I was in such a bad mood, and everything was going wrong. It was just a series of total first world problems, really, but I didn’t care about having perspective because I was in such a bad mood. The baby had teased me with a 15-minute nap but then woke up way too soon and way too angry. She wouldn’t let me put her down, so my lunch consisted of half a Granny Smith apple, a graham cracker with peanut butter, a packet of Cheez-Its and a pickle. I hit a pothole – hard— on the way to get Ruby. I hated every song on the radio, and my iPod was dead. Carpool lane was extra-slow. And when I finally got to the front of the line and picked Ruby up, before she even finished buckling her seatbelt, she immediately launched into a bitter tirade about the legions of people who were not going to be invited to her birthday party.
I tried to take a deep breath and put my bad mood aside. I didn’t want to take it out on Ruby, who seemed to be in a pretty crappy mood herself already. I tried to be sympathetic. But then I heard her say, “And I am definitely not inviting him because I don’t like his voice.”
“Ruby!” I snapped at her. “You don’t judge someone by his or her voice! Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Fine!” she said. “But I am also not inviting Nora!”
“What? Why? She was like your best friend last year. What happened?”
“Nothing … it’s just … I don’t like her voice either.”
Well, then I really lost it. I got all fired up and started into a truly pointless lecture about how we judge people by things they can control, like how they treat us and others, and not by things they can’t control, like their looks or their voices. It was pointless not because it wasn’t a valid life lesson but because Ruby could not possibly have cared less about what I was saying. It was also pointless because I am not even entirely convinced that Ruby herself knows what she means when she says she doesn’t like someone’s voice. It’s just sort of her go-to complaint about people.
The afternoon did not improve for me. I stubbed my toe. Ruby hit her head at the playground. The baby is teething and wanted to gnaw on my fingers and my face and my boobs. Pacifiers and teething toys, though offered, were roundly rejected in favor of maternal body parts. When she wasn’t gnawing, she was fussing. And regardless of whether she was gnawing or fussing, she was drooling so copiously that I kept changing her diapers, thinking they were leaking – but no, just drool. So much drool. All over everything. I was really in a terrible mood.
And then in the car on the way home, it just got worse. The baby wailed from her seat. Traffic crawled. My contact lenses itched and burned. Ruby whined at me about how loud the baby was. Summoning the last of my patience, I said, “I know she’s loud, Ru, and it sounds awful, doesn’t it? Maybe she would calm down if you sang her a song?”
And it worked. Miraculously, somehow, it worked. Ruby didn’t argue with me; she just started singing Georgia a made-up lullaby, and Georgia stopped crying and listened.
“You are my sister,” Ruby sang. “And you’re better than a blister. And I love you, no matter what. And I don’t know what your voice sounds like yet, but I will love you even if I don’t like your voice…”
That’s the crazy thing about parenting: how quickly everything turns around. I have seen Ruby go from a perfect, well-behaved, charming little angel to a screaming, furious, entitled, bratty little hellspawn in the time it takes me to say, “No, I don’t think we’re going to buy that Barbie today.” I myself have gone from a smiling, empathetic mother with what I thought was a fairly deep reserve of patience to a snarling monster yelling “Because I said so, dammit!” in a matter of seconds. But sometimes, it changes in the opposite direction – what had been a pretty lousy afternoon of parenting suddenly turned into one of the sweetest moments ever.
Everything about parenting defies logic and reason – no one makes me feel things, bad or good, as strongly as my kids. No one brings out the best and worst in me as strongly as my kids. And having a second child intensifies the good and the bad by a factor much larger than two.
I thought it was funny that Ruby sang about not knowing what Georgia’s voice would sound like because I used to wonder that about Ruby, too, and now I have to look back at that and laugh because her voice is just such a constant in my life that it is impossible to imagine a time when I didn’t know what it sounded like.
As Ruby’s song wound down, she said to me, in one of those moments that would be scripted and saccharine in a sitcom but that in real life are one of the best and most rewarding things about motherhood: “Mom, I love Georgie. And I love you. I’m glad we’re a family.”
“Ruby,” I told her, “we speak with one voice.”