If Then That


She was born fourteen years, six months, and thirty days ago, right on her due date, after a quick and powerful birth with most of the labor at home. She was 7 lbs 8 oz, two pounds heavier than her older sister, but we marveled at the similarities — her thick, curly black hair, her deep blue eyes, the slight jaundice that kept her under bilirubin lights for a day or two.

She came home and we all fell in love with her immediately. Her extra two pounds made sleep and nursing and everything so much easier, and it was like a dream compared to her sister’s nightmarish infancy. Like her sister, she was healthy and hearty, and in photos of the two of them at one month, two months, three months, they were impossible to tell apart. Until she got old enough for her eyes to turn the same dark brown as my mother, with long gorgeous eyelashes, they could have been the same baby.

At 12 weeks, I went back to work, photos of my two dark curly girls on my desk, side by side, baby and preschooler, carbon copies. Every few hours, I locked the door and pumped. Every night, I picked them up from daycare and buried my face into their necks that smelled like the daycare’s baby wipes, and we went home and ate takeout or macaroni and cheese and peas, with the baby gleefully nursing and then, eventually, eating jarred sweet potatoes and carrots and bananas and spinach. I felt a twinge of guilt — should I be making baby food? it doesn’t take that long… — but instead, we sat on the living room floor and cheered as the baby crawled between us, filling our time with each other.

I could have applied to graduate school, like I’d planned, but work was going well, so well that I thought I’d give it another year, not shake things up until the baby was two, or maybe three. I got a raise. “I can’t believe how well you’re doing,” my boss told me. “I was a wreck when I had my second baby!”

“Well, she’s a great sleeper,” I told her.

I snuck into her room around 11 most nights, just after brushing my teeth, to watch her sleep. I’d never seen anything more beautiful.

Another year or two at work turned into three or four, promotions and raises and friends made and my ego strong and healthy like my daughters, both of them racing back and forth in our yard in the fancy northern suburbs. We were delightfully boring. We thought about a third baby, but decided two was perfect. Our nanny agreed. The girls followed each other everywhere, alternating between ice skating and soccer and piano lessons and their friends houses. “Bye, Mommy,” they said each morning from the kitchen counter, frozen cinnamon rolls on their plates, waving with their mouths full.

And now here we are, fourteen years, five months, and twenty-seven days later, my carbon copy daughters fighting over makeup and jeans, their secrets tightly entwined in each other’s minds, their double dates and screaming fights filling our weekends, but when I see them walk out to the car we got them last winter, sometimes their pinkies are entwined, and my older daughter brushes a spot of eyeshadow off my younger daughter’s face, reaching up to the three inch difference in their height.

My husband and I commute to the city together. In three years, they will both be gone away to college, volleyball or debate scholarships, and we will maintain our routine, miss them, stay busy.

We are content. It’s exactly what we thought we’d do.


Of course, this isn’t right.

My daughter was actually born fourteen years, six months, and twenty-five days ago, five days late, dramatically by emergency c-section. She was under five pounds, and my life flowed forward from that tributary into what I’ve written for years here on this blog. There was heartache beyond what I had ever tried to imagine, and great messy gushes of love I’d never be able to describe no matter how I try.

She eventually regained her health but never her size and I never went to graduate school and I had to leave my job and never go back.

I learned to cook not only baby food but every other kind of specialty food I could have imagined and many I couldn’t.

We never moved to the far suburbs but to a liberal enclave just outside the city limits, where — a variation on T.S. Elliot — I measure my life in coffeeshops.

My daughters, each visually exquisite, are exquisite in vastly different ways: one dark and curly haired, luscious and warm and soft with flashing grey eyes that make me want to look and look and look; one small and light and miniature, creamy and velvet, bouncing, with my mother’s espresso colored and almond shaped eyes. One likes noodles and french cheeses; one likes lentils and grilled cheeses. Both eat anything I put in front of them. One wears patterns, one wears solid colors. They like each other, love each other, and lead distinct lives, weaving in and out of each other’s worlds in a complex pattern I am too close to discern.

I’ve place-holder-ed my life for fourteen years, six months, and twenty-five days in a “it’s fine” job with fractured days, but I seldom muse about what would have happened if my younger daughter’s life had begun another way, in another body. I am not one to say that I would never give up a moment of it; there are several I could give up easily, but I can only picture other versions of me in caricature, from television, from cartoons. In other versions of us, we aren’t us.

If this, then that, but life isn’t a computer program. We can’t ever know how that would look or feel. I’ll stay in the original program written for me, where I know for certain that my space is saturated with love.


This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, with the prompt of “What if?” using the beautiful photo below (credit to Tim Wright). The photo Finish the Sentence Friday posts are co-hosted by Kristi Campbell of FindingNinee and Mardra Sikora, of Grown Ups and Downs.

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2 thoughts on “If Then That

  1. Wow. Just, wow. As I read the first part, I was like “WHAT??” “Wait, that’s not right, or am I confused and am I confused?” What a brilliant writing job of the “what if” prompt. I mean, even going in knowing “what if” I was pleasantly surprised. Great job. Also, OMG I’m so glad your girls now are the way they are. xoxo

  2. Such a great example in all ways because the first section was *like* you, but not you. It was empty of the you that’s the messy gushing of love. Interesting that.
    Made the point squarely on the head.
    Also, I really like the way you used the photo between- everything was in sharp relief. I even see the photo in a different way with this story around it. Very cool.

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