It was cold when they arrived a year ago, their skin still brand new during those first few winters. Right away I feared their ears would hear it all-- our drinking and smoking and late-night movies and moaning in the bedroom. Today tiny voices fill my living room and I can see yellow hair through the trees, while they run around and push each other and pick each other up, the way brothers and sisters do. I stand and watch for a while, let the record player stall and silence settle. I don't want to miss it.
The laughter comes loudest early mornings, while I lie in bed, my head screaming from last night's gin; and in the late afternoons, when light grazes the room and it's almost time for supper. They have been awake for hours, exploring the grounds and the weeds and the flowers, stomping and jumping, and the giggles, those giggles-- they make my husband smile.
I do want it.
But I don't want it now, and I don't want to want it too late, and I'm scared of never wanting it enough.
I'm worried about wanting the wrong thing or pursuing what I want until it becomes what I used to want.
And I always end up at the same place: here, wishing I didn't want it at all.
The room is dark. It's not even seven but I hear him stirring, so I peek in to say hello. He's in his crib, wearing that dirty Superman shirt he refuses to take off. He smiles when he sees me. He mumbles some three-year-old gibberish, and when I set him down he's off: We will read three books this morning, once, twice, three times, and again. The next one and the next. The foot book, the duck book, the bunny book. Then a diaper change. He sits next to me, rests his hand on my chest and grins. He hands me the foot book again. "Slooooooow feet," I say. He laughs a small, early morning laugh. His head smells like warm corn bread.
She wears yellow rain boots and carries a unicorn backpack. She tells me she's been to Mexico and that her name was different there: Eeeeslah, she says. "Like an island," I tell her.
She lists her favorite snacks: bananas, almonds, raisins. "No chocolate?" I ask. She shakes her head and chews on dried fruit, her nose covered in summer freckles. "My brother thinks he's a Big Boy," she whispers. "But he's not. Not yet."
They search our fridge, looking at magnets and postcards and drawings they've made for us. Her eyes land on a baby picture. Who is that? she asks, and I tell her it's me. She looks from me to the photo and back. "That's you?" she asks, and I nod. "That's me as a baby." She doesn't seem to believe me so she moves on, to the next magnet and the next drawing, while I stare at the faded photo and wonder if 26 years is really that long.
There's always so many questions: Where are you going? What are you doing? When are you coming over? When can we play? Why not? Why do you have work? Why?
There's always a why, and when I'm ready to answer they seem ready to forget, and they run back to their games, to their yard, to their afternoon.
Sometimes they listen too closely, and those are the moments I fear the most. Because I might say the wrong thing, the insensitive thing, the grown-up thing, the thing they might remember. Or worse: they might ask follow-up questions.
I don't know when the nightmares started.
They might have begun after we got married, or after the first of the 23-year-olds posted a photo of a baby. I scroll through one after the other. I don't know when this happened; I can still remember this girl in a prom dress.
They might have begun the first time I was late, my face breaking out, my body in its 20s changing. I dream of blood and a 41-day cycle. My husband holds my hand as I spill my concerns, and he says he's in no hurry. But I tell him again that I worry about it happening and I worry about it not being able to happen. Sometimes I wish he would worry like I do, but that's my terrible talent to boast. I tell him about my sister and my mother, and when I say the word lose he knows it means die and he squeezes my hand harder, just once, and I cry.
They might have begun after the first rejection email. I focus on writing a page, two pages, three pages a day. I remind myself this is what is important, and that a ring on my finger doesn't mean it is not.
They might have begun when the neighbors moved in, or the first time those children made me smile. It could have started when I first held the boy in my arms, or when I saw the girl take my husband's hand and guide him.
Some days I grow tired of waiting to become the person I've been told I'm supposed to be. The person who doesn't trip, who doesn't fall, who immediately picks herself up. Not the person who says "fuck", who smokes, who drinks, who throws up. Not the person who overspends, who forgets, who enjoys loud sex. Some days I have to remind myself to stop waiting.
There are children in the yard and they are not mine, but their smiles tell my story. I watch them and I tell myself it is all right. To want it. And to sometimes wish I didn't want it at all.
I see the ribbons in her hair and they are in mine, at 26, glossy and pink and delicately tied up in knots.