|April 16, 2001
The little girl two tables down from ours wants to make sure that everybody in the restaurant sees her new underpants.
She stands in the middle of The Buttercup Cafe, where we can all see her -- waiters and waitresses, cooks, counterpersons, other restaurant patrons -- and she purposefully lifts the hem of her skirt all the way up to her nose. Beneath her purple-flowered Easter dress is a matching pair of purple underpants, stretched tightly over a bulging disposable diaper.
"Look!" she announces happily. "I got PAN-tees!"
When her audience chuckles appreciatively -- charmed by this innocent impromptu peep show -- she smiles a flirty two-year-old smile, lifts her little skirt even higher, and twirls around three or four times as fast as she can, giggling wildly.
"I got pan-tees, I got pan-tees!" she chants in a singsongy voice.
Then she stops and bends over -- as though she is reaching down to touch her toes -- and thrusts her bottom in the air, waggling the purple underpants back and forth.
The crowd roars.
Meanwhile, her older sister -- who has been sitting quietly in the booth with her parents, observing all of this -- clearly can't stand it anymore. She leaps from her seat and stands next to her sister, lifting her matching purple-flowered skirt in the air. "I got panties too!" she says grimly ... determined to claim at least a fraction of the attention her younger sister is receiving. The two of them commence spinning around in circles, shouting and giggling with increasing volume and velocity, until their indulgent but embarrassed parents finally haul them off the dance floor and back to the booth to finish Easter brunch.
David smiles. "Well," he says wryly, "it's obvious that somebody has been eating sugar since 7 a.m."
Ahh, yes. The traditional Easter morning "breakfast" of Peeps and chocolate bunnies. I remember it well. I am laughing so hard I'm afraid I'll choke on my grilled Reuben, right there in front of everybody. Ordinarily I'm not particularly charmed by small noisy children in public places (I'm growing ever more curmudgeonly in my old age, I'm afraid: the only time I find them "charming" is when they're related to me somehow), but this was an exception. This was cute and unscripted and spontaneous. Plus it was remarkably reminiscent of something my own two daughters might have done at that age, right down to the matching Easter dresses ... the manic, sugar-fueled tap-dancing ... the murderous sibling rivalry. I just want to pick up both of these adorable little girls and set them on my lap and fork-feed them bites of my Apple Walnut Upside Down Pie.
And that's when it hits me.
Sitting there watching those two little girls dance around the restaurant has filled me with acute physical longing for my children. But it's not the usual *I Miss The Tots/I Wonder What They're Doing Today* sort of yearning that I experience on a daily/hourly/minutely basis. This is different. This is an extremely specific sensory longing: not for the lean, lanky semi-adults they are today, so much as for the babies they used to be.
Little round bodies stuffed into footy pajamas. Little chocolate-smeared faces. Sticky fingers tugging at my hair. Chubby arms wrapped around my neck. Warm sugary breath in my ear.
That's what I suddenly find myself longing for: my children as babies.
I've been feeling blue all weekend -- a carry-over from a terrible week at work, coupled with several days' worth of premenstrual misery (which finally, mercifully ended on Saturday afternoon) -- but up until that moment in the restaurant it has been a sort of vague, nonspecific moodiness ... an overall emotional malaise, blanketing me like creeping coastal fog.
Now, though, it finally has a voice. Remember the feel of them? it says. The smell of them? The warm weight of them sitting on your lap ... cradled in your arms ... draped over your shoulder?
Remember watching them on Easter mornings?
And yes, I do remember. I remember getting up before dawn and hiding cellophane-wrapped baskets behind the camphor chest, or in the hall closet, or under the dining room table. I remember taking a careful nibble or two out of the raw carrot or the lopsided cupcake left as an offering for the Easter Bunny, and then writing a thank-you note in my best rabbit-handwriting. I remember standing in the bedroom doorway and whispering Hey! The Easter Bunny was here! ... waiting for comprehension to sink through layers of sleep. I remember sitting in the living room in my bathrobe, with my coffee and my camera, presiding over the next twenty or thirty minutes' worth of glee and gluttony ... offering up the occasional useless maternal admonition to Share or Slow down or Just ONE piece! just one piece! I remember afternoon egg hunts in the backyard (using the same overworked dozen eggs, over and over again, until they were literally falling to pieces). I remember wiping sticky, struggling hands and faces with a warm wet washcloth ... combing bits of gummy marshmallow out of ponytails ... blotting chocolate stains from brand-new Easter dresses with matching panties.
I remember all of these things. But most of all -- I remember the way that they felt in my arms.
The funny thing is that the remembering isn't making me feel worse: it's actually making me feel a little better than I've felt in days. Maybe it's because I know that every mother probably feels this way, at one time or another: this occasional, visceral pang of longing for the baby her grown child used to be. Unlike the noncustodial mom stuff -- which sets me apart, I know -- in this particular sadness, at least, I am far from alone.
As we're leaving the restaurant, half an hour later, I see Mom and Dad struggling to put the little girls into the family car. Older Sister is screaming at the top of her lungs, refusing to allow her father to buckle her into her car seat. Little Sister, meanwhile, is draped across her mother's shoulder like a sack of rice, eyes closed, thumb in mouth, one arm curled around Mom's neck ...
... with a single jellybean stuck to the bottom of her purple Easter panties.