the very hungry caterpillar: a children’s picture book designed, illustrated and written by Eric Carle. It features a caterpillar who eats its way through a wide variety of foodstuffs before pupating and emerging as a butterfly.
The picture books are coming away from their bindings. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Snuggle Puppy, Brown Bear – they’re all wrestling themselves free with the help of Lilah’s urgent little hands pulling at the pages and picking at the worn corners. Uruguay is missing from the 2-by-3 foot floor puzzle of the world. Little girl clothes purchased a decade ago are now finally fraying at the hem.
When Ella and Ruby were little, I spent hours on my hands and knees searching under furniture for runaway toys, sorting the wooden blocks out from the Lego blocks, stain-sticking the cuffs of every sweatshirt, scouring drawers and dryer for lost toddler socks. The kids didn’t care much about what was ruined or gone, but I did. Keeping it all together is what kept me together.
I often felt frustrated by motherhood, like I wasn’t doing it right and why didn’t I feel an unending sense of joy all the time and why did I get so upset when Ella dumped her cereal all over the floor? Keeping the toys intact and the frilly dresses stain-free felt doable. Trying to grocery shop with a toddler and a baby, conjure up a decent meal, avoid one or several meltdowns, make it home in time for naps, and actually take a shower, did not. I managed it, but grace and patience eluded me.
All those days lost worrying about whether or not I was doing it right or if I wanted to do it at all. All the time spent resenting and stressing over organic or local, naps and bedtimes, nursing, play dates and preschool schedules. So much time gone in search of the baby doll’s bottle. None of it matters. Not really.
Now, boxes of stored toys make their way back into the family room. There are too many dolls and a ridiculous number of stuffed animals, the Fisher-Price Farm House, puzzles and trains, multiple tea sets and trucks. Within days, pieces go missing. They skitter into dark corners and tiny cracks, fall behind the couch or are carried off by the dog. I put a pair of Ella’s old jeans on Lilah and think they look good as new. By the end of the day, there is a hole in the seam. Had it been there all along or only now, after all these years of keeping, did they decide to give?
I am grateful to the books and clothes and toys that waited patiently in line for this one last rave at Club Motherhood. Still, I am astonished that I kept it all. Why did I? Was it a hunch or hope? By the time we knew Lilah was coming, Ruby was already six and Ella nine. I told myself I was keeping it for friends or my sister who knew she wanted a third baby. Or was it that deep down in my heart, despite the miscarriage and looming infertility, despite the work and family stress and my constant struggle with motherhood, I wanted the chance to do it one more time?
Lilah and I cuddle in the bed reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The book is almost 12 years old. The board is worn soft and graying where the once shiny paper coated it. She likes to rub her thumb along the pages, coaxing them even further away from what’s left of the binding. Motherhood is full of potholes and bulging seams, missing pieces and broken bits, but it’s also full of naked tushies running down the hall and unconditional hugs and a sweetness that’s almost too much to bear. I no longer feel the need to mend or make whole. The book is falling apart – and I am ready to let it.
I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.