Sunday, August 29, 2010

Nightlights and Lullabies (Part 1)

If you’re reading this, thank you.  I recently spent four days away from my children for the first time in their lives.  Not only was it refreshing and fun, but my four days in NYC inspired me to write something significant for the first time in a long time.  Part of the reason I never share what I write is because I want it to be “finished” before anyone sees it.  Perfectionism gone awry.  I’m doing something I don’t WANT to do because it will build character.

Like most SAHMs, I haven’t lost sight of the person I was before having children, but I do struggle to find ways to stay connected with her.  So this is it.  I’m reconnecting through writing.  After all, I did work my ass off to earn a Master’s degree in writing a million years ago, and my thesis was, in fact, creative non-fiction.  
A couple disclaimers:
  1. I'm posting this in segments because I'm still editing the later pieces, and it would be 40 pages long if I posted it all at once.
  2. I didn’t change anyone’s name in these pieces because a) if someone wanted to figure out who these people are, it would be a very short journey, and b) all of them have access to this, so I invite their comments if they take issue with my perspective on how things went down.  
  3. I apologize ahead of time to my prudish friends.  Sometimes certain words are the only way to express what you really mean.
  4. This is completely unedited (not counting self-editing) which is kind of scary for me.  Constructive criticism is welcome.  But if you say anything mean, I’ll write about you later.

I am packing.  I’ve got one suitcase, small enough to carry on, and a new purse, purchased yesterday when I realized I didn’t have a single usable handbag among the diaper bags, canvas totes, reusable grocery bags, and backpacks that line the top shelf of my walk-in closet.  I’ve got tiny toiletries, three paperbacks, chocolate-covered almonds, and my favorite jammies.  
My mom’s flight gets in tonight, and mine leaves tomorrow afternoon.  At four and a half, Will is acting like my leaving is the best thing that ever happened to him.  He has, every day for the last week, asked if it’s Wednesday yet, because he is over-the-top excited for four whole days with Mimi.
Ben, at almost eighteen months, is oblivious.  My concern vacillates, spurred on by ridiculous daydreams of my four days away.  First, I worry that Ben will cry incessantly, inconsolably the entire time I’m gone.  On the other end of the spectrum--and this would be much worse--I worry he won’t even notice I’m gone.
When my sister-in-law, Katie, invited me to NYC months ago, I doubted that the stars would align.  The timing of the trip would coincide with the last week of my husband, Scott’s, deployment, so I’d have to find someone to watch the boys.  Mimi jumped at the chance to stay with them, and I found an unusually cheap ticket out of Charleston, and all of a sudden, I was going to NYC.
As time passed, I had multiple conversations with friends, each of which started with something like, “How fun!  What are you going to do?”  My answer was always something along the lines of “I’m volunteering for a fundraising dinner for the non-profit my sister-in-law works for, and I’ve got several friends from high school and college to visit...”  
What I really wanted to say was “I DON’T CARE!!!  I’m on my own--no kids, no husband, no diaper bag, no bills, no schedule, no real life for four whole days!  I don’t care if I stare at the walls the entire time, JUST to focus on the sound of children not screaming.  I might stay in bed all day, only leaving to eat chocolate and go to the bathroom.  And while I’m in the bathroom, I’m going to spend some time there.  Like several minutes.  Just to pee.  Just because I can.  Without anyone sitting on my lap or at my feet, asking me to read What Makes a Rainbow for the twelfth time.  And I’m going to shower.  I’m going to drain the entire building’s water supply because no one will be pulling back the shower curtain, demanding cookies.  I am going to eat in restaurants--lots of them--and order things that take both hands to eat.  No chicken fingers, fried shrimp, or french fries.  I’m going to eat my whole meal without sharing, cleaning up a spilled drink, or boxing it up because someone’s having a meltdown.  And the alcohol--the alcohol!  I’m going to drink--not so much to forget these four glorious days--but enough to help me remember what it’s like to enjoy a drink without worrying about timing it accurately to pump-and-dump or hurrying home to get in bed just in case someone wakes up in the middle of the night with a fever.  I am going to live like someone else for four days--someone younger, less tired, and with fewer stretch marks.”
Everything is packed except my last minute toiletries when I hear Ben waking up.  This only happens when Scott is gone.  As a C-17 pilot, his deployment schedule takes him away for four months out of every twenty, which wouldn’t be too bad except for the fact that when he’s not deployed, he’s training or on a trip or taking local night flights.  On the nights when he is home, the kids never, ever wake up.  They sleep like logs and wake up with no pee or puke in their beds.  But Scott’s gone tonight, so Ben’s up.  Probably just needs to be walked around a bit and then put back in his crib.
When I walk in his room, I trip over his ride-on Pooh toy, and the tinkling of “What a Wonderful World” (slightly flat in pitch because, like everything else in this house, the batteries need to be replaced) sends Ben into a higher pitched scream.  I whisper-yell, “Shit!” before I can stop myself and limp over to his crib.  He’s sweaty from the crying but doesn’t show any signs of a real problem.  I check the mattress for wet spots and vomit, then sit in the rocking chair with him on my shoulder.  As we rock, the shine of the street light in our cul-de-sac filters through the blinds, and I’m struck by how quickly my frustration turns to melancholy nostalgia.  How many times have I rocked in this chair, first with Will and now with Ben?  
Ben wiggles down my torso, turning sideways, his breathing slow and steady.  I have been trying to wean him for about three months, and I’m hoping this trip to NYC will be the break we both need.  But for now, I nurse him because despite what all the books say about self-soothing, I need him to go to sleep, so I can get to bed.  Within moments, he’s out, and I lay him back in his crib.
Careful not to run into any toys on the way out of his room, I sneak into the hallway.  I head toward my bedroom but make a stop by Will’s room.  Will, my child who didn’t sleep through the night until well into his second year, snores like an old man and has to be woken up nearly every morning now.  He sleeps like his Daddy, on his back, with one arm up and tucked beneath his pillow.  He sweats in his sleep, even with the ceiling fan on but insists on covering up with a blanket every night.  I pull back the blankets to let  some air get to his tiny body, and he stirs.  I think for a moment that he’s going to ask a question, but instead he rolls onto his side and is deep in sleep again, his mouth slightly open, his eyes twitching twice and then still.  I lean in to kiss him but decide to lie down instead.  With my face just inches from the back of his head, I breathe in the scent of baby soap and sweat, one of my favorite smells, all boy.
I wake up, a little confused about my surroundings, and check my Indiglo watch (my constant companion for the last five years of late-night happenings).  It’s 1:30, so I have plenty of time to get a few hours of sleep in my own bed.  In the morning, I’ll take Will to school, run some errands, pick him up, and then my mom and the boys will drop me off at the airport.  I will walk smoothly through security with one bag, one purse, one boarding pass, and one I. D.  None of the all-too-familiar angry and/or pitying stares from people I usually get when traveling with two children.  Because as far as they know, I’m just a girl taking a quick trip to the Big Apple.  New York, ready or not, I’m coming to town.

I am sitting by myself in A terminal at Charleston International Airport.  There are maybe...thirty other people in the whole terminal, each of them wandering around while talking on their cell phones, typing hurriedly on their laptaps, or dozing off in the plastic chairs.  My flight was delayed an hour and a half, which is a bit of a bummer, but I’m reveling in the fact that I have just read 40 pages.  In a row.  Without stopping.  Well, I stopped to eat some chocolate-covered almonds, but that doesn’t count.
I’m reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  Scott gave it to me a few years ago, and I’m just now getting around to reading it after making a declaration that I will not buy anymore books until I read at least twenty of the books that I already own.  This will not happen, but I make the promise every now and then in an effort to appease Scott’s growing concern that eventually we will live in a house where every wall of every room is lined with bookshelves.
By the time the agent announces that it’s time to board, I’m half-way through the book and wishing I was in love with a time traveler.  I mean, Scott does randomly show up when I don’t expect it sometimes, but I always know how old he is, and he’s always in a flight suit, which is sexy, but not nearly as exciting as Henry showing up buck naked.
Once I settle into my seat (Did I mention I’m alone?), I stretch my very short legs and stare out the window at the runway.  I scroll through my mental list of to-do’s during my stay.  NYC is one of my top five favorite places in the world.  I’ve done all the fun, touristy things--the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Carnegie Deli--just thinking about it makes me want to buy an I ♥ NY shirt and a kitschy apple keychain.  This trip, however, is about a) spending time with my favorite sister-in-law, and b) being open to where the fates (and the subway) take me.
The flight is uneventful, always a good thing.  I read, sleep, and complete three sudoku and two crossword puzzles.  We land after eight o’clock, and I pull out my phone to text Katie.  She calls back immediately and says she’s still at work.  Still at work.  How ridiculously metropolitan single woman of her.  I’m jealous.  We agree to meet on one of the 34th street exits above Penn Station to grab a late dinner.  For Katie, this is NBD, but I am unbelievably stoked to eat dinner at 9:00.  On any normal night, by 9:00, I’ve digested my 5:30 mac and cheese, bathed and bedded the wee ones, and tucked in with DVR’d TV or whatever Netflix movie is in the DVD player.  More often than not, I’m stalking, I mean, browsing people’s profiles on Facebook.  I might be eating cookie dough.  I’m probably not wearing pants.
But tonight, I’m practically dancing the Singin’ in the Rain soft shoe shuffle through Penn Station, complete with my trendy purse and summer scarf, on my way to eat expensive but delicious Chinese food.
I stop in a Starbucks to grab a hot chocolate while I wait for Katie, realizing that although summer has already arrived in Charleston, NYC is still too chilly for the short-sleeve tee I’m sporting.  I wait on the corner, scanning the sidewalks, unsure from which direction Katie will be coming.  Then, I spot her.  Tall, in a fashionable coat and a pair of flats, her strawberry blonde wisps hugging her face, Katie comes in for a hug.  I squeeze back (partially to benefit from the body heat), so thankful for the only sister I’ve ever had.
When Scott and I first started dating, Katie was literally his kid sister--only fifteen to our sage twenty.  I loved her because I was supposed to, but her know-it-all attitude drove me crazy.  (Someone told me once that the things that annoy us most about others are generally the things we like least about ourselves, which totally applies here, because I have from a very young age struggled with knowing everything.)  As Katie (and I) grew up, our relationship changed.  We’ve both chilled out a little, figured out who we are, and learned to respect each other’s strengths and handle each other’s weaknesses.  It’s hard for me to articulate because I’m an only child, but I think that’s what sisterhood is.  Okay, enough of the cheesy interlude...
We find the restaurant and order two dishes to share.  With a sigh, I realize I’m tired.  But not too tired to hear about Katie’s new boyfriend.  Katie is not the type to get giddy about a boy, but as she fills me in on how they met and their multiple dates in the two weeks they’ve been dating, I sense her struggle to keep it cool.  To say I am living vicariously through her new dating excitement would be creepy, but it’s refreshing to be around someone still on the scene.  All of our friends have been married half their lives and are either pregnant with their third child or discussing vasectomies.  Sitting here with Katie, I’m in a world I recognize but don’t identify with anymore, like waking up from a dream unable to put all the pieces together the next morning.
We finish dinner and head to Katie’s apartment in Chelsea.  She offers me her bed, and she’s going to sleep on the couch, so she doesn’t wake me in the morning while she gets ready for work.  As I lay sprawled exhaustedly across the bed, I wonder if Scott is flying or watching a movie in someone’s dorm room or catching a late-night carb-heavy meal at the chow hall.  I feel a tiny tinge of guilt that I have this moment to myself while he’s stuck “over there.”  But the guilt is quickly replaced with gratefulness because I know as well as anyone that life is best lived when we leave no space for regret but fully focus our energies instead toward acknowledging our blessings.  I fluff my pillow and drift off to sleep.

1 comment:

  1. I have been laughing so hard through this entire thing that my husband, who is in the bathroom getting ready for church, keeps coming out and saying, "WHAT?" I reply, "You aren't a mother. You wouldn't understand." I TOTALLY identify with:

    *wanting to order something that takes two hands to eat! HA HA HA! I always scan the menu for something I can eat while holding Kaitlyn and a pacifier in her mouth to keep her happy.

    *being excited to eat dinner at 9pm and recalling all of the things you usually have done by this time

    I can't wait to read the rest!