“Mommy, may I please have an orange with my lunch?” my son shouts from the dining room as I begin to prepare his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the kitchen.
“Of course,” I say with a smile and a hint of irritation in my voice. It makes me happy that my son prefers to eat fruit instead of handfuls of chips or crackers, but why does peeling an orange have to be so tedious and messy? The rind stubbornly clings to the fruit, and I always get the zest stuck under my fingernails. I usually avoid purchasing oranges at the grocery store for these very reasons, but this week I decided to let my five-year-old son walk through the produce section and have his pick.
“I don’t want an orange,” my daughter chimes in. Of course she wouldn’t want the same thing I am preparing for her brother. She is three and doesn’t want to be in his shadow. She would also much rather eat handfuls of Goldfish and fruit snacks. I try to come up with some way of persuading her into eating the orange. After all, it’s my job as a mother to make sure she gets her daily serving of fruit, and I am no short-order cook.
“I’m going to put some oranges on your plate, sweetie,” I say as calmly and cheerfully as possible. I really don’t want to invoke the wrath of my daughter over an orange. I heard enough screaming this morning when I asked her to put some pants on. I assure her by adding, “I’ll only give you a few slices.”
I open the fridge and grab three oranges. I figure that my son will want to eat more than one, and I will eat whatever is left abandoned on my daughter’s plate. I dig my thumbnail into the rind of the first orange and peel off a quarter-sized portion. I peel another section of the rind that is even smaller than the first. I hear giggles followed by footsteps running around the dining room table. See, this is exactly why I avoid buying oranges. Now the kids are getting impatient and riled up. If only it didn’t take so long to peel oranges. “I’d like you two to settle down,” I yell from the kitchen. “I’m almost finished with making lunch.” That’s a lie. I have at least five minutes left of peeling oranges. Hopefully I can get through this without someone getting injured or having to hear another tantrum.
As I make progress peeling the first orange, a rush of emotions suddenly punch me in the gut. That citrus scent is so powerful and good. I hold the orange closer to my nose. My sense of smell is very poor –which I blame wholeheartedly on allergies– but oranges, oranges I can smell. I breathe another whiff through my nostrils. The orange smells so comforting. I continue peeling, and while my hands tediously work, I begin to daydream about all of the other scents that are potent enough for me to smell. Cilantro. Freshly picked tomatoes in summer. Hops growing on the vine. Lime slices. My babies.
“Mommy, is lunch ready yet?”
Oh, my babies. A few days after my first child was born, I remember walking through Walgreens by myself to pick up some nursing pads and other items that I didn’t realize I would need after giving birth. It was one of my first trips out without my new baby with me. At first it felt good to be alone for a few minutes, but my boobs started leaking and a wave of my son’s newborn scent suddenly hit me while I was standing in the baby aisle. My son wasn’t near me, but I could smell him, and all I wanted to do was go home and hold him (and change my shirt).
“I’m almost done. I bet you are going to like the way these oranges smell,” I manage to say with tears streaming down my face. I’m crying. I am standing in my kitchen crying over the scent of these beautiful oranges that I didn’t even know I wanted. I’m crying because my two beautiful children have lost their newborn scent. A scent that faded little by little as each day passed after I first held them. I don’t remember noticing when the scent left them, but I notice now more than ever. I smell the oranges again. This time something is missing.
“You know,” I say to my kids, fighting back tears, “I’ve always thought that oranges should have been called butterfly fruit.”
“Well, when you peel them open a certain way, they look like butterflies,” I say as I place the butterflies on their plates. I wipe my tears, and I pick up their plates and carry them into the dining room. I set a pink plate in front of my daughter and a green plate in front of my son. “See. Don’t they look like butterflies?”
My son and daughter look at the oranges and burst out with excitement, “Whoa! Cool! How did you do that?”
I smile as I walk back into the kitchen. It’s funny how something so ordinary can seem so magical to my children. My son inhales his oranges before I return to the dining room with his sandwich. And my daughter, well she decides that she does want to eat some of her orange slices after all.
My son giggles and says, “Mommy, my butterflies are gone! I gobbled them up!”
“Are they fluttering around in your belly now?” I ask him.
“Yeah,” my son and daughter start giggling again. “Butterflies are flying in our tummies!”
I go back to the kitchen to get some water for my kiddos. I fill their cups and think about how I had felt them fluttering inside of me. They used to be such a part of me, and now here they are walking and talking and fighting for their independence. Every now and then I feel a phantom kick in my belly, torturing me with sweet memories of a part of my life that is so distant and surreal now.
I return to the dining room with water. I hand my daughter her purple cup and my son his blue cup. I pull out a chair and sit down to enjoy their giggles.
“You can have the rest of my oranges, mommy. I’m done,” my daughter says.
“Thanks for sharing,” I say to her as I grab a slice from her plate. I hold the slice up to my nose and give it one more sniff. It smells so good. I want to hold on to this smell for as long as I can. I eat the slice of orange, and I pray that I feel it flutter too.