In a previous post, “How Will I Know When I’m Done?”, I discussed the uncertainty I felt about whether or not my family of five is complete. That was four months ago, and I’m no closer to having an answer. Not that I necessarily expected one at this point; my youngest daughter is only one, after all. It’s just that there’s really only one thing standing between me (well, my husband) and the inevitable snip snip, one detail that keeps the whole matter from being settled forever.
It’s the imaginary fourth child. The one who appears in my mind each time we ask ourselves if the era of babyhood is, for us, coming to a close. What would it be like, I think, to have one more? So I picture it, the addition of another human being into our fold. One more set of lungs, one more maker of messes. One more hand to hold and load to carry. One more division – or multiplication? – of our love.
He has a name. It’s the name we had chosen for all three of our children, if they had been boys – unless I change my mind at the last minute like I did with our second daughter, who we came this close to naming Edith. (After my husband’s grandmother, but I lost my nerve. She really would have been a sweet little Edie though…) And if she’s a girl, I fantasize about naming her something exotic, maybe French. Pronounceable, but different.
This child would be our last, DEFINITELY our last. He’d be eight, maybe nine years younger than his oldest sister, who would watch after him when she felt like being helpful. He would trail after them or let them take turns carrying him around; he would look up to them. They would dress him up like a doll and speak to him in baby voices. They would teach him the best words from their Fancy Nancy books and the names of all the Star Wars characters.
The imaginary fourth child. The one who would bring our current vehicle to capacity. The one who would solidify the reality that sometimes, in this world, people do share a bedroom with other people. The last one to wear the clothes that have become, for me, hallmarks of the too-swift ascent out of infancy. OR, the one who would necessitate the buying of an entirely new wardrobe – I’m not sure which is worse.
He is a presence. In my mind, she exists. I can picture them, these phantom children, at their birth, and I know that I do have the capacity to love them. To fit them, as gently as possible, into this imperfect pandemonium, this affectionate wild rumpus that we call our family.
I cannot make them any promises. How can I? I am tired. I am overwhelmed. Just yesterday the one-year-old made her way down an entire flight of stairs, and I didn’t know about it until she reached the bottom. Safely, thank God. I listen to the older two argue and I start another load of laundry and I think, One more would be unwise. I think, Look at what you already have.
A little boy with so many sisters. Four girls, my own little women. I am waiting to see if he will begin to lose substance, if she will start to fade with the passage of time. Until they do, I find it hard to wish them into never-existence. And if they don’t? Then the answer to my question will finally be clear.