They fight all the time.
ALL. The. Time.
He took this! She hit me! He said no! She broke that!
They are forever not each other's best friends, anymore.
The big one lies and talks constantly about prison and drug references. My own little guy shrieks and gasps in hypersensitive freak-out mode over everything they touch or say or do. The little one, at two, outweighs my 4-year-old and then some and my back screams from sloughing her around in my arms. She eats everything.
Paper. Books. Photographs. Pine cones. Food wrappers. Styrofoam. Batteries. Napkins. Dirt. Rocks.
My husband is gone again, 10 more days this time. I am cranky and tired and I miss him, and my head pounds while I struggle to admit that today, I don't want to do this. I don't want to wrestle with three car seats when it's 102 degrees and the car has no air conditioner. I don't want to jostle children between time-out and a too-hot backyard, give three baths while the other two wait for showers, slather on another round of Band-Aids and hair gel and toothpaste, wash another load of miniature underwear, sort train tracks from toy cars again.
I don't want to hear the ABC's out of tune again today, or explain for the hundredth time why it's not okay to talk about prison in front of the baby. I don't want to imagine the pre-placement life of a child who doesn't know his last name but likes to pretend-arrest the other children and recites the Miranda rights with sickening accuracy.
I will load up the whole crew in my overheating rig again this afternoon and take these babies to see their mother, praying they won't ask to call me Mom (again) in front of the lady who birthed them both. She will fill them with junk food between meal times and give them things I won't let them have when we get back home. While they're at the visit center, I will hold my own babies longer than they'd like to let me, since my time for this is scarcer now than it used to be, and we will eat ice cream in a restaurant and pretend like life is normal.
After an hour, I will go back to the visit center and the babies will run to me, and Birth Mom will cry and tell me to be careful again and again and I will fight the urge to roll my eyes, since careful hasn't really been on her agenda before now, because I'm the one treating her babies with tender hands and doing the things she ought to be doing. Because I know she has a big screen TV and wears designer jeans when I'm buying thrift store duds so I can afford to feed her babies. I will feel a mix of anger and compassion at the mixed-up woman whose kids are in my care, and she will whisper things to them in Spanish so I won't understand her.
As she passes little M back to my arms, whose bottom lip is stuck out into a pout because she doesn't understand the Mom who hands her over every time, I will see the enormous Tattoo Jesus looking back at me from her arm, shoulder to elbow, in sandaled feet with faded background glory, like the one on the candle jars at the grocery store.
I will carry the sniffling baby back to the stifling car and ask Tattoo Jesus if he ever didn't want to love, if the smell of sickness or the filth of life annoyed him as bad as it all annoys me, today. I will wonder how to be like him when my house smells like another family now, that my own babies now know about cocaine and prison and their bedrooms are inspected by ladies with clipboards and they can't have a kiddie pool in the yard anymore because the clipboard says so, because we're all just trying to love when we sometimes don't want to.
He will tell me, as he always does, that love doesn't have anything to do with wanting to, and that love doesn't come from me anyway so I'd better make more room in this equation for him to do the work. He will kiss the baby on the cheek with a breeze and wrap himself all back up across the arm of the mixed-up woman who needs him, too, to cling to her in tattoo ink on the days she can't cling to him for the power of addiction and poverty.
I will roll down the windows and we will drive away in the overheating rig and sweat off Band-Aids and hair gel, and sing our ABCs all out-of-tune, again.