Calm in the Storm

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I put on Smushy's turn signal and took the road leading to the entrance of my favorite nostalgic place: Pine Crest Park. It was a perfect, sunny day, so the place was packed.

I found a spot on the grass right next to Julia's station wagon. I had a feeling she'd beat me here.

I unbuckled, got out of the car, and pulled the double stroller out of the trunk. I pulled my sunglasses down over my face. It was brighter than I thought. I quickly reached into my diaper bag and put some baby sunscreen on my two squirmy boys.

"Okay, here we go! Your first trip to the park!" I said, lifting Blaze first and putting him in the stroller. Oliver was next. "Ugh, you guys are getting so big!"

I shut the car door, slung the diaper bag over my shoulder, and pushed the stroller onto the sidewalk. It was a rare, seventy-degree day at the end of March. There was a good breeze. Kids were laughing and playing on the playground.

I looked down at the boys, then the kids on the swings. On weekends, Mom spent so much time pushing Poppy and I back and forth on those swings when she was done with work. We'd be so anxious to go, so she usually didn't even change out of her waitress apron.

We always went to this park instead of the Six Flags or the movies. It was mainly because the park was free, but as kids, we didn't know the difference. And now here I was, a mom myself, bringing my kids to the park. Thankfully, not in an apron.

I wheeled the boys towards the cobblestone area that led to the gazebo and the big pond. Under the shade of the gazebo was a girl who had the same double stroller as me. She sat on a bench, looking through her phone. I walked up to the other side of the bench.

"We're here!" I said.

Julia lit up when she saw me. "Ah! Look at you! You look great!"

"Aww, thanks. Because I feel awful. Seriously dreading going back to work next week," I said.

"How did it go, getting your childcare grants? It didn't take too long for us."

"It wasn't bad. It literally pays for their entire daycare, so I'm lucky in that regard. But let me see the girls!"

I leaned over to look at her stroller. This was the first time I'd seen the girls in person. Julia was busy working, so it was hard for us to find the time to meet up with all the kids. The girls had matching denim dresses with headbands that looked like sunflowers.

They had dark eyes, black hair, and tan skin, like their father. I didn't want to say it out loud, but honestly, they didn't look too much like Julia. Except for their little noses. Those were all their mother's.

They looked so adorable that I almost wished I put more effort into dressing my boys when we went out. I just threw on whatever clothes I could find in the closet that fit. They were growing like weeds, the both of them. 

"Look at them! Which one's which?" I asked. I couldn't have told them apart if I tried.

"Georgie in the back, Genny in the front," she said, already lifting Blaze out of his carrier.

"Good thing you went for the quiet one. If you picked up Oliver it would've been a scream-fest."

"Oh, I know! That's why I went for my Blazey-Boy!" She laughed. "You can pick up the girls if you want! Which, I know you do!"

I looked at both girls. Genny looked sleepy, so I went for Georgie. Or, was she Genny? I couldn't tell. I was too distracted by their cuteness when she told me who was who.

I picked her up as carefully as I could. They both were so much smaller than my boys, even though they were older.

Georgie (I think) gave me a big smile when I placed her on my lap. I think my heart must've exploded. Now that she was up close, I could see the itty-bitty hearing aids in her ears.

"They're so cute! I love their matching outfits," I said.

"And I love both of the outfits the boys have too," she said.

"Oh, thanks. I didn't put in a lot of effort."

"Well I still think they're adorable!"

I looked at both boys. Blaze was dressed in a green striped onesie with a matching baseball cap. Oliver had a white onesie that said, "Mom's little man."

"How come he doesn't have a hat?" she asked, pointing at Oliver.

"Would you look at his head? He practically has an afro with all that hair!"

We both laughed. Georgie was holding onto one of my fingers. Her eyes were glued to the ducks. I bounced her on my leg a little, but she was paying much more attention to those ducks, babbling and saying, "Dah dah dah!"

"What? Do you see the duckies?" Julia asked, tickling her little belly. She turned her attention to me. "So, how's my former Bump Buddy doing?" 

"Totally stressed. Jace isn't around during the day, I can't go to college yet, and I'm home all the time. I don't see Cler much anymore...I just feel like I'm all alone and I don't have any help, so in a way I'm kinda looking forward to being back at work."

"How's Poppy doing? Still sneaking out?"

"I hope not. If she is, she's getting better at it. I know I've seen her gone at least once since I told you about it." 

"Wait, really? That's not good!" Her shock made Blaze's eyes look up. "Maybe this whole thing is too much of a change for her."

"Well I got her enrolled in this support group for teens with siblings who are young parents. She fought me on it bigtime, but I told her that if she didn't go I'd be telling my mom that she was sneaking out. So now she's been going."

"Hey, that's good. Do you think she's doing any better?"

"A little. She's been doing her homework more, but I've been keeping an eye on her as much as I can. I feel like she's a bit less moody," I said. Georgie started sucking on my hand. I paid no attention. "It's like, I love her and I love my boys, but her being a problem is the last thing I need right now."

"Yeah. I know how that feels. I can't take parenting some days. I love them more than anything but sometimes I just wish I had more help. Carlos works ten-hour days, and as soon as he comes home I hand off the girls and go to work the closing shift," she said, starting to lightly bounce Blaze on her leg. He was loving it.

"Being a parent is hard," I said.

"But worth it, right Georgie?" She reached out and tickled Georgie right on her tummy, making her laugh. So I did have the right girl all along. "Keep your head up. I'm sure you'll feel better once you get back to work on Monday. Oh, and I applied for a head cashier position! With the extra money we can finally pay down some of our credit cards."

"That's awesome! I know you guys are maxed out with the wedding." I bit my lip and sighed. "Which, by the way...it's kind of on the same night as senior prom, which Cler was taking me to and—"

"Well, what time does it start?" she asked.

"Uh...eight, I think."

"That's no problem! You know you're allowed to leave early, right?"

"But we'd have to go home and get changed. I can't wear a prom dress to your wedding!"

She laughed. "It's a black-tie wedding. Of course you can! Everyone else is dressed super formal. You'll blend right in, I promise."

I smiled. "Me, probably. Not sure about Cler though. She loves her big dresses and sparkles."

"Trust me, sparkles are no issue. You should see my wedding dress!" she said. "Are you ready to go for a walk? I really need to stretch my legs."

"Yeah. Totally."

We put the babies back in their strollers and started walking around the path. It made a big circle around the pond. I put my head up to the sun. It was so nice to feel it on my face and be breathing in the fresh air. It made me feel normal, for just a second.

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