Let me share a picture with you.
This is our Christmas Tree.
We woke up in a rush on Friday morning and counted the hours on our fingers, designating events to time slots.
One little is sick. That takes priority and so we slide off one event from the day's plan.
The medicine gets divided up into two bottles, instructions and diagnosis documented.
We drive to the local nursery, 15 minutes away because we wont make it to the farm an hours drive away today. Theres no fuss however. We're all used to the compromise here.
No taller than anyone can decorate themselves.
No more than $40.
All 4 littles must unanimously decide.
This one. This is the one. Quick, lets take our picture.
Its our first tree as a family. Our first living tree in more years than were willing to unpack from memories.
Can we look at ornaments?
1..2..3...sure. Sure theres time. Lets look.
At home we let the littles cluster around the television together while Ian and I assemble lunch plates. Theres a lot of Thanksgiving left overs but this is the last time they will all eat it together. We periodically glance out the front window at cars that slow by our drive.
We move a little faster.
"Clara, Henry....Jackets...say goodbye."
I glance at our Christmas tree still in its orange netting leaning against the wall where it will stand, and I move quickly to zip a jacket; tuck a strand of hair.
"Do you have your medicine? Dont forget it! Have fun! We love you!"
In the foyer we take a moment. From here they cant see smiles falter.
Iris and Aeva are next and they have the longest stretch of time. Holidays are often unforgiving in how they parcel out the minutes. They will be gone a week and a half.
"We're meeting daddy at the Px! Cmon, lets get in the truck littles!"
They know the way it goes. Iris shelves her books and removes the scarf I gave her. Aeva fishes out the beat-up black shoes and returns her new snow jackets to the closet. She pulls on a hoodie. Sometimes things do not properly return for a season or two. Sometimes theyre not allowed to move items back and forth.
"Will I see you Monday?"
"Yes. But not this coming Monday."
"Why? Why today?"
"Because its Daddy's turn"
We arrive 2 minutes early. I use them up, carrying Aeva down from the truck. Nuzzling her nose and kissing her furrowed eyes. I hold Iris close and breathe in her hair. Kiss her cheek and she watches me silently. She never really speaks to me when she goes. Like the volume gets turned off on my favorite radio station. She simply looks back and walks away.
"I love you. I will see you soon. You'll have fun. Call you tomorrow?" I call out until theyre gone from ear shot.
I smile so they will see it if they watch.
We stayed out late.
We bought every Little an ornament. We bought lights and christmas gifts.
Ginger bread houses and craft decorations.
We lugged home bags of things to store.
We got a tree stand.
Stood up the evergreen and watered her.
And left her bare.
Because that is OUR Christmas tree and this month we will only have all 4 of our children 11 days.
In those 11 days we will transform that naked tree into a thing loved and hung with all our lights and colored orbs.
Until then we push pause and we wait.
That is how its like when you share your children. You count minutes and days and leave things waiting in the eaves until they can be there with you again.
Its a hollow thing.
Monday, August 1, 2016
I was dragging my feet.
"Where are we going??"
"Its around here. I just want to show you something I found the other day."
I had been led past the practically empty playground and into the wooded area beyond. Turning my head I glanced a teen so deeply into his phone he'd likely be useless to forensic artists here shortly.
"You're going to kill me and dispose of my body in the woods aren't you?"
In almost 5 years of dating, I'd had a lot of practice sorting through profiles and messages to successfully find every ripe jerk in the DMV. Sometimes I would be so skillful I could find them as far as Pennsylvania.
Those dating app algorithms have NOTHING on me.
Nor for me really.
I had made it through the wringer.
I'd just lost a very dear friendship I could have sworn would survive a nuclear meltdown. Walked away from one of the most toxic relationships I could have kept.
From the spot on the ground where my shattered pieces lay I decided I had spent my last shiny effort. I was a lone jagged puzzle piece.
The dating scene was a cesspool and all decent men were either married or chronically attached to women whom I was ashamed to share a chromosome with.
This guy? He had two words on his profile. Strike one.
And neither word appealed to me. Strike two.
But he had one picture of him imitating his crazy looking dog and I thought:
"That's a cute pup!"
About now he was waiting to hear me tell him I was on my way. I was going to grab dinner at Panera and he had the option to join me.
But I was dragging my feet. Twice I had told him I was moving the timeline. Twice I sat down on my bed and wondered what the point was.
'This isn't a date. It's you going to grab dinner and he either shows or he doesn't. You pay your tab like you always do and you come home.'
I grabbed my car keys and strolled out.
Almost a year ago I was at this very park with Aeva.
Before the trees swallow them up I can almost see me pushing Aeva on the swings. Her golden hair flying behind her. She leans back to look at me with that open mouthed smile and I know her little heart is full. It's her birthday and we are holding on to our tradition of spending the day as she pleases.
We had started out at the Crofton archery range I could be found at most every Sunday. 5 minutes down the road we found a bowling alley tucked away in a quiet neighborhood where Aeva reigned supreme granny bowler. When Aeva suggested a park, there was one just another few minutes drive from there. It was the kind of little town one could raise kids happily in.
The familiar tune of an ice cream truck permeated the playground chatter and Aeva pleaded: "Can I have one momma??"
The late afternoon belonged to her dad and it was quickly approaching.
"Sure thing kid."
I was dragging my feet.
He showed up.
I had nothing left in me.
We'd spent a good hour or so talking. Two kids, divorced, likes picking up heavy things and putting them back down again. Plays a guitar, speaks Spanish and is Mormon.
I suck my teeth.
"I'm Buddhist. Not a religion, but it is my spiritual lifestyle."
Smiling he tells me it's fine by him.
I spent a few years studying different religions and their sects for the purpose of interfaith discussion. My brain racks up what I learned about the Church of Latter Day Saints. It's tough. This guy? He's being real nice and I didn't even have motivation enough to shave my legs.
Panera closes at 9pm. It's a convenient way to transition into goodbyes. I'm good at those. I know the routine.
"It was great meeting you. Thank you for coming out."
To which hell say: Yea thanks, I had a good time.
He smiles, "Can I see you again?"
Wait. What? That's not in the script.
I turn and start walking away.
Before turning back around I could feel the weight of the question.
His smile was the same but his eyebrows were knit together like he was worried he was losing out on something thin and wispy.
"When can I see you again?"
I can't remember the last time I was asked that like it mattered. I can't remember *ever* being asked that like it mattered.
Years ago I read about a theory concerning atoms that link over incredibly vast distances, vibrations traveling the distance between them instantaneously. Correct me on my quantum physics but I think it's called fuzzy atom theory. Scientifically it can explain some seemingly magical correlations. Romantically it sounded to me like the physical proof of the way souls might weave into each other.
And to me at that moment it looked like a tendril of light specks speeding from Ian's heart-space to mine. The air around my face buzzed like it does sometimes right before something big happens. Like when Universe wants me to pay particular attention to something because it will matter and so each detail should be taken in. I wanted to ignore it but the feeling stole in through the air into my lungs, rattling my hollowed out chest before settling heavy in the chasm.
I met Ian in the Winter of my life. In the endless darkness my eyes had grown accostumed to the absence of light. They had learned this landscape of shadows on the wall.
He too was a jagged puzzle piece.
Clearing the last of the trees bordering the park, the merciless sun bared down at me and ignited a glen.
It was unbearably hot. We had been on our way to the zoo and I was already regretting wearing anything more than gauze. Or portable air conditioners. Or skin.
The way the sun cut across my eyes, it took me a moment to see the bench Ian was asking me to sit at.
The same atoms that pulled me by the hand now had also been dragging their feet.
We had lived and traveled to many of the same states. Missing each other by hairs.
I had spent years frequenting the range he drove by daily. We worked an exit on the highway in distance.
Nearly a year ago, Aeva and I had circled three sides of Ian's block. Driving past him to the park.
He could have had his children there that very day.
But it wasn't the right time. So they dragged their feet in the wrong relationships. In the wrong circumstances. Bidding time. All so that we would meet at precisely the moment when the orbit of our atoms could successfully reach out and say:
'There you are. I've been looking for you.'
Our jagged sides interlocking perfectly.
By that bench in the sundrenched glen he took a knee before me.
So you know....I said yes.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
'MOM?! THIS IS NOT A DRILL! WE HAD TO EVACUATE THE BUILDING!'
My eyes barely scanned this message when my phone lit up with her name and I answered.
She was running.
I could hear kids screaming in the background.
"Mom?!? Mom I'm scared! They told us to run for the forest!"
I started running back to my office from where I had just been handling an issue for a customer with my routing team. The tone in her voice spurring me towards my keys.
"What's going on?!"
Iris's reception was bad. "The principal---Not a dr----gun??--what's going on mom?!"
"I'm on my way!"
She cut out.
Do you know what that feels like? Do you know how quickly your mind can cycle the sweet face of your child before your eyes, her every tumultuous and every joyous moment?
Let me tell you. It's fast.
Last night Iris was upset at me.
She is in a play at school and rehearsals run until 6pm Monday thru Thursday. Most nights, I can accommodate picking her up from school. Most Wednesday's and Thursday's I am far from home by 5:30.
On my designated Wednesday's her father picks her up for me and I pick her up from him on my way home. On my Thursday's I was going to have to pick her up a whole hour early from practice.
Obviously I was ruining her life and role as Simba.
One does not cross the King over measly things like life and responsibilities.
As I stepped out of the bathroom after my shower, she confronted me:
"Mom. I need to get something off my chest. I cannot rest until I do."
I apparently cannot get dressed until then either so I wrapped my towel tighter and nodded for her to go ahead.
"I cannot miss rehear----"
She paused ever so slightly and I could see the tiny readjustment going on in her tween head as she made a slight pivot in her argument slightly too late.
"--- I miss spending time with you. We're always busy and rushing about and I don't get lazy days with you anymore."
"Yea? And what days were you thinking you'd like to hang out besides the weekends?"
"Um. Like... Wednesday's and Thursday's...."
Ah. Hello teenage manipulation. I was wondering where you were.
The last time I vividly remember adrenaline coursing through my veins like it was replacing every red blood cell, I was staring at the headlights of the car about to impact me and change the course of my life forever.
If I remember A&P correctly, adrenaline is an accelerator for fight or flight reactions.
I don't think my body remembers that part of science because much like in my car accident, everything slowed down.
As I ran for my car I felt like I was running through jello. I was fainting I think. I wouldn't know for sure as I've never done it. But my mind was not racing. It was analyzing every next step and guiding me there safely.
I reached my car and while driving out I tried Iris's phone again.
Straight to voicemail. 4 times.
I try again.
"Hello?! It's me mom!"
Those words! Oh those words!
"Where are you?! Are you ok?!"
"Mom please. Hurry. We're being told to go through the forest to Aeva's school! Please! Please come!"
"I'm coming! I'm almost there!!"
I wasn't. Truth of the matter I was still far. Truer still? I had no idea what the hell to tell her or what to do except be there right now.
That's all I've ever done for my kids: be there in whatever capacity they need and want from me.
Move across the country. Get a job. Get two jobs. Make it to all events. Smile. Throw epic birthdays. Bring the clarinet. Bring the clarinet again. Pay for all the activities. Play nice. Make all the costumes in the damn play. Get up early, go to bed late. Be fun. Be serious. Be selfless. Be here now.
So naturally when I didn't tell Iris I would figure out a way to make sure she was there that last CRUCIAL hour at rehearsal every OTHER Thursday that I had her... She reeled.
How dare I?
No seriously. How dare I?...
As she laid in bed crying for me to hear, mumbling whole sobbing sentences because I had ended the conversations and her ploy to mask Broadway aspirations under quality time with mom.... I wondered if I knew what I was doing. Was I doing what was best for us? Or just simply what I wanted for myself? Dare I choose my own agenda first this one time? How far from my mark was I really?
"Stay with me baby. Stay calm ok?"
"I'm scared mom!"
"It's ok. It will all be ok. No matter what. No matter where you are or where you run to I will find you. Ok? You know where safety is. You go there. I will find you."
I was the first parent to arrive on scene besides those that had been there prior to the threat as was apparent from the visitor badges on their shirts.
I parked my car far. In sight of all the officers and administrators lining the school entrance. Walking up the middle of the road, I was watched.
The school secretary called out for me to stop.
"My daughter is out there. I know I can't go in. Can you tell me what's going on? Can I wait here and see her after?"
It's not what my panicked heart wanted to say but it's what my brain, jogging through jello, knew was right to ask.
Sometimes you can't be the hero. Sometimes you can't do what you want.
Sometimes you have to let others do their job and not get in the way.
Two hours I stood outside the school with an officer who could see the panic I was trying so hard to conceal. I traded texts back and forth with Iris who was somewhere on the far side of the school in the tree line between the junior high and elementary school. I could see the specks of trees and children. I knew the teacher that was placing herself between the school and the children.
'Is Aeva ok mom? Did you go check on her?'
'Yes. I called the school. They're safe.'
I heard the all clear come through the officer's radio and he smiled at me.
I started for the school but was met by a teacher. Ms. Reynolds, one of the two Lion King production teachers.
She hugged me. I told Ms. Reynolds about my argument with Iris while we waited for the office to call her up.
"I see you. I see what you do for her. You're always there. But you need to start stepping back. An hour will not harm her. You have a life too and she needs to learn that. She's not used to it but it's important. You have to take care of you too. I'll have her ready by 5."
Today there was a gun/bomb threat at the school. The details are still not certain nor released and I couldn't care.
I stood outside the police perimeter for two hours because the only thing I cared about was seeing her face, in real life, telling me she's ok.
An hour after I saw Iris safe and sound, Aeva fell and skinned her knee pretty badly. The nurse down played the incident and I thought nothing of it until I saw the jagged wound still bleeding through the fully torn knee of Aeva's uniform pants. My momma guilt felt at its highest. While I made it to one child, the other got hurt. Sometimes I'm not sure I'm doing my job right. Sometimes I feel so far from where I think I am.
Yet isn't that how it goes?
How dare I think I can always control risks? Outcomes?
You think you've been doing the right thing all along but like Jon Snow, you know nothing.
Aeva was delayed first aid an hour and yet her knee didn't suffer for it as she romped around the living room with her two newest best friends.
Iris will not suffer for the hour she will lose from rehearsal as we spent that hour cooking together and figuring out Math homework.
I never ever want to be reminded of my children's precious lives again in this frantic way.
There is no way to protect them through and through. No way to mitigate every single threat possible and impossible.
My life paused today. It brushed such a large fear in my world as a mother.
That pause made a difference for Iris and I. Funny how much difference a pause can make.
Iris's face broke through the crowd of middle schoolers rushing to classes and she buried it in my neck:
"I'm so sorry momma. I'm so sorry I was selfish. I was so scared!"
"Hello baby. It's me, mom."