Yesterday morning we made pink pancakes, played with the doll house and drew mandalas with colored pencils before I sat the girls down and explained. “Mama leaves tomorrow and she has a lot to do to get ready to go.” They nodded. They know it’s serious when I speak about myself in the third person. De-facto‘s out of town for a few days, so I needed a strategy to get some work done. I offered a barter: if they’d leave me uninterrupted until lunch time, then I’d take them to the pool at the Paris Plage in the afternoon. The prospect of swimming provoked whooping and hollering and they ran upstairs to the small attic rooms we call their universe and started to play. I installed myself at the kitchen table with my computer – that’s my universe I suppose – and dove in.
Today the alarm sounded just as the light filled my bedroom. I was sandwiched between my two girls, one of them snoring lightly and the other one burrowed deep beneath the covers. I maneuvered my way out of the sheets, over their little bodies and out of bed. I hated to pull myself out of their sleepy embrace, but my packed suitcase waited for me by the door. I had only to shower quickly and dress and wait for the babysitter to relieve me of my responsibilities.
Yesterday, despite our agreement, Short-pants and Buddy-roo both interrupted me no less than 2-dozen occasions, breaking my concentration and cutting my productivity in half. At first I responded politely but firmly: “Not now sweet.” Once again in the third person, “Mama’s working now.” Each interruption progressively more annoying, I found myself running my hands through my hair, the thing I do when I’m agitated.
I cursed my decision to keep them home. Had I insisted they go to the centre de loisir, I’d have had the whole apartment to myself for the whole day. But I didn’t want them to be gone all day, not on the eve a 2-week trip, and there is no half-day option at this French version of day-camp. So they stayed at home with me. There were more than a few moments when I regretted this decision.
Today I spent hours alone, navigating airport security lanes and the world of duty free. The long flight was nearly wordless, but for choosing pasta or chicken, or white or red, or coffee or tea. I read the IHT cover to cover, and further nourished myself with issues of The Atlantic and The New Yorker.
I watched two bad movies and accomplished a dozen little things: tallying my expenses, writing a letter, cleaning my computer desktop, reviewing important files. There was something satisfying about the silence, except I wasn’t entirely at ease. I missed my little girls. I wished they were close.
Yesterday I snapped, “What is it you don’t understand about the phrase leave mama alone so she can work?” Short-pants ran out of the room in tears and I felt like shit. I went to find her and apologize, not for my request but for my tone, and Buddy-roo cornered me. “Can I watch a movie?” “Non,” I said, curtly, which provoked pouting and crying and stomping out of the room after exaggerated proclamations about what I never let her do. The day wasn’t turning out as I’d planned.
Today a family with two wailing toddlers, a few rows ahead, put the entire cabin ill at ease. Passengers tossed uncomfortable glances at each other, wondering if this would continue through the whole flight. A steward tried to distract the children, but only heightened their cries. The mother visibly panicked and struggling to quiet her disruptive offspring. I took a deep breath and sent her vibes of patience and composure. Hang on, I told her silently, they’ll calm down once we take off. I closed my eyes and fell into a taxiing-on-the-tarmac sleep, very conscious of the fact that she could not enjoy the luxury of this little runway nap. I thanked the gods of air controllers that I was alone, and had no children with me who were thirsty, hungry, bored, needing to pee or puke or needing a stitch of my attention.
Yesterday they kicked and splashed in the pool, screeching with the glee that only children know. I’d grab Short-pants and spin her around several turns before lifting and throwing her up and out so she’d plunge back into the water. “My turn!” from Buddy-roo and she’d get the same treatment. We bobbed around together in our swimming caps, mother and daughters in sync and in step. Show me how you can swim. Throw me mama! Again! Our commands (both ways) asking not for obedience but for playfulness. After our swim, we strolled down the boardwalk that is the Paris Plage, eating ice-cream, telling corny knock-knock jokes and watching the boats in the Seine.
Today, waiting for my luggage by a carousel, I thought about Short-pants and Buddy-roo and what an interesting pair they make. One sweet, the other sly, they get on marvelously when they are not trying to bite each other. They weave in and out of my days, sometimes with ease and laughter, an hour later needing firm words and reprimands. They are a blast to be with or they are brutally banal. They are remarkably poised and independent, until they are clamoring for my attention and I can’t wait to extract myself from the never-ending-needing-of-me in stereo.
Last night, they resisted bedtime, knowing I would be leaving early this morning. I was looking down the barrel at at least four more hours of work and prep and packing, so I cut another deal: “Go to bed now without a peep, and when I’m done I’ll come get you both and you can sleep with me.” They bounded up the stairs and this time, I did not hear another word. At two a.m. when I’d done all I could do, I moved my suitcase into the hall, turned out the lights, turned down the sheets and fetched my girls, their long limbs hanging heavy as I carried each one down the stairs. Sleeping with them was a bit of a nightmare; they kicked and snored until dawn. Sleeping with them was a little slice of heaven; two angels curled on either side, nestling up to me in the night.
This is the paradox of motherhood. Yesterday they drove me nuts as much as they delighted me. Today I am restored by the lack of interruptions, but aching for their quirky humor and unbridled affection. It’s maddening. But the boundary between maternal bliss and discontent is not a straight line. It’s up and down and crooked with tricky hairpin turns. It’s a wild ride, and it’s the one I get to take every day.