There are watermelon slices sitting, in an alchemy that somehow encompasses both rotting and drying, uncovered in the fridge. Perhaps they’re from the one I bought 10 days ago, green and heavy and slightly lopsided. I forgot we had it. For me, this summer, the kitchen is just something that came with the house.
It’s morning now, and silent, but a riot of color, lent by stains I can’t identify and toys I don’t recognize, shouts from the oak floorboards of the kitchen and living room. I pick my way across, alone with the sunrise on that rarest of weekdays—no work, no hospital rounds, no trips, no sitters, no guests. Just me, here. Present in the company of my family, in the comfort of my home, but no one else awake.
I’m told that lunch yesterday consisted of chicken nuggets with peanut butter sandwiches on the side. A pair of shoes is missing. Soeren’s shoulders are sunburned. And Silas’s hair has gone from supernova to rock star to Laura Ashley model (on, it should be noted, the girls’ side). The compliments he gets from women have shifted from adoration of his cuteness to envy of his mane.
I am determined to trim that mane today, because last night as he talked to me, I sometimes couldn’t see Si’s eyes . . .
Or is it because yesterday, he used a long-fingered hand to casually sweep the surfer-white curls from his forehead as he addressed me, and was suddenly not four, but fourteen? I sat, transfixed, taken, awed, horrified. How magical and terrible that you must become something so separate and strong and unpredictable. How audacious of you to do it here before my eyes. How practical of you to do it, mostly, while I am not watching.
I’m cutting it, I tell you.
You will be four again. And perhaps, my blond-curled babe, I will forget that even now I can’t quite know you.
And Soeren. Your eyes, ever changing, now look like sea glass. You are so tan. And so tall—another few inches and I will be able to rest my chin on the top of your head. And you might let me, in the stray moments, in the same way you acquiesce, with a soft smile, to being hugged, or toweled, or tickled. I don’t wonder, yet, if it’s the last time for thoughtless cuddles . . . but I can see the wondering coming, ambling toward us on the winding, unpaved lane of growing up.
All of this—the changes, the surprises, the tallness—they would be happening, all the same, if I were here. But the inexorability of the process, when remembered, comes anew as a shock and a revelation. Because, at the heart of things, we mothers still think that growing up should not happen without us.
I don’t want you to keenly feel my absence. Wishing you pain for the benefit of my ego is too big of a burden for either of us to bear. But I do wonder what it means that my lack of everyday presence is not a tragedy. That you, my children, appear to flourish anyway.
Perhaps the lesson is that the real loss is simply mine. I miss kisses. Whispers. Small gifts with four or six or eight legs, or petals, or staples. The creak of the porch swing. Domain over the kitchen sink.
What does it mean that I never wanted that kind of household eminence—don’t want it still—but I ache as I type this? Not enough to turn back, or quit, but enough to know, for sure, that there is indeed a cost.
Enough to add fervor to my prayers that “ok” comes in all shapes, that love comes from lots of places, that enough is enough is enough, whoever’s providing it.
My faith tells me there is no hell, but amazingly, that doesn’t touch the fear of damnation here, on this earth.
Not by others. They could condemn me or my choices—maybe they do—but in the final estimation, it’s not any person’s judgment that frightens me.
What I’m afraid of is bigger and deeper, a theological matter for our time. The final judge will be the limits of each 24 hour day and the reality of opportunity cost and the truth that to love is on some level to leave your heart lying helpless.
In the face of that, I wish–I wish us all, in fact–comfort and peace and strength for the journey.
Absolution for the working mother
My love for you would break hearts
It does. It has–
I would know.
But not as a sun on a leaf through a magnifying glass
Or a portrait drawn from a single sitting
Or an unbroken line of oatmeal mornings and chocolate chip cookie afternoons.
I see you in the dappled light of moving tree branches
And candid photos
In full color, not sepia
Real and shining
And part of a true story–
The rest told in mudpies and milkshakes
served to other mouths
Footprints cleaned by other hands
The laundry, the sink, and the bathrooms
that say Daddy’s Rules
You laugh, and I hear you;
You laugh when I don’t hear you.
I know this.
And I smile
balm to souls
who always knew
you can’t really have it all
Just let it be enough.