“Pick me up!” my toddler demands as we stand in one of the many lines at Disneyland.
“Please just stand still, B,” I beg.
“We’re almost there,” I lie.
“Mama, pick me up!” she demands louder this time.
Why did I think a trip to Disneyland by myself with a toddler only a mere three months after giving birth to my second daughter would be a good idea? It was not even 11 a.m. and we’d already waited in line for two princesses, Dumbo and It’s a Small World. My breasts were engorged, I was tired since the infant required nighttime feedings and I was cranky from lack of caffeine and my toddler was filled with requests.
“Can I have popcorn?”
“I want to see Rapunzel!”
“After lunch I will have ice cream”
And the ever constant: “Pick me up!”
The Southern California sun has been brutal this past year, and it was no different this February morning, which also happened to be my birthday. The thought of standing in line holding my 30 pound daughter, all thighs and arms, hot breathe on my neck, sticky hands on my cheeks, made me want to head to the nearest bench and take a nap.
“Can I just have a few minutes of not holding someone?” I thought, envying those parents in line who either tackled the park as a team or whose child was of age to stand in line quietly or with minimal fidgeting.
Perhaps trying to celebrate my birthday with my daughter at Disneyland, on our first mother-daughter date since her sister had been born was a tad ambitious. My back was still weak from the epidural, causing a sharp pain when bent over too long, and maternity shorts were the only clothes that fit.
I was hoping the day would be a special outing for my daughter since her singleton world was shaken up three months earlier when we brought her baby sister home.
“You don’t love me,” or “I don’t want you,” bellowed from her mouth anytime she saw me holding the baby. For the first time, she preferred others to me; pushing my arms away when I bent to pick her up. All because I was holding her sister.
My sweet infant too small to understand that she was encroaching on her sister’s favorite spot: my arms.
“Look at that little bicep,” my friend noticed on one of those rare afternoons that I got out of the house alone. “When have you had time to go to the gym?”
“Gym?! No, this is from the kids,” I tell her, at the same time buttering up a bagel, excited to not have to share my food. “I’m always carrying someone.”
“Maybe I should have baby,” she joked, “ so I can have arms like that.”
We laughed, because we both know she won’t, and the tiny biceps are only one of the noticeable changes that come along with being a mom.
In line, I can feel a sweat stain forming on my lower back from the weight of the backpack filled with snacks, jackets, a change of clothes, water bottles and enough Purell to last us a week. Just the thought of adding 30 pounds of toddler to the weight being carried on my back cause beads of sweat to form on my forehead: how can I do this? How can I carry everything?
“Pick me up, mama,” she whines, bouncing up and down in her Cinderella pajamas (one day she will realize the beloved “dress” is really a nightgown), arms stretched up to me, little fingernails painted pink, remnants of syrup from a breakfast of pancakes and banana on her fingers.
It’s so hot, I’m so uncomfortable, my back hurts, there’s a crook in my neck from co-sleeping, my wrist hurts from the constant cradling of the infant. I’m. So. Tired.
But that face. Those eyes. That voice. The understanding that my daughter needs to feel close to me forces me to dig deep, find the strength to endure the scorching heat, the tightness in my back and neck, the weight of it all.
“Okay, come here,” I tell her, bending down to scoop her up, adjusting her in my arms so that that her head rests on my shoulder – if only for a second – and her arms fall around my neck.
Up close, I can see the flecks of green in her hazel eyes, the dimple on her cheek, and the slight gap between her baby teeth. Her breath is warm and smells of syrup and juice, her forehead glistens with sweat, all of her weight rests on my arms. Her body at ease knowing I have the strength to carry her and everything else.
“You’re carrying me, mama?” she asks, her chubby hands messing with my hair.
“I sure am,” I tell her. “I’ll always carry you.”