Today the sky is a mask.
The clouds huddle together so tightly there appears to be no sun at all, just an endless swath of dull white.
I cried after dropping Leo off at preschool today. Not because he was crying, not today, though he did say goodbye reluctantly, clutching his stuffed purple bunny close to his chest.
On Tuesday I kept him home. He had the beginning of a cold. That’s what I told myself as we cuddled on the couch watching shows while I worked on the computer. I could have sent him. If I worked, I would’ve had to, but I have the luxury to make these decisions. Sometimes I end up second-guessing them, but not this time, not after he said this:
Chin down, lip out, my little guy said, “I don’t like going to school.”
“Why not, honey? Aren’t your teachers nice?”
Big sigh. “Yes, but I don’t love playing with them as much as you.”
This made me tear up, partly because it seemed overly generous. The truth is, I kind of suck at playing. I think I was better with his older sister, probably because I didn’t have a smart phone. No Facebook to scroll through to break up the tedium of children’s games.
I tried to make up for it by leaving my phone behind when we went upstairs to his room later that day.
We made up a game inspired by his current favorite movie, Inside Out, which I also love. If you’re not familiar, the movie centers on emotions and memories, things that I have intimate knowledge with and interest in.
Using a bunch of small gray plastic balls from a building set, we pretended they were memories. “Core memories,” he called them, referencing the movie, and then we rescued them from the memory dump, over and over again.
That’s the thing about playing with kids. They want to do the same things, repeatedly. Nothing gets old. They don’t get bored of games, and they don’t get bored of you. A gift, really.
At one point I found myself staring out the window at the tree branches moving in the breeze, most of the leaves gone, a few hanger-oners hanging on.
I was reaching the edge of discomfort, the moment when I’d normally grab my phone or reheat my coffee. The kind of moment I imagine happens during meditation or yoga, when you think you can’t sit still or hold that pose a moment longer – but you do, you can.
There is a reward in staying.
I shifted my gaze to my son, staring at the tufts of soft blond hair standing up around his head like chicken fluff. The light from the window turned it translucent, illuminating the lone freckle in the center of his scalp.
I recently heard about the pregnancies of two friends, well, one is more of an acquaintance, but the other feels like a friend. These are not people I know in real life, but online. Fellow writers, mothers.
Both times I felt a deep pang upon hearing the news. A painful wrenching. It took me a while to figure out what it was.
The first time it manifested close to disgust. Another baby? I thought about what that would mean to me – loss of freedom, inability to write, onslaught of sleepless nights. It seemed like a hideous mistake. Foolishness. I backed away as if I had stumbled upon a sleeping bear, careful not to rouse it.
Then, a few weeks later, another reveal on social media. I studied the woman’s picture, while examining the twisting sensation in my stomach. The luminous smile and bright eyes, her face already glowing with the mystery and otherworldliness of pregnancy.
That’s when I understood what I was feeling. It wasn’t disgust, or jealousy. It was grief.
I have two children. The youngest just turned four and while I assume it’s possible for me to get pregnant again at forty, I don’t want to. That phase of my life, new motherhood, which encompassed the entire decade of my thirties, is over for me.
Never again will I hold the secret of pregnancy inside my body or feel the let down of milk fill my breasts.
There is grief in this realization. My son stopped nursing in late June, a week before my fortieth birthday, days before I left for a writing retreat, leaving my children for the first time in my life.
He asked to nurse one last time, on the phone during Facetime. “I want to nursy,” he said in a small sad voice, using our word, and my own face crumbled for a moment. “When I get home,” I promised. But when I got home he didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer. That part of our relationship was over. Six months later, I wonder if he remembers.
Motherhood is an endless cycle of letting go, a constant reconfiguring of rules and boundaries. You have to be flexible, quick to shift and shed. These are things I struggle with in regular life, and as a mother, even more.
I wrote my congratulations, my mazel tov, with genuine love to my online friend and her growing family, while simultaneously tending to myself, as I move out of one realm and into another.