(s)mothering

“You wanted grandchildren that badly?” I asked my mother, over brownies and coffee and the head of the sleeping baby.

“Well, yeah. Seth’s such a natural father. And I knew better than to count on you.”

I shrugged. She was right.

“So, wait, weren’t you surprised when he came out?”

“Come on. I’m his mother. I knew he was gay. Okay, I didn’t absolutely know. But Dad and I were both pretty sure,” she said, returning the wayward pacifier to the waking infant’s mouth.

“Huh,” I said, and cut another brownie. My mother eyed me disapprovingly. “What? I’m breastfeeding. I need the extra calories.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Mum,” I hesitated.

“Don’t. You can’t go back. Just….let them hold her, try not to be possessive.”

I took the hint and handed the swaddled bundle to her grandmother. I stood and stretched, hearing the front door. Sam appeared, carrying two six-packs of a fancy brewery beer with the logo of a falcon.

“Hey sis,” he kissed me on the cheek and pushed the beer into my arms. “Mom. And the Diaper Girl,” he said, peering into Maura’s wrap. “You get to watch me kick your mom’s ass at poker. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you how, too.”

“Great. With this family, her first word is going to be ‘ass’,” I muttered.

“Or “shit,” my mother suggested. I rolled my eyes at her.

We weren’t going to start the game until after dinner, when Maura went to bed. We were still adjusting to each other, so she'd settled into a sleep schedule that kept me guessing. Since I wasn't teaching until the fall semester, I had the luxury of napping throughout the day as often as the baby did.

What will our lives be like when she’s two, or five, or ten? I wondered, watching the rise and fall of the green blanket. I stared at her until my eyes went fuzzy, and then pulled her door closed as I stepped out into the hall. I heard Seth and Jonah in the foyer.

"Well, Seth wants to our bedroom in blues and greens, but I prefer mauve and brown," Jonah was saying. Mom must have asked about the house renovations. Their apartment had not been big enough for children, so they'd gone a little further out into the country and found a gorgeous old farmhouse on an acre of land. I wondered what they'd done with the corner room that was supposed to have been Maura's.

“Um. Hi,” I said, watching Seth as I came down the stairs. It had been weeks – possibly the longest stretch we’d ever gone without speaking. I didn’t even know why he was here tonight. Sam had to have worked magic.

“Hi Sara,” Jonah came over and kissed my cheek. I tried to smile at him, watching his face carefully for the familiar traces I knew were there – her brown eyes, the gentle slope of her forehead. She had my chin, poor kid. But Jonah had come by quite a bit in the past few months. Seth had not.

“Sam brought beer,” I said too loudly. Mum took the hint and ushered Sam and Jonah toward the kitchen. I looked at my big brother - a full head taller than I, with the same pointy nose and thick legs. I’d spent a lifetime trying to live up to his example. And now I had failed, terribly.

“Seth.” I said. “I don’t know what to say.”

He looked at me. “Me neither.” I nodded, trying not to cry. Suddenly he came over and hugged me, tight, fiercely, as though we’d both survived the end of the world. “I miss you, snotface.”

I snorted. “Me, too. Swine breath.”

“Stupidheads,” Sam said, coming out of the kitchen with beers. “Quit being emotional and get in here so I can take your money. Papa needs a new Mac.”

“Dad’s not here yet,” I pointed out, poking Sam in the arm. “Shitface.”

“Can’t use that one; I heard Seth call you snotface,” Sam smiled gleefully.

“Leave it to the youngest to remember rules selectively,” Seth said, taking his beer. “Stink-ass.”

Dad arrived then, hair disheveled from biking without a helmet. Mum came out to greet him, and he kissed her right in front of us. They hadn’t been nearly so affectionate when we were little.

Sam had had four beers by the time the game started (despite our mother’s disapproving and not so subtle stares) and yet he somehow took the first three hands. I couldn’t concentrate. Dad was soliloquizing about the growing list of states who were recognizing the rights of gay couples – insurance benefits, the right to inherit – while Jonah smiled indulgently at him and Seth fidgeted uncharacteristically.

The red lines on the monitor jumped, so I went to check on the baby. Her face had filled out beyond its shriveled alien state; she had full control of her head, and would gaze inquisitively at anything in her range of sight. Her calm, placid nature scared me. It, too, was alien, and had to have been inherited from her father.

I picked her up, wanting to feel her weight in my arms, her breath on my cheek. She turned the full force of those intelligent eyes on me. How could I have made any choice other than the one I made? I carried her back downstairs.

Seth’s face immediately looked pained as we came through the doorway. I held Maura out to him. He hesitated, visibly, and finally cradled her in his arms, looking stunned. It was the first time he’d seen her.

Jonah placed his arm around Seth’s shoulders to peer down at his daughter. My daughter, I thought firmly.

“Sara,” Jonah said, still looking at the baby. “We have news.” He straightened and caught my eye. “Seth and I are going to be parents.” I didn’t say anything. “We’re going to adopt two little girls from Nevada.”

“Oh,” I said. I looked around the table. Everyone else knew, goddammit. “That’s…great. Congratulations. How’d you – I mean…” I trailed off.

“Well, we’d looked into a private agency, but our girls are actually in the system. They’re sisters, and they’ve been in foster care since their mother OD’ed”

“They’re 6 and 5,” my mother said gleefully. “Can you imagine the fun I’m going to have shopping?” Dad smiled.

“I thought, um, there was quite a wait for, I don’t know. Don’t you have to have like, background checks, and stuff?” I inexplicably felt like I was a teenager again, excluded and clueless.

“We started the process when Maura was born,” Seth said quietly.

I remembered. I went into labor in the morning, three months and two weeks earlier. Jonah and Seth were both there. My brother was supposed to be my labor coach, but they had both walked out even before I got an epidural. My mother arrived twenty minutes later, fluttery and clueless. I made them take her out of the room when I started pushing. I brought Maura into the world on my own.

“Wait. So…you’re… I mean, what about…” I stumbled over the words. I couldn’t see Seth’s face; I wasn’t sure I wanted to. He was making faces at Maura, who grinned, gooey and happy. I realized Jonah was handing me an envelope.

“This is the paperwork, terminating my parental rights,” Jonah said gently. “Although we’d still like to be a part of her life.”

“Sara needs all the help she can get,” Sam said. He was right, but my heart hurt too much to acknowledge it. My milk-filled breasts tingled unpleasantly, my throat opened and closed in sharp, involuntary spasms.

“You’re going to be great dads,” I whispered. I stood up blindly, walked to the living room.

“Wow,” Sam said, coming out. “I bet you feel like shit.”

“Fuck off, little brother,” I growled through hot tears. I pounded my fists into my thighs as I paced the floor.

“Oh come on. They’re happy. You’re happy. You’re crazy. They’re crazy. You’re all going to raise little happy crazy people. And I’ll be their cool, sane uncle.”

“Sam. You don’t get it.”

“What’s not to get? Sara, get over it. So you kept the baby. So she’s going to have a mom instead of two dads. Now two kids with no parents are going to have dads and grandparents, a neurotic aunt and…as I mentioned, a cool, sane uncle.” He sat on the arm of the sofa, watching me for long minutes.

“Spamhead,” I finally mumbled.

“Sappy sister,” Sam grinned, hugging me. “Can we get back to the game? You’re gonna lose if you don’t start focusing.”

I watched his back as it disappeared around the corner, and then I followed him.