If You Only Knew(5)

By: Kristan Higgins


We’ve been finger-painting, and I always strip Charlotte and Rose down for that, Charlotte in her Sesame Street diaper, Rose in her tiny flowered underpants. Rose has moved from her poster board to the kitchen floor, but that’s okay. I’ll wash the floor later. Grace, on the other hand, is fully clothed, because even at three and a half, she’s very tidy. Her little brow is wrinkled as she carefully draws on her paper. My serious baby. Not for the first time, I worry that she’s on the Asperger’s spectrum; she’s too neat, too fastidious. Then again, she has cut my cleanup by one-third.

“What is it, Charlotte?” I ask, stroking her blond curls.

“I poop, Mama. My bum hot.” She shoves a hand in her diaper, then withdraws it to show me. “Sticky.”

Where’s that chapter in the parenting books, huh? “That’s fine, honey. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

I glance around the kitchen; all the drawers and cabinets have safety locks on them, and the girls and I are fenced in with baby gates. “Rose, Grace, I’m taking Lottie to the bathroom, okay? Stay here.”

“No! I coming, too, Mama!” Rose demands. Both Rose and Charlotte are behind Grace in the speech department, which the pediatrician assured me was normal with multiples. Still. I worry a little.

“Grace, are you okay on your own?” I ask.

“Yes, Mama. I’m making circles.”

“They’re beautiful, honey.”

I scoop Rose up, hold Charlotte so she can’t touch anything with her poopy hand, and walk down the hall to the powder room. Dang it. Somehow, Charlotte just managed to wipe her hand on my leg, so I’ll have to change again. Well, that’s life with three kids. Laundry every day. Besides, I was going to change anyway before Adam came home.

In the triplet group the girls and I occasionally go to, there are moms who look fifteen years older than they are. Who have inches of gray roots showing, who wear their husbands’ clothes and smell like stale milk and spit-up, who are weepy and exhausted. They terrify me, because some days, I feel as if I’m one inch away from that myself. I never want my girls to think they’re exhausting me; they’re the loves of my life. I’m the mother who actually misses them the four hours they’re at preschool three days a week. Being a stay-at-home mommy was all I ever wanted.

“Time to wash hands, Lottie,” I say now, setting Rose down and turning on the water. “Rose, do you have to go?”

“No,” she says. “No fanks, Mama, I fine.” She smiles, and my heart floods with love. I’ll have to write that down on one of my note cards so I can tell Adam about that. No fanks, I fine. I try to store up those little moments to tell him, since he has such long hours. Also, my memory isn’t what it used to be.

I wash Lottie’s hands, then take off her diaper and clean her up.

“I poop more,” she says.

“Okay,” I say, putting her on the potty. Rose and I wait. Charlotte grunts, her face going red. “No poop!” she announces grandly, and the three of us laugh.

I love being a mother so much, it’s a wonder my heart fits in my chest anymore. Adam and I made these perfect girls, and I can’t quite get over that. For most of my life, I’ve fought shyness. I’m still shy, even around Adam sometimes. You know how it is... If I have a stomach issue, I use the guest bathroom. I still have to give myself a pep talk before we go to a party.

And while I still blush and feel awkward when I’m out in public sometimes, I have this, the knowledge that my girls adore me, that I know exactly who I am and what I’m doing as a mother. The memory of my days as a graphic designer at Celery Stalk, a company that made computer games for kids, are shadowy now, but I remember the effort it took, talking to everyone, trying not to worry so much. How it took an hour for my shoulders to drop after I got home.

This...this is what I’m made for.

We wash hands again, all three of us. The soap dispenser is new, and the girls are still fascinated by its wonders. I put a clean diaper on Charlotte, and we’re good to go.

Just as we leave the bathroom, Rose squats and pees on the floor, soaking through her panties.

“Oopsy,” I say.

“I sorry, Mama.”

The usual stash of paper towels isn’t under the sink. Dang. “No, that’s okay, honey. Don’t worry a bit.” I glance down the hall. “Grace? How are you, sweetheart?”

“Fine.”

I can tell by her voice she’s not fine.

“What are you doing, honey?” I walk down the hall to the kitchen, holding Rose by the hand. She’s dripping, which means I’ll have to wash the hall floor, too.

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