I’m in bed with three guys, but the only one I’m not touching is my husband. Somehow a pillow has wedged between the two of us, creating a hypo-allergenic foam wall. I listen to them inhale, exhale. I watch the ceiling as three square shadows with prison-like stripes creep across. It’s the middle of the night, but a horn blares, perhaps a taxi charging down Park Avenue. A dog barks. I wonder: Who is walking their dog at 3:07 am?
One of the guys I’m snuggling with is our Pomeranian “Boo” look-alike puppy who resembles a stuffed animal. When I take him for walks, he’s attacked by strangers as if he’s a Kardashian in Vegas and takes it like a media-trained champ. He is currently nestled in the bend of my knees getting his beauty rest.
Also in bed is my 4-year-old son. His days in this adorable boy phase are numbered, so I’m inhaling them frantically like a drug that’s about to be snatched from my hands. He’s my fourth child, so I have the benefit of knowing how fast this will happen. One day I won’t be able to lift him. One day, he’ll ignore me at a school event — like my nearly 12-year-old son did recently — and tell me to stop taking so many pictures. I won’t take it personally, I tell myself. But my heart cracks like ice. I can hear it, the cube dunked in a glass of chilled soda. Crack.
So when the little guy sneaks into my bed, he stays. I hold his hand and stroke his soft, smooth cheek, watch his eyelids flutter in the dark. I feel his angelic arms around my neck. I take him in, savoring it, grasping onto him, hoping to freeze the sands of time that are slipping through my fingers. I know I’ll be tired tomorrow; I know I won’t fall back asleep. My thoughts will turn to everything I have to do, and then they keep turning and turning. But I can’t miss this. This joyous, intimate moment with my preschool boy who will be a teenager before I know it.
As a divorced — and remarried — mother, I have time away from the kids every other weekend. I have time to reflect and to long for them. (Yes, I get to live a vibrant, rich life with my husband filled with travel, sleep, and friends — but we’d both give it up in an instant to have the kids every day.) The perspective it affords me is priceless: like a car momentarily protected by an overpass in a rainstorm, the noise stops for just long enough for me to register the silence before the pounding resumes. I can step back a bit. Process. Be grateful.
I had a moment earlier this week, the day before I got the kids back, when I found myself walking alone down Madison Avenue. I’m hardly ever alone. I left my phone jostling in the bottom of my purse and headed purposefully toward a bakery to pick up the “special snack” for my daughter’s class party the next day. (Yes — no matter whose “day” it is, I’m always the mom.)
Everyone I passed along the way triggered something in me. Two ponytailed, make-up-free friends with telltale bags under their eyes pushed Bugaboos side-by-side. I scooted around them and remembered that stage with a pang of nostalgia, but also with relief that it wasn’t my life anymore. I turned sideways to get past two elderly women, slowly clanking walkers, and their aides. Will that be me? I passed hurried moms my age with kids freshly picked up from school; my tribe. I greeted the ones I recognized with a warm smile.
I want my kids, I thought. I want to be picking them up and rushing to doctor’s appointments and gymnastics practice. Even though I’ll be doing that tomorrow, it doesn’t fill the void today.
In New York, these intimate, everyday moments are all out in the open, like a purse with its contents spilled out for all to see. All sorts of relationships are on the sidewalk stage. A mom walks comfortably alongside her towering teenage son, looking up at him. He stares straight ahead as he speaks. Will that be my son and me?
I see evidence of the passage of time everywhere. I get a preview of what being an empty-nester wandering around the city will feel like. This is part of the reason I like to flee to L.A. when I don’t have the kids. There, everything occurs in private — in cars, homes, and clubs. I can drive around happily, avoiding school carpool lines, playgrounds, and other places that make me miss my brood. Here in New York, however, it’s unavoidable. Life’s thrum is a daily assault. I feel like I need to race against the clock if I want to accomplish and experience everything I want to before time’s up.
So I cling a bit tighter to my little boy in the dark, knowing how soon I’ll be letting him go. I stroke my dog’s soft furry ears. I listen to the comforting sound of my husband sleeping, knowing that, God willing, he’ll be my journeyman for whatever life throws at us until the end. And I lie there, watching the shadows dance on the ceiling, savoring this moment in bed with my boys.