Our three months in the tropics are nearly over, gone so fast. The full suitcases we hauled 5000 miles across the Pacific will be considerably lighter on the way home because the well-used 3T summer clothes barely cover their plump baby bellies and will be left behind. We’ll need a whole new (warmer!) 4T collection when we arrive home and from there (sniffle) my first step out of the baby section and into little kid clothes territory. Not for a year. I still have a year with three “toddlers.”
I’ve been obsessed with time lately and how it passes. What a trickster time is, the way he seems to hand me moment after moment of joy and love and life in slow, lazy procession until I pause to look back and I’m cut down by how far I’ve traveled. All the tiny incidents add up to the whole year that my oldest children were three and my youngest was one and my last baby was thought of and conceived. I want to yell at him for the subterfuge, but he’s handing me new moments so fast that I can’t take the time, I’ll miss something important. I’m dropping the present and it’s shattering on the floor, gem by gem as I gaze backwards. I refocus on the moment in my hands and it all slows down again, to that disconcerting, tricky lull.
I tell time I know his game, I’m onto him, but it’s inevitable that I’ll forget until I look back once more. It makes me mad. I wish he’d leave me alone, stop stealing my moments and let me have them for mine. Maybe I’ll keep them in a carved wooden box on my dresser, magpie-like, the way I kept little bits of life in high school, a note, a charm, a worn braided bracelet.
I want to keep the way Quinn walks, steady but unsteady, on his toes, his fat little belly proceeding him. I want to keep the way Garrett laughs, mouth wide open, head back, his round baby face lit from within. I want to keep the way Saige runs to me at preschool pickup, the way it feels when she wraps her little body around my middle and wraps her arms around my neck. I want to keep this baby’s first tiny kicks, barely felt today, miniature popcorn popping inside my uterus.
Determined to stop his constant theft of my moments, I set a trap for time. I know if I turn and pounce quickly enough I can catch the decrepit old man. I wait for a slow, easy moment, a little lull in time’s flow and I spin faster than the earth, outside of time, grasping with both hands.
Then I falter in disbelief, caught off guard that I actually hold him in my hands and that the arm I hold is strong and young. He is timeless, handsome and confident with twinkling eyes and a devilish smile. “You got me,” he raises his hands in mock surrender. “There’s not much time. When should we go?” He leans forward, feverishly eager, “what should we change?”
Go? Change? I don’t really understand, not yet, I want a glimpse, that’s all, to steal some moments back and save them forever to visit at will. But I have this chance and time is staring at me, waiting. I don’t want to blow it. “What if I’d taken the other job out of law school?” I blurt at him quickly. “Would I have loved it? Maybe stayed an attorney? Maybe I’d have a big career now?”
“Maybe,” he fixes me with his too willing gaze and holds out his hand, falsely casual.
“Wait.” I’m suspicious. “What about Matt? He might not move to Houston. Would we still get married before graduation? What if we wait to see and grow apart?”
Time rubs his hands gleefully. “Let’s see.”
“No,” I stop him. “Not then. Some other time.”
“What about your first baby,” he entices, leaning towards me. “The first one you lost. We could go back to when his heart beat inside you. You could feel him again, maybe we could change things. You could know him.”
I am momentarily breathless. In an instant, I know. Games. Consequences.
“But then I couldn’t have Garrett.”
“True,” says time, “true. It’s up to you.”
“Maybe something smaller,” I plead, “a moment to hold him as a newborn again.”
Time stifles a yawn and curls his lip. “Bor-ring. You’re wasting my time.” He snaps his carefully manicured fingers. “I know. We could revisit the time when you decided to adopt. You could make different choices. You could have a different little boy, he might stay with you. You could adopt two babies instead, or just your daughter. You could miss so much pain,” he tempts.
I picture it. A lot of grief avoided, but I am onto his tricks. “What happens to him?”
“Who?” he asks, all innocence.
“Our son. Does he get adopted? It’s a terrible life for the children that don’t find forever families. They have to leave the orphanage when they’re sixteen. Does he find a family that loves him?”
“I don’t know,” says time impatiently, “we have to see.”
“His family is so right for him, he’s happy. They never would have found him if we hadn’t adopted him, there’s no other way he ends up with them.”
“Yes I know,” time rolls his eyes, “that’s how it works.”
Take a deep breath, I tell myself, be smart, you can beat him at this game.
“My twins then. My other baby. That’s only two months back. A tiny change and they both live. They’ll still be inside of me right now. It doesn’t affect anyone but me.”
Time smiles slyly and stands up straighter. “Ready?”
“I don’t know. I sort of believe, I mean, I like to think that his soul went to another baby. Another mother. Maybe she’d been waiting a long time.” He stares at me, uncomprehending, and I know it’s futile, but I try again. “I pretend sometimes that…the universe…thought, there is so much joy here, they can handle this pain, and so it gave the little spark to someone else.”
Time says nothing and I raise my voice angry and frustrated. “Is that how it works?”
He shrugs, “I don’t know.” His eyes narrow and he scans my face. “Is that how you believe it works?”
“I don’t know.”
“If it was, would you take it away?”
“No,” I whisper, “no, I couldn’t.”
He holds out his hand to me, palm up, fingers spread. “When do we go then?” My arms stay at my side and his arm slowly drops, his smile fades to a crestfallen look.
A tear slides down my cheek, but it is happiness, not grief that fills me. Or, maybe it is sadness, but it’s the good kind. Sadness because I’ve lived the way I want to live, most of the time, fully, optimistically, without hitting the brakes in caution, without wavering or ducking life to avoid potential pain.
“No,” I tell him, “steal what you will, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
He winces with disappointment. “Yes,” he murmurs as he fades away, “that’s how it almost always works.”