its path. I look over at the now illuminated overflowing laundry basket in the corner of the bedroom. I think about the week ahead of recycling socks, and mix and matching the same two outfits. I force myself to accept laundry as a necessity, and close my eyes.
The sun is climbing too fast, and I don't want my son to wake up before I'm done sinking inside myself. I think of all the seemingly right choices I've made throughout the course of my life, certain that I was growing in the right direction. The person that was so grounded and confident in who she was seems so naive and abstract in the context of time. It's hard to gauge now, when, over the past fifteen years I've gotten to really know myself. If this was all it took to bring me here, to topple me over, then there must have been something I missed along the way. I suddenly start to feel that I'm up against time, and there's an urgency within me to rush, except I don't know where I'm rushing to.
My son shifts his body from side to side and flips over face-down to abruptly push himself to sit up with knees bent under him. He rubs his eyes with his fists and looks to see if he is still stuck in a dream. I feel the muted smile on my face, and peel myself out of bed to grab a fresh diaper and some wipes. He lets me place his relaxed, small body face up on the warm bed. The wet wipes are cold against his privates, but he knows it will only last a few moments. With the little guy in my arms, I toss the heavy wet diaper onto the changing table, remembering the diaper bin in the bathroom needs to be emptied. I head to the kitchen, dust off the dried food crumbs from his high chair and set him in. I hand him a cooking spoon to bang the high chair table with, and he takes it, although he keeps his eyes focused between my face and what I'm grabbing around the kitchen. I peruse the fridge for a breakfast idea, and I remember his vitamins. I find the small bottle with liquid in it. I scoot behind him towards the kitchen organizer and grab the dropper among the scattered bottle and breast pump pieces. He watches as I suck the golden juice into the dropper and we both know what's coming. I hold his face with one hand to keep him still, and as the dropper approaches, he doesn't fight. He takes in the next two, just as easy. I'm back at the fridge, looking for something to reward his compliance with. I find an apple and grab a knife from the dish rack while rinsing the apple in the sink. The white juice bleeds along the cut, and my hands are cool and wet as I skin the side of the carved out slice. "Manzana!" I tell him as I place the slice in his carefully shaped small fingers. He brings the slice to his mouth with one hand and bangs the spoon against his table with the other. The sound breaks the silent air that had been standing like a large stone in the apartment. I wonder how many more Sundays will feel like this. I try to see a new kind of festive Sunday morning, complete with apple cinnamon pancakes and the warm sounds of a reggae bass rocking from the living room. But it is hard to picture a happy boy with a man that isn't his father. I quickly put some hot water to boil for coffee, and whip out some eggs, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and spinach for some veggie scramble. I preheat the oven for some toast, and with a chewed up piece of apple on the side of his mouth my son says, "pata!" his baby word for food.
"Yes, mama's gonna make some scramble, and then we're going to your favorite place! Nos vamos!"
"Mabo!" he says, knowing now that we're going out on some adventure today, and not staying in again. The laundry can wait until after the sun goes down.