As Rob was pulling up to his parents' house, I noticed a little red sporty car parked in front. If I'd thought about it for a minute longer, I would have realized on my own, but instead I asked, "Whose car is that?"
"Oh. If I'd known your grandma was coming, I would've, I dunno, dressed more like a lady or something." I picked some calico-and-white cat hair off my black jeans and sprinkled it on the floor of the car.
"I told you she was coming."
Westley hooted from the back seat as we parked in the driveway. He's starting to recognize places, and he loves Rob's parents' house, even though we only go there occasionally. By which I mean, if there's an occasion: Christmas, Easter, someone's birthday.
We were celebrating Rob's birthday a day early, with a vegan feast and a few presents. I was already feeling unprepared and guilty for not having anything for him to open, and worried about how Westley would fare in a not-so-childproofed house now that he's not just mobile but also fast. Rob's grandmother's presence (about which I had apparently been warned but had completely forgotten) was the anxiety icing on the dread velvet cake.
I don't dislike Rob's grandmother. In fact, I think I like her. She's the type of woman who decides, after such-and-so many years of cooking for her family that she's Done With Cooking, and gets take-and-bake pizzas and boxed vegetable souffles for the family get-togethers she hosts. She bought Westley a tiny designer jogging suit for Christmas. Her toast at our wedding rehearsal dinner was, "I'm the grandmother of the groom, and I thought this day would never come." In short, she and I have a mutual understanding in that we don't know what the hell to do with each other.
Before dinner, I spent as much time as I could sitting down, babying my sore lower back. It gets extra-double-bonus sore during my period, which, naturally, showed up just in time for Rob's birthday weekend. Rob was more or less on toddler-wrangling duty the entire time we were at his parents' house, and I think his grandmother had some thoughts about that.
She also seemed to have some thoughts about Westley not wanting to sit in his highchair for the duration of dinner. He's in a two-bites-of-food-is-a-meal stage, and wanted to get down and play almost immediately. Rather than listen to him complain, Rob put him on the floor, and Westley tore off into the exercise room. Rob leaped up after him, and when he had disappeared through the door and around the corner, his grandmother turned to me expectantly.
"So, what are you doing besides following him around?"
It was a sharp, pointy question, indicating that I had some explaining to do because my husband was chasing after our toddler at his birthday dinner. While I sat and replaced the pot pie Westley had eaten off my plate with bean salad. I felt my dinner in my stomach like a lead weight. The first thing that entered my head was, Uh...nothing. Ellipsis included.
I think I probably turned bright red. Because it's true. All I do right now is follow my son around. That's all. I've given up on trying to do anything else, because despite getting a full night's sleep most nights, I'm exhausted in the morning. So I do that thing that people are always telling you to do when you have a tiny baby (except that I haven't had a tiny baby in a long time): I sleep when he sleeps. Because when I don't, I just feel tired and nauseated and sore all day, and then I'm mean to Rob when he gets home. So I sleep when Westley sleeps, and I'm up when he's up. And I somehow manage to make dinner every night.
"So, what are you doing...?"
I felt humiliated and angry at the same time. I wanted to say, "This wasn't my plan, you know." But I didn't really say anything, except that I haven't been feeling well lately. She recommended taking more vitamins.
That was Saturday, and it's still making me angry. I feel like I barely have time to drink a glass of water on most days, and I'm supposed to be--what?--volunteering at my local animal shelter? Learning to ski? What? I think there must be an age after which women forget what it feels like to be the mother of a toddler, because the shit old women say to me is ridiculous. (My favorite was the woman who scolded me when Westley looked like he was going to topple out of a shopping cart: "That's what the belts are for." Yes, thank you, but my son can undo the belts since the clips are always torn up from holding in a zillion other wiggly toddlers!) The women in my family are the worst. What did she want me to say? I guess I could have told her the truth: "Well, I don't have much free time, but I spend most of it crying and feeling like shit."
When my mother was little, my grandmother snapped at her or insulted her or did something otherwise hurtful and then told her she'd forget all about being upset. My mother replied that she wouldn't forget. "I'm never going to forget how it feels to be three!" my mother told her. And she hasn't. She's 61, but three is still fresh in her mind.
I'm never going to forget how it feels to be an at-home parent to a toddler. I can't imagine forgetting feeling this physically run-down and emotionally exhausted. But I'm vowing not to forget now. Following my mother's model, when I'm an old woman, I'll still be able to access that toddler-having-fatigue, and keep that fucked-up judgmental tone out of anything I say to the mothers I might encounter.