Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t appreciate my life as a mother and wife. I do. Very much. It’s just that at the end of one of those days, after, say, picking boogers out of my hair or prying one daughter’s jaw off of the other daughter’s arm, I get to thinking about how great my easy, fun, single life actually was. Life now, as meaningful as it is, can be difficult.
It usually goes something like this: I pull out the vacuum cleaner to clean the stairs, which, as usual, are covered with a thick layer of dog hair, crumbs, grass, and dust. My Jack Russell terrier, believing she’s rescuing the whole family from certain death, tears across the house to attack the Dyson. My other dog, Lexi, a black poodle schnauzer ball of fluff, thinking she’s doing me a favor, tries to stop the Jack Russell from barking...by barking. I go through my obligatory round of “No. No. Stop it. No,” give up and proceed with vacuuming the stairs, letting the dogs fight and bark at my feet, a cloud of fur and grass and dust in the air around us. But I press on, storms of profanity spinning through my mind.
After a while, my husband emerges, yells at the dogs. But it has no effect. Except to upset my 8-year old daughter, who comes running to protect her pets.
“Don’t yell at them!” she demands.
“Sophia!” yells my husband. “Stay out of it!”
My 2-year old hears this and dutifully comes running to defend her sister, grabs hold of my husband, pulls him away from the stairs, yelling “Leave my sissy alone!”
And there we are. In the time it takes to vacuum a flight of stairs, the entire house has erupted. I'm sweating. One dog is panting, the other inexplicably hiding under the bed. Sophia is sobbing in her room, my two-year old has taken off her pants as well as every toy that used to be on her shelf, and my husband is lying on the floor, covered in baby dolls and stuffed animals, staring listlessly up at the ceiling.
Downstairs, my phone is lit up with a text message from my 20-year old daughter, and I swipe the screen quickly to read it. She wants me to know she and her boyfriend have been talking about the appropriate age to have kids. I swallow hard. She goes on. Her boyfriend, who up until now I’ve really liked, doesn’t want to end up being old parents, like us. By us, he means me. And my husband. Old parents. I swallow again, grind my teeth. To punctuate the story, my daughter includes one of those emojis that smiles with its tongue hanging from its mouth. I set down my phone, look over at the clock on the stove that still needs to be cleaned from this morning’s breakfast. My eight-year old screams that my two-year old has just licked her. My two-year old screams that her sister yicked her first. I sigh. There are still so many more hours left in the day.
Eventually, though, the kids and dogs and husband will fall asleep. And I will be left with my Roku. In tonight’s pick, after a female heroine moves in with an almost-perfect man, she eventually realizes he is totally wrong for her, packs up her belongings and returns to her single apartment, which is somehow still hers, untouched, like a kind of time capsule, her bed still made, magazines still laid out on the coffee table, books still lining her shelves, her dishes still stacked neatly in her cabinets. She stands there in the apartment for a few minutes, beholding the sight of the life she nearly abandoned. Then she drops her luggage at her feet and sighs. It’s over. She’s home, where she belongs.
I’m ashamed to say that after a long day of “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mama,” I envy her for a moment. Or 30. And though I wouldn’t ever give up the crazy, loud life I have now, I let myself imagine that there is a door to the past, through which I could escape from time to time. If I could, I’d return to that old incense-smelling third-floor apartment down on the coast of North Carolina for just a day, and here is what I would do:
1. First, I’d play Ani DiFranco. If you’re a fan, you understand why I can’t play her anymore. Her regular f-bombs are the least of what the PTA would find to be her offenses. Once, when my Ipod tripped over her song “Untouchable Face” while the kids were in the van with me, I found myself turning up the volume, a kind of knee-jerk reaction. I’d almost sung out “and fuck you!” with Ani before I realized what was happening. “What would be so bad?” I asked my husband who narrowed his eyes at me, and I shrugged. “Fine,” I relented.
But back in my single apartment, I’d turn that shit up. I’d sing all of the lyrics, head bang with one arm in the air, and dance from one end of the apartment to the other, over the bed, on top of the kitchen counter, on the arm of the couch and against the door frame. With Ani, I feel like I am not just a mother. I’m excitement, hope and ache. I’m anger and passion and resilience. I’m 32 flavors, man.
2. I’d break out the eyeliner. If I listened to Ani long enough, I wouldn’t be able to help it. I’d darken the edges of these mom eyes, end to end, until I looked like a cat. And nobody would say, “Mommy, what happened to your eyes? Are you hurt?”
3. With my eyes lined and Ani playing, I’d arrange throw pillows on the couch. This is something I miss—decorations. I’ve never known the throw pillows (or any other decoration) in my house to stay where they belong for long. If it’s not the dogs, it’s the kids and my husband. They are attracted to throw pillows like pigs to mud, each of them for their own reasons but all to the same end—getting the damn pillows on the floor. Lexi, my dog, drives her head into them and flips over, rolling herself over the couch until all of the pillows have been knocked off. My husband can’t stand anything impeding his effort to lounge on the couch, so he surreptitiously tucks them under the couch or behind the couch in hopes that I don’t notice they’re gone. My daughters like to throw the pillows at each other. I tell them throw pillows aren’t for throwing, but they can’t imagine any other etymology that would explain their name. In my single apartment, however, the throw pillows would be arranged in pristine order, leaned against the corners of the couches and chairs, none of them smeared with boogers or yogurt or dog slobber.
4. Then, because I wouldn’t want to mess up the pillows, I’d lie on the floor and stare up at the ceiling. That’s all, just lie there, accomplishing nothing, no task to attend to but my mind’s freely wandering thoughts. But instead of thinking about the next scene I want to write in the book I’m working on, I’d find myself thinking about my oldest daughter, how much she’d love the throw pillows, how it would be to sit out on the porch with her, sipping coffee and watching the sun go down behind the long leaf pines.
5. Then I’d turn down Ani and call someone, a friend I haven’t spoken to in a long time. And I’d talk. For a whole hour. Maybe longer. I’d do something like paint my nails while I talked, uninterrupted. And I’d be able to listen to the other person, totally, hearing the details of their life, being able to provide thoughtful responses to them instead of trying to pretend I hear them through the shrieks of my children and the barks of my dogs.
6. I’d order out---something like sushi that kids find disgusting but I love. And I’d eat it slowly, between sips of a dry red, sitting on my bed, wearing one of my old low-cut single shirts that wouldn't fit, but I wouldn't care. Occasionally I would set the wine on the bedside stand. And nobody would knock it over. I would finish the entire meal without any puddles to mop up, any stains to get out, any crumbs to somehow dig out of the sheets.
7. I’d read a book. Cover to cover. I’d go through all the delicious longing and anticipation that comes with the best stories. I’d yell at the characters, cry with them, jump up and run around the apartment at the most suspenseful parts, and when it was over, I would lay there and bask in the glory of it, feeling changed in the deepest parts of myself.
8. Then I’d realize I want to tell Sophia or my husband about how much I love the story because they are who I tell about such things. I’d imagine the way Sophia listens when I talk, about the way she asks questions about characters’ motivations, how her own love of stories shines in her wide eyes as she props herself up on her elbows and rests her chin in her hands.
9. I’d suddenly long for the way the baby smells, that sweet combination of soap, juice, and sunshine I breathe in when I pick her up and she wraps her arms and legs tightly around me, rests her chin on my shoulder.
10. So I’d play 32 Flavors one last time, remembering the old yearning that came with my single life---the intense hope for love, for emptiness to be filled. I’d decide to go home, to my crazy, messy, exhausting, not-so-single life, complete with boogers, smeared in designs on the wall. But before I did, I’d jump on the bed one last time, maybe run into the living room, fling off all the throw pillows, one by one. And it might even feel good. (But I wouldn't tell my family).