On Sunday I wake up at 6:30, like I do every morning, without prompting. My monkey brain immediately calculates the number of hours I’ve slept and it’s not enough. I stayed up too late reading or writing, Tweeting, my mind whirring. I wish I could sleep in just a little more, but my body is stubborn in its ways. I’ve kept to my side of the bed all night even though my husband’s side is empty. He is out of town, skiing the powder in the snowy Canadian Rockies.
The little one wakes at the same time every morning, too. She waits for her bedside clock to light up green, then pads into my room somewhere around 7:15 a.m.
“Mama, I’m awake!” she chirps, climbing into the bed with an armful of stuffed animals, her mess of wavy little girl hair in a jumble. Her cheek is soft against mine, her breath strangely sweet. I am tired. Still, she is the best alarm clock.
She demands warm milk. I tell her if she wants the milk, she has to go pee first. The deal is made. I hear her tinkle followed by the sound of toilet paper spinning off the roll. I come into the bathroom just as she pushes the handle. She’s used enough toilet paper to wipe out a small forest. The bowl fills with water, but doesn’t flush. The plug of wet paper settles to the bottom.
I go downstairs for the milk and the plunger.
I let the whining dog out into the dim, drizzling morning. It is not outdoor weather. The wind shakes the gigantic ferns and rattles the wound up sun umbrella. Rain splatters against the screen door. I put the water on to boil.
With the big girls still sleeping, the house is curiously quiet. Just the clack of the dog’s claws as she comes back in the house, shakes off, the rush of the blue gas flame under the kettle, the toddler murmuring quietly to her loveys in my bed. These moments alone in the kitchen move slowly and are all mine. A wave of panic prods me to be efficient with this fleeting, solitary time, but I don’t have the energy. Instead I slide down to the kitchen floor and rub the dog’s ears. I try to just be.
The kettle whistles. I turn off the burner. “Ma-maaa! Mil-kee!” The three-year-old uses her loudest singsong voice. The hope of finishing a whole cup of coffee before it goes cold vanishes as quickly as the flame with the turn of the knob. I don’t even reach for my mug. I go to the fridge for the milk, pour it, warm it up, deliver it to the little one.
What am I sure of?
My three girls are always so close to me, following me from kitchen to bathroom and back, circling me as I clean or write or cook. They need to tell me about school, about what so-and-so said or didn’t say, about what princesses wear to bed. They need a snack or a hug or an answer. There is always someone stepping on my toes, another someone sulking over a decision I’ve made, a third someone my heart aches for. We bump into one another around the kitchen island, in the halls. My mind hovers and holds on to their sorrow and strife as surely as though it was my own.
I lose myself in them and at the same time feel myself lunging in the opposite direction, desperate for separation. There are days when I try to slip away to my room, tuck into the soft, worn hollow in my bed to read or write or think. But they always find me.
“Mom! Mom? Where are you?” they call down the hall or up the stairs. I wonder if they really need me or simply want to locate me as a point of reference.
“Right here,” I always answer. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”
They come and sit on the end of the bed or cuddle up next to me. The little one slides onto my lap as I write. I want to shoo them out the door, but they are as sweet in their wanting of me as they are annoying. I will always feel this push and pull between the maternal desire to give myself away to them and the deep longing to gather myself back in. In these moments that are not mine, there is no divide between us, no them without me. For now, I am their story.