Sometimes, it feels less as though we had children than were infested by them, this riot of small bodies (are there really only two?) inexorably altering our environment, working their way deeper, deeper, into every crevice, step by tiny step.
Rowan is a small but powerful magnetic force, instinctively able to set the default language on my iPod to German, alter the task bar on my computer, or switch Rachel’s homepage to Google. The clock radio in our bedroom seems always, randomly, set to the wrong time — each morning, a small boy comes into the room and propels us continually into the future, trying to get the numbers to 7:00, which he knows is “wake-up” time. Each evening, we set the clock back again.
But it’s a losing battle — all of it. We put away the blocks, the trains, the cars; sweep up the crumbs; fold the laundry and put it in drawers; try to find homes for the craft projects and paintings and pieces of plastic that arrive, amass, multiply, gather dust. I make 48 zucchini-carrot muffins, Rowan cracking the eggs and helping measure out the flour, and, five days later, we make 48 more muffins. Every night, without fail, it’s dinner time again, and after that we have to clean up. And pack up lunch for the next day.
We go to bed to find Rowan asleep in our bed, clutching my pajama bottoms like a security blanket. We carry him back to his bed. Morning comes, and he is back, either crawling into bed with us or knocking on his own door until one of us stumbles into his room and his bed with him. “Cuddle me,” he says, to which a couple of days ago I replied grumpily, “I will cuddle you if you lie still and don’t stick your feet and elbows into my back.” “I won’t,” he said, but he did. Because he does, he expands to fill the space that you might take up. This morning, he climbed in with Rachel and me, and then swivelled his way around like the horizontal bar joining the two vertical strokes of a letter H, pushing my head off my pillow. He wanted to see the clock, he explained. Or he sits at the dinner table and plays footsie, his foot nudge, nudge, nudge, nudge, nudging my thigh until I move it. “Why?” he says, and I say, “I don’t like how it feels.” “Yes you do like how it feels,” he responds. Okay.
The CDs no longer play — they are covered in scratches and fingerprints. We lose things — water bottles, keys, fridge magnets. We find them later, behind couch cushions, underneath the fridge, inside the wardrobe. I open a drawer and Rowan appears, pulling out underwear, T-shirts: “Wear this one — this is the one I love.” Food disappears from my plate, my hand, as a child walks or toddles by and spirits it away. Isaac at my feet, reaching up, twining his hand into the hair at the back of my neck, exploring my mouth and nostrils with his fingers. He buries his face into my shoulder when strangers speak to him, drools down my arm, laughs and tries to eat my nose. He agitates for a bite of whatever’s on my plate, and then tosses it on the floor. I sit, and suddenly, two children are playing in my lap.
It’s summer, and I am continually struck in Thunder Bay by how easily we could slide into wilderness. The house is filled with spiders and bugs. There was a skunk in the garage the other night. We drive minutes to get out of the city and discover frogs and leeches (shudder), go berry picking with friends and take their dogs to ward off bears. We are covered in bites. Alone for a moment, hunched over a blueberry bush, I think of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and briefly consider going deeper into the bush, disappearing.
But I would never survive, not without those small bodies to keep me warm.