I'm halfway reclined on a charcoal gray leather couch, trying to read a Cheryl Strayed essay for a class that begins Wednesday. I'd wrongly bet the ranch that Wednesday would be relatively free, given that it's the second day of school and all. But now I'm thinking, Wednesday is the second day of school and all, and why do I ever count on the first week of school for anything except some mayhem. When will I learn?
But class, and a small procedure which I'm choosing not to contemplate too much, is coming. And at the other end of the gray couch is a little boy in a pink-striped pajama top and vehicle-themed undies. His head is just shorn, freed of the three months of summer 'ponytail' growth we'd come to brush away from his eyes and out of his ears.
All that hair, that clogged his goggles and frizzed so dramatically each morning, is gone. Cut and vacuumed away while his older brother and I grocery shopped for back-to-school gumbo and the always-needed new gallon of milk.
I didn't even get to see a cut or finger a lock. Didn't say goodbye to that street urchin wig. And like that, one vision of summer is gone.
I glance down at this pink-clad wonder, one hand clasping his iPad, the other wrapped around his only slightly pudgy thigh. He's going on seven-and-a-half, and pudge is hard to come by these days. Adult teeth are coming in, his legs and feet are looking terribly manboyish, his slightly dirty nails, the ones on the hand clasping his thigh, seem older. I don't know how or why. They just do.
“Do you want me to blow this thing up?” his precious, perfect, magnetic voice asks.
“No,” I say, wondering what he's talking about now. I pay attention to just about 40% of all Minecraft-related jabber these days. Now that I write that, the number seems incredibly high.
“Why not?” he asks. “I am going to because I can rebuild it. Also, I have a safe room. And do you know how well bonemeal makes things grow? You should see my carrots."
He is so little and yet not. What does he know of TNT and bonemeal and safe rooms and tidy nails? Not yet past the first page of Strayed's essay, I am so ready for school, and yet these moments.
They strip away the fatigue and the mind-numbing boredom, the bickering and the Legos everywhere. Strip, peel, slough, toss, leaving behind glossy, exfoliated memories, ephemeral snapshots that focus on the sweet and trim away the rest; the rest that ages, wears, begs to be forgotten.
All I can hear and see and want to know is this precious creature who is mine. But Cheryl has just lost her mother, and the US Open is on, and this darling, blue-eyed Frenchman who looks straight out of 1983 is head to head with Rafa Nadal, a man I admire so much but who tonight reminds me of a balding rat, and Tom and I have only been teammates for days, nothing more. And carpool and schedules and my god the unread emails.
I shoo Ol upstairs to brush teeth and get ready for bed. I eat a salad of garden tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. I’ve had several glasses of wine. I've taken a bite of an offensively disappointing butter cookie. I've given it up with disdain.
I can hear the kids sorting Legos, as if their arms and hands are plastic-brick rakes. Will the raking yield the longed-for piece or does it matter? Is the raking meditative? Purposeful in its own way? I hear them talking and chatting, no longer fighting and ear-clapping out each other’s words. They adore each other. I hope they always do. But have they brushed those teeth?
I've not bothered to mark my place in Cheryl's essay. I'll just start over tomorrow-isn't that what I always say? Which is why I have so many hopefully saved articles to read on Facebook and on my night table and strewn about the house.
I've returned, instead, to Oliver Sacks' last book, On The Move, which I'm well into and love. What a man he was. I wonder, with regards to people like him, what might have been different if they'd had children. Would anything? Everything? Would their accomplishments be less? More? Quieter?
How would I be different were I not a mother? Would I have not received that writing rejection today? Would I even be writing at all? What is one without the other? What would either be on its own?
Impossible to know. I have never for a second regretted having children, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes wonder about motherhood's costs. They feel mammoth in dark moments, irreplaceable gifts in the next. All the onions to chop for a big gumbo- the mound of tear-inducing alliums: will it ever end? Just a bit later all that work is but a stew of translucent rumors, there enough to make you sure of their crucial presence, mysterious enough to keep your doubt aflame.
One toddles downstairs-"I'm hungry, mama!"-as the cat starts to gag. I put away my book, relocate the cat from carpet to wood floor, wonder aloud if a cinnamon apple and an ants on a log will quiet the rumbling tummy.
"Mama, did you invent ants on a log?"
"No, sweetie, it's been a snack for as long as I can remember."
The ants and their what? Mud? tumble to the floor. "It's OK, pick it all up. It's fine." And he laughs as he mashes the ants and peanut butter and whatever else is along for the ride back into the log. And he howls as fibrous ribbons stream away from the celery as he bites and chews, green ribbons going every which way.
Cheryl and Oliver and Tom and the cat and the Legos wait in the other room, as a little one and I dance, sticky with muck and rogue ants and streamers. And my sweet other comes down and says, "I'm hungry too."