“I want to kiss the girl who fought the Fairy Queen with a frying pan!” I say, hands stretched toward my giggling 5- and 6-year-old daughters. Sophia waves her magic wand then fashions fairy furniture with the lid of a shampoo bottle, three toothpicks, and a paperclip. Olivia, busy with her reflection, tries to un-pucker her flannel pajamas where we’d rubber-banded the fairy wings.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall,” she begins, adjusting her tiara, confusing her fairies and princesses.
My son Johnny – baby Jingle, as his sisters call him, though he’s three now – bobbles into the bedroom in big boy underwear. Sophia tapes a pillowcase to his bare back, making a cape.
“Jump! Jump for joy! That’s how you fly silly,” she says, taking hold of Olivia and Johnny’s hands. They jump and shriek, as if Johnny Jingle just might take off.
The rumpus is my own fault. The children are, no doubt, in sugar shock from the microwave mudpies – chocolate slices glued with marshmallow fluff, garnished with graham crackers. We’re at least on our way toward sleep, I tell myself, not wanting to tamper with the spell that seems to unravel in the room now, each minute strung together like pearls.
Seamlessly, the girls waltz Johnny to his room across the hall, declaring night-night for him. I follow, tossing a Tonka truck and toy soldiers from my path.
“Happy hugs,” Sophia says, hopping onto Johnny’s bed and giving him a squeeze, his small blue room lit with a lightsaber lamp.
“What’s your grateful?” Sophia says and Johnny squinches his lips. “I’m thankful for Petie,” he says, squishing the stuffed lizard tightly under his armpit.
I am grateful that this is my weekend with my children, every minute of it precious. I mark my weekends on the calendar like forget-me-nots – with me, with me not, with me, with me not. Since my divorce six months earlier, the children spend every other weekend with their father, falling twice a month into a rabbit hole.
After Johnny’s goodnights, we walk back to Sophia and Olivia’s bedroom. I tuck the girls into one twin bed, two heart-shaped faces peeking out from beneath the princess sheets. Though there are two beds in the room, my Irish twins sleep together. I round off the evening with a chapter of Hat Full of Sky, perfecting my imitation of Ms. Weatherwax and Nac Mac Feegle.
It’s after 10 when I step into my red, cocooned bedroom with its timbered ceiling and slanted pine floor, hallmarks of this old home, the only kind I’d consider buying in spite of everyone telling me to take a townhouse. Decisions had to come quick once the divorce was final, and perhaps I hadn’t thought it through, purchasing a house based on its having a fairy window, a carousel horse mural, and a climbing tree at the edge of our yard.
Window open wide, September air balloons into my bedroom. I am tired in the way only a single mother of three young children could be, the ache in my bones, the knots in my spine, like stuck keys on a piano.
I climb out of the window onto the flat roof. The full moon is centered between the branches of the climbing tree. The stars spill like sugar. I breathe the air in and take a sip of wine from a sippy cup. I think about the less-than-perfect morning, following Sophia through the house, pretending to clean while she tapped a light switch ten times and centered and re-centered a throw rug on the wood floor, carefully pressing it back into a perfect oval. She is an anxious child since the divorce – and I am a guilty mom.
It had been my decision to cut the family into two unequal halves. I see in my mind the yellow laminated bus tag pinned to Olivia’s backpack, the large letters and numbers: BUS NUMBER 23, so she knows which bus to take to which house. I see the word “divorced” on Johnny’s preschool application.
Then a voice: “Mommy?” Two faces peered out at me from the window. “What are you doing, Mommy?” Olivia says, as Sophia boosts her up so she could climb out onto the roof first. “I’m taking a time out, Livvy-Boo.”
“Can we have a time out?” Olivia asks, walking tightrope style, though the roof is not at all steep, Sophia close behind. My lap is instantly divided, one little girl on each side, even-Steven. A soft wind nestles into the creases between our bodies, the smell of lilac swells the air. “Which one of you can’t sleep?” I say. I know one woke the other. “She can’t,” they say in unison, pointing fingers at each other.
What would someone say if they saw us on the roof, almost midnight? And what did it matter? Our lives were no longer stacked neatly into drawers but maybe it didn’t need to be that way. People divorced; my children would be okay. Sophia is already queen of the cakewalk, Olivia already the fairest princess of them all.
I did not rush to get the girls back into bed. Instead I slid the moment into my pocket like a shiny penny, recognizing this might not happen twice, the three of us on the roof like this, waiting, as it were, for the cow to jump over the moon.