Tuesday, November 20, 2007

All By Myself

About two weeks ago, Charlie (my youngest) started going to preschool two mornings a week. On the mornings that he and Emma are both going to school, it is a frenzied dash to get cereal into both of them, clean the cereal off of them, brush their teeth, comb their hair, get them into clothes, shoes, coats, etc. and out the door. It puts me in a bad mood, all this running around to get somewhere in the morning.

Somehow they both end up at their respective schools with shoes on and school bags in hand and I drive away by myself. It is the craziest feeling driving away by myself. I feel a little like I did when I was a teenager and I got the keys to the car. Even if I was just going to the grocery store or to return a video, I got to go by myself--a new and exhilarating feeling. Since Charlie started school, I have been making my self drive my self to a Barnes and Noble with a Starbucks attached to it so that I can write during those precious kid-free hours. In our family we call this Barnes and Noble "the Train Thomas store" because it has an awesome train table for the kids. On rainy days you can find a whole crew of mommies there and the children's section looks like a stroller parking lot. The floors are paved with Dora books and there's a Train Thomas for everyone. When Charlie imagines Heaven, it probably looks a lot like the Train Thomas Store.

But on preschool mornings, I bypass the train table completely and head straight for the coffee. There is always a line of people waiting for coffee at this time of day. I am immediately struck by the fact that I am waiting in line and no one is trying to run away from me. I can just stand here and move forward gradually as the line moves without having to count 1....2....3 and make time-out threats to get someone to stand there with me. Waiting in line, I also realize I am fighting the urge to talk to myself. Hmmm....those scones sure look yummy! I think it would be better for me to get a reduced fat turkey bacon thingy....oh, whoops! The line is moving forward. Let's go, everybody! I had no idea how much I think out loud when I'm with the kids.

Once I have my coffee and my reduced fat thingy, I carry everything awkwardly over to find a table where I can work--not always an easy task because there are only about nine tables and I live in the land of the corporate headquarters. There are about a million big office buildings that are home to some of your favorite corporations located a stone's throw from where I'm sitting, but apparently, these buildings just aren't as fun to have meetings in as the Train Thomas Starbucks. So, finding a table is not easy. This is my least favorite part about preschool mornings. It almost keeps me from going to the Train Thomas Starbucks because I hate this part so much. It is the high school cafeteria all over again. For shy people like me, kids are a nice buffer between you and the world. You're invisible when you walk around behind a stroller. I feel naked without someone else to tend to, someone else to guide through the perils of the parking lot or the Starbucks Holiday display. To all these people in the Starbucks, I am not someone's mommy, I'm just me. Little old me with her decaf and her reduced fat breakfast who is trying to write a novel. A novel? I imagine all of the Starbucks customers spitting out their coffee at the hilariousness of that notion.

So, I find a seat eventually and then it is like, whew! What a relief. (I almost say that out loud, but catch myself.) This is the part that I love about preschool mornings. I get my computer all set up and dive back into whatever part of the story I was working on last. I lose myself in the characters and their problems. I'm no longer in Starbucks, I'm at Violet's job, where she is failing miserably. I'm in her bedroom as she cries herself to sleep. Then, without warning, I am jarred out of my novel as someone with one of those scary cyborg ear-piece cell phone things on their head leans over from the table next to me and asks how long does it take my PC to boot up. You'd think this would annoy me, but it doesn't. It turns out there's a group of cyborg-looking guys who are having some sort of meeting about PCs booting up and they want to know my opinion on the matter. I stumble through an answer that probably gives them more information than they really wanted about my computer choices, but to my surprise they nod thoughtfully and then go back to their cyborg PC booting up meeting.

For some reason I get a little thrill out of this. It is just so exciting to be able to pass myself off as a normal person in my own right. A normal person with opinions about something other than organic milk or double strollers. Sometimes I feel like I will never be a "normal" person again. Intellectually I know that my kids will get older and they will need me less. They will go to school for longer days. They will go to summer camp and to slumber parties and I won't be invited. They will also go to college and get married and have their own children. I know this in theory, but sometimes it's hard to believe. They need me so much right now. They need me to rock them before they go to sleep, to massage shampoo in their hair and then pour a bucket of water over their head as they scream in a combination of delight and surprise. They need to hold my hand to walk anywhere, for me to buckle them into a car seat in order to drive anywhere. They need me to get just as excited as they do when a firetruck's siren screams in the distance, to read Things That Go twice a day, every day. They still need to sit on my lap a good portion of the day. Lately Emma and I have been playing a game where we talk about what will happen when she is a mommy and I am a grandma. I play the part of a feeble little old lady and say "Emma? Will you take me for a walk? Emma will you bring me some milky? Emma, read me a book, please." Really, I am less old lady as I am an infant. And Emma plays along, pantomiming tending to all my needs saying, "Yes, mommy. I will take care of you."

Just when I think I have everyone in Starbucks fooled, a little girl walks in with her daddy. They are holding hands and he is navigating the way through the tables and chairs so they can take their place in line. I catch the little girl's eye and she gives me a long, hard look. I can see it in her eyes that she has discovered my secret. She can see the mommy in me. What gave it away? Was it the yogurt smeared on my shoulder? Was it the telltale sweatpants/pony-tail/under-eye circles combo that I am usually sporting? Whatever it is, I'm glad she can see it. It is time to pick up my kids and I can hardly drive there fast enough.


Anonymous said...

TEARS welling up in my eyes...Clara is at preschool this morning and Ian is asleep. I am (sort of) by myself, and even though I work hard to make these minutes happen...sometimes I find I don't want them after all! We are lucky we have 18 years to get used to letting our needy babies go. These years are precious. Thanks for the reminder.

Your friend (miss you TOO much),

Anonymous said...

I'm crying, really. I'm home with all 4 of mine, each coming in at different times to have breakfast and a morning chat as I prepare the brocolli and rice for Thanksgiving tomorrow. I don't have to buckle anyone in and only one wants to sit in my lap anymore. But each of them needs me and lets me know it one way or another. I think we'll never be "normal" again. We're ruined -- and we'll always be anxious to be reunited, even when we're grandmas. Right, Mom?


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, this is a classic! It rings true on so many levels--even for us grandmas. I remember just being thankful to go outside to take out the garbage somedays just to have time "all by myself". Now, I'm grateful to sometimes still be needed by one of my self-sufficient, independent children. But isn't that the goal? It seems that motherhood is one "career" where success means you no longer have a job. But on the other hand you gain some great new friends! I love you and miss you!