The day starts with Disbelief.
And I’m careful, so careful. It’s like I am trying hard not to breathe wrong, as if it’s possible one deep exhale could disrupt the force and they’ll all have to stay home with me again. But I don’t, and they don’t. They grab their bags and we walk down the street and I drop them off and I get teary eyed when Viv meets her teacher for the first time and she walks away and my heart stutters and trips over the hurdle we just crossed.
And then I walk home. ALONE.
You mean I can just put the legos from the floor, into their bin — or the books lounging on the couch back onto the coffee table — and they will just … stay there? As if I’m now capable of magic? Who am I, Hermione?
And you mean to tell me that while I am in the bathroom, no one will come to find me — even if I stay inhere for five hours? The door will not open and there will not be an urgent ask for goldfish? Or for me to braid their hair? Or if I can order a new soccer ball?
I can walk downstairs to switch the laundry and REMEMBER I AM SWITCHING THE LAUNDRY?!
I will not be intercepted by an argument to break up, any Come-here-ing, or the black-hole level gravitational mind bend children use to distract us?
All this, followed by an acute aching.
I’m missing a piece of myself.
- Where are they?
- HOW are they?
- What are they doing?
- How are they feeling?
- Who are they talking to?
- Are they hungry?
Questions and answers I could have cared less about three days ago.
I miss their faces.
Hold on. I can just … leave? Like, put on my shoes, grab my keys and WALK OUT THE DOOR AS IF I’M THE QUEEN? I don’t have to make sure the bathroom has been used or everyone is wearing underwear; no water bottle filling/snack grabbing/ooquick! change the laundry I forgot about earlier-ing? No one is missing a shoe? Are you sure?
S I L E N C E
Adrenaline shoots from my flanks. I grab my phone, frantically checking the time. When do I need to be where to pick up who? But then, just as quickly, I remember: they’re all in school. For thirteen years, I have had only short windows of time to myself. Needing to be somewhere is my most valuable skill.
I catch a glimpse at myself in a mirror of a store I walk — no, I stroll — through: my hand covers my mouth. It’s as if I’m walking through Versailles, and someone’s told me this is our new house. I leave, buying nothing.
Of all the things I wanted to do this summer, it was to enjoy my kids. Nadia is getting older and, I don’t know, I’m getting older and well, time is passing quickly.
So, we took our first “just us” family vacation where we didn’t stay in a tent. Nadia and I did a Mother-Daughter weekend trip. We visited our family in Ohio and the kids played for a week straight with their cousins. Chris and I were able to get away (thank you, Family) for a long weekend. We went to swim practices and logged in a solid number of hours at the pool. I’ve thrown away eight full-sized empty sunscreen bottles. We went to the beach with Chris’ family, an annual tradition, right before school started.
We also had a lot of downtime, unstructured time, and I’m Booooored time — it wasn’t all hugs and homemade cookies.
Yes, we enjoyed our summer.
But during all this, I also low-key panicked over the big-little-everythings that grew into an imaginary closet monster the longer I ignored them. I’m not great about acknowledging this, but I have a number of formal (and informal) commitments, the kind that most normal people call work. These obligations are individually small and incredibly flexible and have a very different feel from my former work life — the intense structured 12-hour shifts of the ICU. (Namely, no one dies.) And because I could, and because childcare is complicated and expensive, I pushed off a lot this summer.
With intention, I took my kids’ first day and made it special for myself: a solo movie, a silent sushi lunch. I got sweet messages and colorful texts from my friends with suggestions for what to do with all my new free-time as a stay-at-home-mom. (Champagne lunch, trash TV, take a nap!)
But then yesterday, the second day of all the kids in school, I sat at my computer till my fingers ached and my eyes blurred. Rushing rushing rushing. There’s so much to finish, so much to do. (WHY aren’t the school forms electronic? WHO even invented email? WHY does technology hate me? )
And on this third day, walking to school again, I look around and ask: are you serious?
They’ll go — e v e r y d a y?
And this helps me breathe.
Why did I feel like time was so short?
Many of us are practiced at being needed. We put our own selves on the back burner. We’ve taken many notes on the small things we’ll get to eventually and have tried not to break out in a sweat over the big things we don’t know how/when/where we’ll fit it in.
Some of us may be making up for a decade worth of putting-off, and others of us have nothing more than a few weeks of make up work.
It’s sinking in that I don’t have to strive for completion all at once, all in one sitting.
All the kids are in school.
But I’m not bored. And when this round of work is done (next week? next month?) maybe I will take that nap.