I remember when my children were very small and I thought I had made a big mistake. They weren’t the mistake, I was. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this mothering thing.
I knew that I was lucky to have the choice of staying home with my kids full-time. I made that choice eagerly. But there were days when I’d stare longingly out the front window of our house as my husband’s car glided by on its way to the train. I had only a dim memory of that big, silver sardine can pulling slowly away from the station just as I reached the platform on the coldest morning in history. What sparkled were thoughts of the sites that greeted me each morning after that frightful conveyance dropped me, and my fellow sardines, at Penn Station in New York City. New York City. Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Bergdorf Goodman. It was a far cry from New Jersey, Mindowaskin Park, Jellybean Jungle and Kids ‘R Us. Lunches of gazpacho and watercress sandwiches gave way to Chicken McNuggets and a Little Mermaid figurine. The closest I came to adult conversation was when I called the pediatrician’s office to discuss potty training techniques.
I loved my children with an intensity that surprised me. I liked trips to the zoo and “Goodnight Moon.” But I also liked clothes with tags that read “Dry Clean Only.” And shoes that didn’t have rubber soles. And maybe an overpriced Frederic Fekkai haircut instead of a ponytail and a baseball cap. I wanted to buy food that was not shaped like Big Bird or a teddy bear in need of a few stomach staples. I wanted to watch a TV show that prohibited singing. And I desperately wanted to sleep later than the rising of the sun, at least on Saturday.
My toddlers are teenagers now. Even though I’ve gone from adored to disdained, admired to tolerated and omnipotent to idiotic, I’m glad. I’m back at work and, while I’m still grumbling about the commute, office politics and high heels, I’m happy. I carry a genuine leather briefcase, not a pastel plastic bag. I read sentences of six words or more and I rarely use that high-pitched, sing-song tone, that’s meant to coax, with my employees.
I’m very happy.
Yet there are some mornings, as I sleep blissfully past dawn, that I have a dream of one or both of my little ones climbing under the covers with me. The dream is so vivid, so visceral that I can smell their hair, feel their warmth and hear their light breathing as they curl into me. When I wake and the spot next to me is empty I ache.
I creep quietly into one and then the other room, sidestepping piles of dirty clothes, portable CD players and the odd textbook. I stare at posters of Harry Potter and Tupac hung incongruously close. And I see their gangly legs sprawled off beds grown too small for their occupants. I stand over them and inhale their scent. I touch their still-soft hands and listen to their deep breaths.
If I could scoop them up I would. But they’ve grown too tall, too heavy and too prickly to cradle in my arms. So I content myself with watching them. Filled with a bittersweet mixture of loss, for the babies that are no more, and awe, for the beautiful beings I ‘ve come to know, I pad back to my room for another hour to sleep, perchance to dream.