by Dani Klein Modisett
“What’s this fancy envelope?” I ask Gideon, my seven month old, spooning vegetable mush in to his mouth. I decided to open the mail this morning between swallows because even though caring for an infant in my forties has me so exhausted my head feels numb a lot of the day, I still feel compelled to multi-task. My new favorite tandem activities are checking e-mail on my phone while breastfeeding, when I’m not busy making dinner while wearing my child as a hiking accessory.
Gideon opens his mouth like a blonde bird begging for more grub worms. I give him a lump of squash while I slide my thumb underneath the seal of what appears to be an invitation. I think, “but no one we know is getting married.”
“Twenty five years Strong” the raised print reads announces.
Oh my God, my high school reunion, 25 years? Is that possible?
“Bring your kids, fun for all,” It says underneath
“Fun for all?” Blech. I guess “Fun for everyone except those of you who risk reliving being gonged at high school “Gong” show, and years of sitting home eating ice cream on the couch while other people were having sex in the back of cars,” was too many words.
And of course it doesn’t say, “bring your babies.”
Because who has a baby 25 years after graduating from high school? Other than me, and my invitro fertilization support group. And I’m pretty sure no one else in there went to Staples High School.
I give Gideon more yellow pabulum and dial my sister.
“There’s no way I’m going to this,” I tell her. I’m so excited to have a child who’s eating vegetables I try stuffing one more bite in Gideon’s mouth. Unfortunately, he’s moved on to chewing the strap of his chair. Drool is streaming down the front of his Onesie.
“Why not?” she asks. I can almost hear the wine glass in her hand. She’s a card-carrying member of the “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” club and has been since she threw up on the dance floor in 7th grade.
“Screw them. Go! You can show off your beautiful family to all those people who thought you’d never settle down.”
“I’m forty four. With an infant.” I say, “I’m a circus freak to them. Again.”
“Who cares? And show off those big nursing boobs too!” she takes another sip, “Listen, you can’t dodge high school memories forever, my dear. Wait ‘til the boys are in high school.
“I’ll be 80 by then,” I joke, “and hopefully senile.”
“I won’t really be 80 when you graduate high school, buddy, don’t worry,” I say, pulling Gideon out of his high chair. “I’ll be….”
I’m not good with math. Never have been. It’s no secret I flirted my way through high school Physics.
“63, I’ll be 63” I blurt, pulling a diaper off the nearby stack.
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 63.” I sing, trying to lighten the weight of this realization. Gideon giggles at the sight of me shaking my head from side to side.
I smile back, sigh, and think,
“Baby penises are really small.”
I fasten the diaper at his hips.
“I wonder if it will get proportionately larger as he gets bigger.
I hope it does.
I wonder what other women will think of his penis.
I wonder if I will live long enough to meet any of these women who will evaluate my son’s penis.
Will I live to meet his wife?
If he waits as long as I did, it’s not looking likely.
While I continue to dress Gideon for his nap and settle him in his crib, my life flashes forward like animation cells. There I am at his Bar Mitzvah, closing in on 60. I’m wearing some Eileen Fisher outfit with no waistband. Unlike the ubiquitous younger mommies in their Hard Tail yoga pants, my body didn’t bounce back. In fact, there hasn’t been much bouncing in the last 10 years, just a lot of hanging. I am standing next to my earnest son witnessing him becoming a man; a doting, wrinkled mommy blob in soft separates.
Five years later we’re at his High School graduation. Carloads of families pull up to the big day with surfboards and water skis strapped to their hoods. As soon as the ceremony ends they are heading for sun and surf celebratory vacations. The audience is filled with tan, beaming smiles. Not me. I’m holding the program up against my nose because I’ve forgotten my reading glasses in the car, right next to my calcium supplements. During the valedictory speech I loudly unwrap and chomp on mints to mask the odor of my acid reflux. The ceremony ends and Gideon throws his cap to me. I reach for it and throw my back out. I hobble to the car wincing; very proud of him, but hoping I can stay awake to watch “American Idol Where are they Now.”
Then I’m at Gideon’s College graduation. Again, I’m in the audience, only this time I can’t sit still. If I don’t find a bathroom soon I am going to wet the seat. Gideon’s girlfriend’s mother is trying to tell me where the nearest restroom is, but I can’t hear her over the din of the school band because I refuse to wear my hearing aid. Part of the problem is the woman’s Asian accent, but the truth is I haven’t really heard anything clearly since 2023.
Next I’m at his wedding. A small, quiet girl glides down the aisle next to her father. She is beautiful. Not my type, but if she makes him happy that’s all that matters. A gray-haired trollish looking woman starts down the aisle, but not without a lot of help. No surprise, that troll is me, I can tell by the outfit, more shapeless swathes of fabric. I look like a Keebler Elf in a silk cocoon. So much for the calcium supplements, I’m so hunchbacked I can barely walk. In fact, is that a skateboard I’m standing on? Yes it is. I am being pulled down the aisle like a dried out apple face doll on wheels to give the illusion of dignity before being placed in my wheelchair waiting on the aisle. It’s pretty humiliating and yet I’ve never looked so happy.
I walk out of the room to toss Gideon’s diaper and go preheat the oven. I pass a picture of my father in the hallway.
“What are you worried about?” I hear him ask me. “Old ‘shmold. Who cares what you look like as long as you’re alive?” This from a man who refused any chemo treatments that would make his hair fall out. Which is to say, the vain apple doesn’t fall far from the even more vain tree.
His voice follows me in to the kitchen.
“You should only be so lucky to live that long, Sweetheart.”
Shit, he has a point. He was 44 when he had me and he died when I was 33. He never even met Tod; forget about my five year old Gabriel or Gideon. Amidst my relentless vanity, there’s a piece of me that knows what I am hearing him say is right. No wonder I looked so happy in that wheelchair. He would have given anything to be at my wedding.
I come back to the crib and notice the receiving blanket from the hospital where Gideon was born under his pillow. My mind takes another leap and I’m in the hospital with Tod by my side. He’s almost a decade younger so he can still stand. And I guess in my fantasy he hasn’t left me for someone more age appropriate, even though I’ve been telling him to since our first date. We are there for the birth of our first grandchild. Gideon hands me the baby to hold. I take a long, deep breath.
“I made it,” I think. “I’m old and shriveled and my daughter-in-law hates me, but I’m here and I’m holding a grandchild.”
I wipe a small tear from my eye, an action that takes me back to my kids’ room. Gideon is screaming. His favorite toy, a set of plastic car keys, has dropped out of reach. His cry is earsplitting. It should bug me, but it’s so full of life, in this moment I love it. I want to steal it and put in a sports’ top bottle so I can suck it down thirty years from now.
“Here it is, honey,” I say, handing him the toy.
“You keep reaching, sweetie, even when they tell you that you can’t, you shouldn’t, that the odds are against you, you keep fighting.”
“And do what makes you happy!” I add, throwing the invitation in the garbage with a flourish and picking up a laundry basket of clean clothes to fold.
Ah ha! I’ve stumbled on a perk of being an older mommy. Look how wise I am!
I lean in and kiss Gideon’s nose,
“Oh! And don’t be afraid to settle down young.
Younger than your friends.
Younger than is legal.
I’ll explain when you’re a little older.