Eleven Years Later
A pang of fear tore through my chest as fast as the speeding red SUV on the main road where my children were much too close to the edge. I tugged on my young son’s hand to steer him away from the traffic as my three children and I made our way down the uprooted sidewalk, dodging other pedestrians left and right. James was constantly pulling away to point “Look, Momma!” and “I want this!” I kept pulling him back with a grumble about how we all want things we cannot have as I secretly wished for a futuristic time when he would be sad about leaving my side. Meanwhile I almost tripped on my younger daughter who insisted that she must attach herself to my leg as if I would magically disappear otherwise. So I also wished for a time when she will be independent enough to let go of me.
I made my way through my mental to do list: the bank to the dry cleaners to the grocery store. By the time I was in the last dairy isle my head was spinning and irritated by all the other customers, who needed to learn how to steer their damn carts; and by my children, who were constantly pulling on my shirt hem. I hurriedly left before I made a scene in the middle of the store. By the time I reached home, I realized that I forgot crackers and cheese, but at that point I could not care less. The clock that read 6:00 glared at me from above the doorway to inform me that I was late and that, of course, there was no time to relax.
As a single parent of several years, I had mastered the trade of cooking dinner while keeping another eye on the kids. The water began boiling as Rachel dribbled her soccer ball around the chairs in the dining room. Knots of concentration grew across her face, but they were lit up by a passionate intensity in her eyes. When she realized I watched her from over my shoulder, she smiled proudly. Meanwhile, my older son Michael was teaching James something that he learned in science class. I couldn’t see him from the other room, but I heard his voice as it grew with a crescendo whenever he got really excited. I almost let out a giggle at the sight of my little man in a suit and tie teaching in front of a classroom. However, only his age made this scene seem unrealistic. Michael the professor and Rachel the pro-soccer star.
Serving dinner was when it hit me. The next day, my kids would learn and teach and improve on their soccer skills. And I would go to work in the same building that miraculously became plainer since I began working there years ago. The white paycheck that I received would reflect the emptiness that I felt. As I chewed my food, I wondered where this feeling was derived. I had three beautiful children and was making just enough to support them without my intolerable slob of an ex-husband. My children should have been enough to make me happy. Every mother’s wish was to have successful children, right? I just had to be noble and sacrifice my paychecks to their wellbeing. But why did nobility mean emptiness?
I scrubbed the dirty plates clean and chewed on my bottom lip until it was as raw as the glistening dishes. Watching my kids now tossed me to the edge of waterworks. Every time Rachel determinedly kicked that ball and whenever James shouted “Oh!” in understanding at Michael’s explanation, I rolled further down the side of an emotional cliff. Each spike took its turn to plunge through me, so by the time I hit the water, the wild waves of salty tears felt like heaven as they crashed down my cheeks.
The next morning I was in a rush to drive the kids to school. This was mostly because I had to battle them to get out of their pajamas, even though I had to battle them to get into their pajamas the night before. As I drove through the early morning traffic to the school, I couldn’t help but wish for the blissful time in the morning before everyone woke up like when the sky was fluctuating between shades of pink and purple and when the streets weren’t full of aggressive and rushing drivers. God, they were loud, but they were all so small.
Thankfully I soon arrived back in my cluttered home. Before I had to leave for work, I rejoiced knowing that I had this time to myself. That was all I needed: some time to myself.
I cleaned. The kids’ toys were placed neatly into their toy box. The rugged carpet was vacuumed. Family photos hanging on the walls were wiped down. Bookshelves were dusted. The overflowing sink was emptied. The house felt empty with its neutral colored walls and clear halls. But this emptiness was not startling; it was refreshing.
After appreciating my work, I stole a glance at the clock. I would be a bit late to work. But for once, it did not really bother me.