Mom’s Double Life
I am split in two. When my son is up and the world is awake, I live my first life; errands to run, dinners to cook, swings to swing. Things upon things to fill up our day.
The garage down the street welcomes their noisy trucks back to their ports all morning, and I think briefly about the men inside their small cabins, listening to the radio, checking their messages, eating their breakfasts. Sometimes it feels like I am in elementary school again, looking outside the window from the nurse’s office, wondering what kind of day everyone else is having. Sometimes it feels like I am the moon and my son is the Earth, our orbits aligning perfectly without a hitch; the light and the dark times.
I must be practical and sentimental every moment of the day. The bathtub needs to be cleaned for my son’s bath, but I have to make sure I watch him toddle into the kitchen and remember how his chubby legs look without a pair of shorts on. I need to remember to squat down on the kitchen floor where he has made a symphony of pots and Tupperware lids and listen to his orchestra before straining the pasta.
The fullness of the day swells bigger than any kind of days I’ve had before. Moments so important, minutes so long. Sometimes it is so overwhelmingly monumental.
In the hour or so window before bed, the world outside seems to still, even if it’s light out and I can hear the neighborhood kids riding their bikes and playing ball on the street. I like to leave the front door open and let my son see the yard and the road from where he is eating dinner at the table. The wood-paneled walls of our old home sometimes give off the impression that the day isn’t bright, and I want him to know how bright it can be.
I switch my son into his small pajamas with Spider Man or Elmo or Santa on them. We clean up, well, I clean up, but he’s starting to help, and I shut down his world, one room at a time.
Cartoons, books, milk and toothbrush and we are off to bed. Say goodnight to the candles and the plants, the windows and the remote. They, too, are going to sleep, sweet little boy.
When he rests, the house becomes quiet; the chores are slower now that the urgency is gone. I remember that baking is not a race. I forget how to sit down sometimes, lingering at the kitchen table, waiting for a noise, a cry, a sound. When nothing comes, I drift for a while. I walk into each room and can’t remember why it is that I’ve traveled there in the first place. What needs to be done? What have I missed?
There’s a delicious coffee shop about 10 minutes into town; a busy, much too cool for strollers, artisanal coffee shop that switches to a wine bar after six. The busy college kids and business people of the day empty out and are replaced by aging hippies, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. That is what I aspire to be. This switch, though, is how I imagine my house changing at night; the high octane of the day slips away into the drowsy slowness of the night.
When he finally decides on a position in his crib, I take off my proverbial work clothes and change into my pajamas.
My second life: the after-bedtime life, kicks into gear the moment my son’s body falls quiet. The house is a different space, even if Dora the Explorer DVDs litter the floor and chicken nugget trails trace the kitchen table. I can listen to jazz, I can use the bathroom, I can sit. Just sit.
The house is mine, in a way, but I never know what to do with it in between the time my son falls asleep and my husband arrives home. I settle up any dishes, fold miscellaneous laundry, worry about what to do tomorrow.
I can’t say I feel whole since becoming a mother, but something bigger than whole. I am split as a person, night and day, but my soul is full, my focus is clear, my brain permanently washed by him.
The second life always wants a moment of sun while I’m busy being mom; selfish thing. A book I’m reading will catch my eye, a sentence will pop into my head, begging to be expanded, nearly demanding my time, threatening it will go away if I don’t tend to it right that minute. It must wait, though.
And sometimes, when my son needs my shoulder, a gentle rock, a calm reminder that mom isn’t all gone when he goes to bed, I am there, ready to breathe slowly so his short breaths match mine. Ready to relish his small head, completely melted into the right side of my neck. Ready to give up any free time just to feel the power I have to calm him, and the power he has to remind me to slow down and feel what now is like.
Angela Schwartz is a full-time mother, writer, and part-time English tutor. She drinks a lot of coffee and eats a lot of cheese doodles. Her work has been published in Workers Write! Literary Journal, Connotation Press, and Wolff Literary Press, where her first poem was recently published.