It’s a crisp October morning- the first it’s really felt like fall in temperate Tennessee. The tiny house on the East side of Nashville I’ve rented since May looks like it’s exploded in just the two hours my two and a half year old son has been awake. Toys, spoons, mini trampolines and maple syrup are strewn across nearly every room, “On The Road Again” is being repetitively sung at the top of toddler lungs- ukelele in hand, our dog is barking at a fly that’s buzzing around the window, and in the midst, I’m attempting to, with one hand put on mascara, and with the other, answer an urgent work email. This is my day...Actually, this is my day every Sunday through Wednesday.
Thursday through Saturday night, I’m, for all intents and purposes, free. Free of yogurt splashed across my clothing. Free of sing-songing potty commands. Free of endless hours reading and re-reading “Thomas The Train”. Thursday through Sunday I can have whatever I want. I can meet up with friends. I can write, play music, go out, explore, even go away if I want to.
But I don’t want to. Because the moment I no longer am obligated to cut peanut butter and jellies into fours, or make Teddy Ruxpin talk, or sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” 6 times before bed is the exact moment that all of those things transform from burdens- imperfect, exhausting inconveniences- to blessings; the things that define my day, that most drain and fill me in ways I can’t even comprehend, let alone start to try to explain.
And today is Wednesday. It’s the last day of the week I get to hear a high-pitched, sweet and huge voice from the back seat tell me about his hopes to play on the playground, or how much he loved getting french toast for breakfast. We’re on our way to daycare, and we call his daddy- a man who although no longer my partner, is always my friend...a good friend, and an even better dad. I hear the excitement in his voice as our son tells him how happy he will be to see him when he comes to pick him up at school. And my heart is both flooded with happiness, for the love he shares with his father, and simultaneously gutted that our “goodbye for now” will happen in mere miles when we arrive at school.
My son hates leaving “his people”. He’s fine when he’s toggled between Mommy, or Daddy, or Grandma or Papa, but when he has to leave one of his “team members” to go to school, or anywhere that’s unfamiliar with people that aren’t one of his primary characters, the separation anxiety kicks in. We pull into daycare, and he’s already negotiated with me that he would like several hugs and kisses today when I drop him off. If he only knew how many I would give him if it served his wellness. But that’s the parenting paradox: Loving someone, sometimes for the first time, who you would do and be anything for, who you would and easily could compromise any promise, any standard or any logic for, and knowing that you can’t. That you shouldn’t. That it’s in your child’s best interest for you to stand firm in what you believe is right, and act on it, even when it breaks your heart to do it. So, I promise my little boy one big hug, one little hug, and one big kiss before I go, and ask that after that he hug his teacher-- the only strategy I can come up with for how I can ask him to let me go; attempting to replace me with a pinch hitter.
Of all the beautiful, handmade, expensive baby blankets we were given or purchased for him when we found out he would be born, he chose to cling to a flimsy, poorly made and inexpensive fleece, baby blue blanket that a stranger gave him and call it “Little Baba”. Today, like every day, he’s gripping Little Baba and his water cup when I park and open the car door to get him out of his car seat.
“Mommy...will you carry me?” He asks, tentatively.
“Yes!” I want to cry. I want 45 more seconds to hold my son, to feel his breath on my cheek as we walk down the hall of his school, to smell his hair and know his weight in my arms. But I don’t.
“No, baby,” I start. “You know that you’re a big boy and you can walk.” It’s a rule we instated for him to learn to embrace independence, and hopefully qualm the separation anxiety. It only makes mine worse, but it seems to help him with goodbyes.
He jumps out, and takes my hand, as is required when we walk through parking lots. And he doesn’t let go inside. We walk down the hall, and I’m grateful his classroom is at the other end of the building. I don’t know if he noticed that as he holds my hand, I stroke his, trying to memorize the softness of his skin, and embed it in my memory so when he’s much older and won’t hold my hand, I’ll remember today.
Then we’re at his class room, and his panic kicks in. His favorite teacher is there, and I’m grateful for that- a joyful Iranian woman who is plentiful with her hugs for him, and vibrant in her love. He turns to me, his big eyes teary now and says, “Mommy”.
I wonder what he’s thinking. If he’s upset because he has to go to school and leave me, or if he knows we have the longest 3 days in the world between saying “goodbye” and saying “hello” again. I’m pretty sure it’s not the latter for him. Despite myself, and what seems like my overwhelming weakness, I smile as big as I can, hug him as tight as I can, and kiss him as quickly as I can before spinning him around to his teacher and slipping away to avoid prolonged negotiations of “one more kiss! One more hug!”.
It’s Wednesday. My next few days will be more productive. I get to be “me”. I’ll get to put on makeup without tiny fingers stealing my makeup brushes. There’s a chance some of the dishes in my sink might actually get cleaned and put away (who am I kidding? Probably not...note to self: never live in a home without a dishwasher again). I’ll spend time on whatever I want or need, without interruption. And his next few days will be magical. His dad will take him to the park. They’ll eat Nana’s homemade muffins. He’ll play on his “digger” and eat the sugar I won’t let him have, and run around their “big house” and come home to me to tell me he likes that house better. He will be fine, and that is so bitter sweet.
My hope for my son is the same, and more intricate, than what it would be if he had one home. My hope for him- besides feeling supported and loved, which he obviously is by everyone that frequents his life- is that he feels a thread of consistency. My hope is that his “home” is not defined by where I live, or his father lives, but rather, where love lives. When he is a grown man, I hope he knows that, while I’ve been accused of benefitting from having “the best of both worlds”- the freedom of having a parenting partner who is as involved as his father is, and the blessing of having time with my son, and having time with myself, there is a bittersweetness to both, and while I may only have him part-time, I am, always have been, and always will be a full-time mom.
There’s a beauty in responsibility. It makes decisions for you. Nothing I choose, whether it’s my Saturday through Wednesday, or my son’s father’s Wednesday through Saturday will ever be the decision of a part-time parent. Even with my 3-day-a-week “freedom”, I am never free from my son, nor would I ever want to be.
This afternoon, he will run into Daddy’s arms, and for that, I am grateful. Because even though at 5:15 pm- pickup time- my arms will ache to hold his little body, and I’ll have to figure out what I’m supposed to eat if not his leftovers, and bedtime will not begin and end with song- I am grateful that my son knows, and will continue to learn the strange dichotomy that is so often clicheed, but so completely true: That sincerely loving someone is wanting the best for them at any expense...even if it means your own hurt. Even if it means letting them go...every Wednesday morning.