I let my children see me cry this morning. It was one of those drawn out dawns when everyone wakes up waaaaay too early, and the countdown til preschool drop-off stretches into forever until the last second before we need to leave RIGHT. THIS. MINUTE. DAMMIT.
And in that frenzy, my daughter flops on the floor like a 30 pound pile of jelly, and she shall not be moved. (People, it’s like she studied Nonviolent Resistance with Gandhi, and while that’ll be super awesome when she’s out there changing the world, it sure don’t fly at 6:55 a.m. when the carpool driver is waiting waiting waiting to take us to school.)
And when it’s time to go, and my daughter won’t get up off the damn floor and put her shoes on, and the phone is squawking and I know unless we get our asses outside RIGHT NOW that the person driving us who has her OWN commitments will be late and may say “no” next time we ask her to drive us, I want to scream.
And so I do.
God grant me the motherfucking serenity.
And then they scream. And the phone screams.
And in that moment, the whole damn world screams.
Keening, howling, unrelenting, the scream pushes me too far. We are always standing on the razor’s edge, my children and I. Our life is a surceasing balance between their needs, my needs, and the needs of those we are forced to rely on.
The view from the edge is freaking exquisite–until the balance shifts, and then…
I’ll tell you the truth: Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for what we have:
A cute little house with framed family photos on the walls.
Good people who help drive us back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.
A DVD player.
An orange tree.
But I’ll tell you more of the truth: On my days with the kids, it sucks so hard doing this alone without family.
Especially doing this alone without my mom.
Five and a half years ago when I looked down at a plus sign on a pregnancy test, I reached for the phone and punched in the numbers for my mom’s cell phone. My finger poised over the 4 and the 7, I remembered:
She wouldn’t ever answer.
So I told others–my dad, my friends, the barista at Cole’s Coffee, my then-husband’s family, Facebook. But there was always that pocket of emptiness that I could never fill–that sense that the person I wanted to share most with would never know. And then when my daughter was born–looking more like Lord Voldemort than I wanted to admit, I wanted my mom to show me how to be a mom.
But I was lucky, still: I had my mother-in-law, who humbled me with her kindness. After I almost bled out during the delivery, she made me foods that would restore my strength. When I couldn’t use the bathroom by myself, she helped me out of bed. When my daughter WOULD. NOT. STOP. SCREAMING. she would take her and put her to sleep while I hid in the garage and gorged myself on Ben & Jerry’s.
She did all the things my mom would have done.
(In the divorce, I got to keep the black and white mosaic table that she had made me the summer before, but my ex got to keep his mother.)
Even during the simple times, I want my mom–when I watch how my children hold hands as they fall asleep, I want my mom to see it.
When I leave my laptop long enough to see my children sitting side by side and drawing pictures on matching whiteboards, I want my mom to see it, too.
“Look Mom! I’m doing something right.”
And most days, I think I am doing something right.
But on the days when I am outnumbered by their stagnant feet, and their pudgy fingers push me away while I wrestle them into their winter coats, or on the days when I pick them up from school and they say “We don’t want you, we want Aba,” or on the days when the push to bedtime makes me think of Sisyphus and his stupid boulder, I want my mom to see me through.
Not gonna happen.
Never gonna happen.
So, I shove the shoes on my daughter’s feet. Alone. And I grab one kid under each arm like footballs and charge through the door. Alone. The ever-loving stillness of the clammy morning slams into us head on.
The three of us. Alone.
She doesn’t want to go to school.
She wants to sit next to the window.
So does he.
“No Mama, I want to sit on your lap.”
“It’s my turn.”
My kids whimper the entire way. And so do I.
When we pile out of the car, my daughter reaches for my hand and says, “I know what will make you feel better. I’ll go up to the clouds to bring your mom back to you so she can put my shoes on for me. ”
How the hell does she know?
I didn’t take furniture or books or jewelry when we left Los Angeles, but I took pictures. On my last night in LA, my best friend came over and we got drunk and placed photos in plastic bags. And enough time has passed where these pictures really mean something–both the photos themselves, and the memory of choosing the ones to take with me.
And during the quiet moments before bed, I’ll light candles, and we’ll go through the photo albums I purloined from my father.
(Hi Dad. If you’re looking for your wedding album, don’t worry. It’s safe.)
But it’s not like my kids and I sit around and talk about my mother all the time, or how much I miss her, and how much I hate that she isn’t here, or how I would trade half my life just to have her with me.
So how does my little girl know?
And how does she know exactly what I need to hear at that very moment to pull me back from the edge?
“Look Mom! I’m doing something right.”
And that’s when I cried.