In the middle of the night, Joaquin coughs and Dan jumps upright as if a predator has just burst through the window. He has Joaquin gathered to his chest and is stumbling out into the hallway before he has even remembered his own name or how he ended up in this crazy, noisy life of ours. I roll over in bed, dreams of spacious houses and swimming with sharks still fresh in my mind. I listen for the slamming of cupboards, the thump-thump of Dan’s big feet echoing through our thin floorboards. I try to remain alert in case I am needed.
A few minutes later, I am lifted up out of bed as Dan’s weight drops down, Joaquin tucked into his arm, a bottle poised in his mouth.
In the next room, Zaviera cries out, “Kao re pai Tumanako! (not good!)” After telling her cousin about his bad behavior, she goes silent, off on another adventure in her dreams.
Sol’s rats scurry through their cage.
Dan holds Joaquin to his chest, “Come on little man, bring it up.” And when Joaquin burps like a bullfrog serenading the moon we both laugh, restraining ourselves from pinching the fat on his body and cooing. We don’t want to wake him up, he gets ‘crazy-eyes’ and begins squawking if he isn’t put straight back to sleep.
The next morning we wake up to find our bed swarming with kids. Zaviera has her arms wrapped around my neck, Joaquin’s belly is soft against mine, Dan’s feet search out my feet, Sol demands, “Daddy, give me more room!”
A few minutes later, the day begins. Again, there is the thump, thump, thump of Dan’s presence moving through the house. The clatter of dishes, the first fight.
“Sol! You don’t know! Daddy, Sol doesn’t know!”
“I’m just blocking my ears to you Zaviera. I don’t want to listen to anything you say.”
I linger in bed, exhausted. I watch Joaquin’s lips form into a smile. I call out for someone to put the kettle on, Mommy needs her coffee. Even though I am aware that a cup of coffee these days is like writing a check for an empty account.
The day passes. I’ve worked through 120 pages of applying edits, conjuring another chapter, fighting anxieties and brain fog. I shut down the computer and walk with Sol to pick up his sister from daycare. We have a bag full of old bread and a plan to feed the ducks.
My blood feels like it is full of air on the way home. Zaviera demands a piggy back ride and as we approach a large tree, its branches overhanging the sidewalk, the buzzing of the bees can already be heard, tiny pieces of pollen and flower falling to the ground as they harvest. I have had a fear about bees and my children ever since reading a beautifully haunting short story by a talented NZ writer, Tracey Slaughter.
As Sol calls out, “The bee tree!” for just a moment, I am no longer me. I am somewhere between my adult skin, tight and creased with responsibilities, and my children’s minds. I see the patterns on the sidewalk. The sky stretching before us. I hear the buzzing of the bees and Sol’s warning echoing my own previous words, “Keep your mouths closed so they don’t fly in or else we’ll die!”
Zaviera thrusts her face into my hair and declares, “Oh no Mommy! We don’t want to die! There’s dragons and monsters!”
I hold on tight to her legs, each one of her thighs so small I can close my fingers around them, and I run beneath the tree. Instead of a threat, I imagine pollen raining down around us, like some sort of blessing.
Only minutes later I will be scolding them about standing to close to the edge of the water as they throw fistfuls of bread at the ducks. I will wearily be navigating an argument between Sol and Zaviera about who gets to ride on my back next. I will have thrown myself down on the grass next to Zaviera, imitating her tantrum. Kicking my legs and wailing about the injustice of it all. I will say to her, “You are SO right! It is all terrible! The worstest ever!” Instead of laughing like I want her to, she will look at me and say, “Yes, mommy, it is.”
And on the way home, as I attempt to carry Sol on one hip and Zaviera on the other, I will lose myself again.
After dinner is made, the kids tossed into the bath, I am crouched over the computer when Dan comes into the bedroom and says, “Do you realize it’s only been four months since Joaquin was born? Only four months.”
I simultaneously nod and shake my head. Yes, no, I get it but I don’t.
In the middle of the night, like my daughter, I will cry out in my exhaustion. Only I will say, “Ka pai! It is good.” The bees will settle into a quiet hum.