Most scars of parenting are internal, the ways we can’t fix things for our children, the way they stop wanting to hold hands in public.
My body holds these internal scars, and also bears its own external record of bringing these babies forth and taking care of them, day or night.
Without lipstick or summer tan, the centimeter scar on my upper left lip is barely noticeable. If I run my tongue over the area I can feel something, a small bump. Close to the midpoint between bottom and top lip, where it starts to rise toward the bow in the center, a raised sliver of flesh.
The toddler is in bed with my husband and me, having started out in his own miniature convertible crib. He has his hard red plastic transparent sippy cup, cushioned blue handles attached for easy grasping. He’s in a night terror, screaming like he’s being stabbed or abducted or whatever haunts his tiny nightmares.
I try to soothe my son, my long awaited surprise baby. I pat his back, try to hold and comfort him. He flails, all four limbs wild. The cup smacks my face again with sudden velocity. I’ve never been punched. Is this how a fist fight feels? Like my flesh has actually split open? There’s a hole in my face, blood pouring into my mouth,
At the 24 hour clinic, I feel like a fraud. My 6’4” linebacker husband seems the more likely culprit for my injury than my two year old son. Whatever notation goes in my file doesn’t stop the physician’s assistant from giving me two wee stitches to hold together the gap in my lip.
During my first visit to the obstetrician post-birth, I learn that my previous doctor has left the practice and I’ll be seeing someone new.
“Ooh, who did your stitches?” the doctor asks from between my legs.
“What?” I’m nauseated, near blinded by the fluorescent lights, my rear end hanging off the end of the table, freezing cold in my paper gown. And now I’m confused.
“This is a nice looking scar. Someone really did a nice job.”
She’s complimented my most private of stitches – the sewing done while a team of very silent and efficient doctors and nurses whisked away my not-crying newborn baby. Stitches the doctor took his time on, chatting and trying to distract me from whatever was happening out of my line of vision.
The second child slept easily in his own crib, from early on. We struggled as I made myself say I love you each day, out loud, to his face, whether I felt it or not. He was small and frequently sick, his lungs alert to every germ and his intestines refusing to poop.
As a family we travel to Costa Rica with our six month old baby and the four year old big brother, ready to be intrepid despite parenthood. I carry the kid on my chest, facing out in the Baby Bjorn, through misty rain forests, and around the sweltering base of a volcano.
We return home after a night of plane delays and a five hour drive from LAX. I’m wedged in the back seat of our two door Honda Accord, trying to calm the overtired kids while barely keeping my own eyes open. At last in our driveway, my husband tilts his driver’s seat forward and I try to climb out with the baby in my arms.
Instead of a smooth exit, my foot catches on the seatbelt and I fall to the cool concrete, twisting my body to protect the baby’s head from the brunt of the impact. Lying there, trying not to scream at the angle of my knee and the pain ripping through me, I curse motherhood. I curse the instinct to protect a child and sacrifice my own leg.
Over the months of barely walking in a massive brace, the years where I can’t properly kick in an aerobics class, I think back to that moment. The moment I cared more about my child than my own self, even in the midst of a dark depression where I wasn’t sure I could be his mother.
I lick my lip while eating ice cream and feel the tiny mark from when my children’s needs were simpler. I ice my knee when the barometric pressure changes, laughing as my boys mimic Michael Jackson dance moves.
Scarred or no, we’re doing pretty good.