4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I cried this afternoon at my computer. But not for the reasons I should be crying at my computer, like pandemics and people not being able to get their organ transplants and cities of quarantined high rises and my doctor sister desperately hoping they don’t run out of respirators or face masks or whatever.
I cried because one of my children’s teachers had changed her Zoom address. To be clear, three weeks ago I would have guessed that Zoom was a speedy food delivery service or a children’s program from the 70’s with lots of swirling stripes and puppets. (I just googled this and the 70’s program was actually a thing so I’m not totally bonkers, contrary to everyone’s opinion.)
And let me clarify, I wasn’t crying just because of the change of Zoom address. Or my daughter in the other room massacring Pachelbel’s Canon in front of a computer duct taped to an easel with her very patient elderly piano teacher’s face peering through her bifocals and through the screen and past the duct-tape to my daughter’s fingers. Or because I was washing a second full load of dishes for the day. (Why are there so many dirty dishes?) Or because of how chapped my hands are from all the washing and Purell. Or how mean pre-pubescent kids get at 3:30 every day. Or how they outnumber me. Or because of the ridiculously stupid worry that we will run out of toilet paper. Or because it was just about time for my daily call to my mother to remind her NOT TO LEAVE HER APARTMENT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES even though she often does, for good reason, and with much care, but still, stay in your goddamn room, mom.
I was likely crying because of it all. All of it.
And my daughter came in and found me. Not the Pachelbel murderer, but my other one.
She saw by the crouch of my shoulders and the face in my hands and the crunch in my voice and even though I tried to pretend I was fine, she leaned her heart-sequined front against me, wrapped her fuzzy arms around my shoulders and patted me.
It made the tears start all over again.
“This is not anything for you to worry about,” I told her. “It’s just a password on Mommy’s computer.”
“I know,” she said wisely. “I know.”
Every day at this time for the last two weeks I’ve gone for a run. I put on my sneakers and grab my headphones and yell, “I’m going out and I’ll be back soon and if you want to come with me you can but feel free to just stay where you are and read a book or something!” and I try to escape as quickly as I can with the intention of staying 6 feet or more away from every living human. And every day, even the day it rained bitter cold rain that blew against us, or the day it shockingly snowed, like a lot, this daughter of mine has followed me out the door and gotten on the jankiest most outgrown bike there is, clipped on her brother’s wonky skateboard helmet, and rode her bike next to me as I ran.
Two weeks ago on the first day back after our hastily canceled spring break trip her father had taken her for an errand with everyone else. I’d been delaying my run all day, putting it off because it was cold or I was tired or whatever. And once they’d gone I delayed a bit more and then off I went.
It was bizarrely quiet. The first time I’d been alone in a week.
I reached the distant parking lot through the parkland and turned around and there I saw this young woman on a tiny bike with all this Daryl Hannah hair billowing out from under this huge helmet, like a gorgeous clown or a mermaid.
For a moment I just thought the thoughts we think about strangers, how long her legs were for such a small bike, how her helmet was slumped slightly to the side and should be tightened, how pretty all that hair was but what a tangled mess it would be, and then she was upon me and it was my baby, not a young woman at all.
And she was crying. So angry. So very mad.
I tried not to laugh, I did. But it was so sweet and strange and funny. This big girl on this tiny bike and so desperate to be near me but hating me once she caught me because she was furious.
“You left me!” she cried.
“You went on an errand with dad! That was on you,” I answered as we ran.
“You left! You took all day and I waited all day! And then you left without me!!”
I forget how she forgave me and I certainly didn’t deserve it, but she did. She just loved me too fiercely to hold her righteous grudge for more than twenty yards.
Eventually we saw her father and her siblings walking towards us on their own adventure. I thought maybe she’d peel off and join them but no, she stayed with me.
And what I realize now is she wasn’t crying because I left. Although she sort of was. She does cry over those types of things.
But really she was crying because we’d canceled our vacation and weren’t going to get to see my doctor sister or my sneaky mom or the museums or memorials or the White House or the Reading Terminal Market with the Amish Farmers, all of which they’d read about and studied and put in their journals in anticipation of this much awaited trip. And really she wasn’t even crying because of that, probably. Probably it was the news, the stories about Italy (where we’d visited exactly two years before on spring break), the changes, the fear and the sadness and the lack of control and the whole damn thing.
It’s just an enormous, steaming, suffocating pile sometimes.
Later this afternon, after the Zoom incident was resolved, she helped me make a lacrosse video for her dear, sweet lacrosse team who I won’t be able to coach for a month or more. And then I finally went for my run and she rode her bike beside me and we played the word game where one of us thinks of an animal and the other one tries to guess it.
Because sometimes the thing is not the thing and the antidote is not the cure and up is down and down is up. But you can still run. You can still play the dumb word game. You can climb on your ridiculous bike and pump your gorgeous legs. You can call your elderly mom and say with all the love in your heart, stay in your goddamn room. You can make the lacrosse video and Facetime with the IT guy and Zoom with the implausibly patient piano teacher and sign emails with a virtual hug like my daughter’s teacher did today in response to my cuckoo response to her Zoom email and you can watch Mo Willems for a blessed minute. You can do what’s within your reach the best you can do and forgive yourself for those times you come up short.
Above all, what my little girl reminded me today was that you can lean your sequined heart against whatever human you have near, put your fuzzy arms around them, and you can say, “I know. I see you. I know.”
And for today, this is more than enough. This is everything.