The newborn wails.
The front door opens and a December chill blasts in, a skirl of rain-pocked wind and a skitter of dead leaves.
The toddler goes rigid. She doesn’t want to go to the childminder. Her new brother is six days old, it’s New Year’s Eve, and we are intent on her going to the childminder. Adamant. To keep her in her normal routine, we tell each other. To catch our breath for five minutes, if the baby naps, if the stars align, we plead inwardly. The week of sleepless nights is telling on us. The wreckage of Christmas decorations is crunching underfoot.
The toddler won’t put on her shoes.
She won’t put on her coat.
Even after I fight them onto her, she won’t get in the buggy.
Fine, I say. She has to go. I’m desperate. We’re late. I’ll carry her there under my arm, then, less-than-a-week-postpartum or otherwise. I bend down to scoop up her starfished self under one arm. The baby is tied to my front in his stretchy wrap.
As I bend, he falls out. Straight out of the top, head first, toward the ground.
I catch him.
We make it to the childminder’s in a haze of quickly-souring adrenaline. We drop off the crying two-year-old and hit the supermarket opposite, to let our hearts stop hammering, to let me retie the damn wrap and settle the baby. I’ve held him wrapped in a limpet grasp against me all the way.
Inside the supermarket it is hot and neon bright. I’m wearing my horrendous Kim Jong Il coat, the only one that fits over me and the stretchy-wrapped baby. I start sweating. I can’t get the wrap tied right. The baby cries and cries. Prickly heat breaks out all over my face. A sympathetic face materializes. It’s one of the supermarket staff. “Are you all right, dear?” My fingers are all thumbs. I hold the crying baby in one useless hand, the stretchy in the other. My voice comes out in a wail. “He-he-he’s not eeeeven my fiiiiiiiiiiiirst.”
The supermarket lady steers us to the cafe, sits us both down, and sends over free cups of tea. The baby latches on for a cathartic feed. Sip by sip, inch by inch I feel my shoulders unhunch. Adrenaline settles and slowly dispels. Over the stereo, The Proclaimers proclaim. They’re going to dream about the time when they’re with us.
I dropped the baby.
“You didn’t drop him”, my partner says.
I did. I dropped him. But I caught him too.