There is nearly an entire wall of glass, beyond which there are oddly industrial yet romantic fire escape ladders. The sun pours in, washing the entire space in a honey glow. Beneath the window is a run of pipe, shuttling hot air from the radiator to and fro across the back wall, above it runs another pipe, tailor made for little kids to shimmy and scurry along.
“Look at me, mama? I’m a’walkin’.”
Along another wall there are bins and baskets filled with toys. Mismatched, bedraggled and forgotten, until the sun hits the chime of the tambourine just right and they careen as one to the trove of neglected fun, reviving it in an instant with their squeals of delight.
“Ooh, looky-dat, a Buzz Lightyear.”
“A ‘nudder one, Buzz Lightyear.”
“A ball, let’s play and kick’a da ball.”
They scamper this way and that, one giving chase while the other speeds away, then in an instant a juice box breaks the spell, they collapse drinking the juice as ferociously as a runt finally finding its way to nurse. The satisfied grunts and gasps make me smile. They are happy. My fingers speed along the keyboard, clackety clack clack clack Sun splashes across my desk top, a caramel wave that warms me.
This is my perfect. My work, my girls, my triumph.
And yet there is more, a different kind of light, a shadow really. It is the truth of what is best. Are those beams of light truly so magnificent, or are they relief, obscuring what is really before me? Are my girls playing in the water or are the buoys, bobbing and brushing against a line that is more tether than plaything?
This afternoon, snacks arranged, toys gathered and reserves thoroughly replenished from hours of family time, we were there. Together. Me at my keyboard and they at play.
But the words didn’t come so easily, the silence between the squeals grew longer and longer.
“Mama, I just wanna go home.”
“I just don’t wanna be here anymore, Mama.”
“Mom? You hold me?”
“You just stop working and you hold me?”
My agony splintered, a hazy mix of defeat, resignation and fury. I have always known that there would come a time when it would not work. I thought that I could eke by for a while longer. Parts of me still raw from the clawing this route, I am not ready to give way. Time has changed and I have slowed my feet, not wanting to match pace with a truth I refuse to see.
I cannot have it all, this I know, but letting go of it, even though it’s long since lost, is harder than I thought. Perhaps it would help if I said their names.
They are my core, nothing less. And though in many ways I am still their axis, I am not enough. I can no longer fool myself that they can play at the office. They cannot be expected to stay quiet during phone calls, to play independently. They need engagement, each craving challenge and surviving on questions and conversation. They need me to be there or to let them go.
I want it to be true that they are better off with me, that a sitter is a substitute, but the truth is, somewhere along the way, I lost myself, and all that’s left is a substitute. I’m a jumbled mess of mouse cords and princess ribbon, from which neither mother, nor professional can truly be found. And this afternoon something about the timbre of the plea to leave broke through. This wasn’t about office or home, sitter or secretary, this was about us.
“I just want you, mama.”
I need to be here. There. I need to be where I am. Nothing less is fair to Briar, Avery or even to me. Sean and I talked tonight and as his eyes reflected a compassion, he spoke slowly and quietly
“I’m glad you are realizing this. This is a good thing, babe.”
I wanted to scream, wanted to push the chair from the table and knock it behind me. I hated what he was saying, despised him for saying it. I wanted to explode, but those blue eyes shone back at me, he never looked away as my anger flashed silently across my face. I sat so still and then, more than seeing the truth, I felt it. Sean, the one that hovered beside me, encouraging me as our girls came into the world, the one that held me as I sobbed the night before my first day back at work, has paced me stride for stride. Tonight he held my hand and gently led me off the path, It’s time to stop running, old girl he seemed to be saying and suddenly I realized how tired I was.
And so I pause. I need to take a long, hard look at what is going to best for Briar and Avery and their mama. We need to carve a new way, one that allows each of us to dance in the afternoon sun and release peals of laughter, together and alone.