It’s a dreary morning — the fifteenth straight dreary morning in a row. The dog doesn’t want to be walked again, because he’s old and he doesn’t like to get his feet wet. But I take him out anyway so he won’t shit in the yard. My son who is nearly two, trails behind, his stubby legs and distractibility imminent. He stops to watch a truck, to pick up sticks. He smiles at me, then turns and runs the other way, as fast as he can go. Instead of dragging the dog, who is already unhappily accompanying us back down the block, I point to him and say “stay!” and let go of the leash.
I chase the baby, who is laughing and crying at the same time, and scoop him up before he gets too far away. As I saddle him onto my hip, he whacks me in the face and curls his lip. I grab his hand and tell him “NO HIT!” — but not before he winds up and clocks me in the ear with the other. I put him down gently, holding his tiny hands in mine and stroking the tops of his fists with my thumbs. “No hitting Mommy, sweetheart,” I say, changing my tone in an effort to calm him. But it doesn’t work. Instead he tips his chin up at me. He’s winding up for his famous head-butt, which has sometimes left me holding an icepack to my cheek. But this time I see it coming and block it with my hand, the same one I just used to just pick up dog poop through wet plastic, I realize.
We walk back to get the dog who is fairly-well trained. At least I think he’s well-trained. He’s the only dog I’ve ever had. But on his worst day he listens better than either of my kids, so I consider him a good addition to the family. I pick up his leash and head towards home, dragging them both as best I can.
The baby is fighting to get down. He wants to be free of me. Free to walk, free to run down the block in the rain. And actually, so do I.
It’s chilly out, but walking fast with a toddler on my hip is making me sweat. It always does. And as I walk, I start to picture myself walking my dog in another life — in a parallel universe perhaps, where I took the other path. There, I never had kids. I didn’t get pregnant in my early twenties, after only dating my now husband for a couple of months. I didn’t cry in the bathroom and gather my courage and become a mother. Instead of having a baby and then another, I chose me, for better or for worse.
I try and imagine how it feels to be in that life — to be untethered, to walk briskly and without looking back, because there is no one nipping at my heels or watching the traffic or playing in a puddle. In this life, there’s just me and the pavement and the dog, and when we get back home, all will be quiet.
I will have all day to work, rather than just during nap times and after 8 PM. So I make another pot of coffee and tidy the kitchen before opening my laptop. There is time to do all these things in this other world — no one is crying on the floor for my attention. But there’s not much tidying to do. And I don’t trip over a little blue car or have to sop up applesauce from the wall, the table, and floor. I don’t find last night’s pasta under the baby’s chair. I don’t notice my daughter’s forgotten lunch box sitting on the counter, and have to stuff the baby in the car and race it to school.
There is no sink full of dishes that has dribbled out onto the counter. Just a coffee pot to rinse and a couple of egg shells to throw away. And I won’t end up brushing them out of the baby’s teeth later, after he pulls them out of the trash. There is no toothpaste all over the bathroom, pink blobs wiped carelessly onto the towel that hangs next to the sink or all over the sink itself. In fact, there are not four separate tubes of toothpaste — one suitable for a child under two, one with princesses, one for grown-ups with sensitive teeth that have been wrecked by wine, coffee and two pregnancies, and the regular tube of Crest that my husband uses.
I am not exactly yearning, as much as I am imagining this life where there is just me. I can feel like it, so close to me somehow, even though it’s been so long since my life looked or felt this way. Full of freedoms. Freedoms that once seemed small and now seem enormous, only for the fact they are mostly out of my grasp.
Walking the dog in a timely and efficient manner. Waking at the sound of an alarm, not at the baby, not at the hot breath of a 6-year-old. Starting my day at 7, or 9, not 5:45 or 6:15, if I’m lucky. Not having so much housework to do, on any given day, that I feel like I’m drowning. Working during normal work hours. Sleeping when I’m tired. Having enough money to do at least some things that I want to do for me. Sitting on a beach. Reading a book. Walking out of the house, without someone, or everyone, being inconsolable.
In a parallel world, I am not a mother. I am an independent woman, who lives her own life and walks to her own beat, and this world looks far more like the life I pictured, than the life I ended up with. But I also know this: That life isn’t perfect, either — the one I wonder about sometimes, when I’m dragging the baby home or dreading the pile of dishes. It’s filled with its own layers and struggles and wondering, even if I can’t quite remember why.
Before I was a mother, I don’t remember feeling all that free, even though I was. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. And then I was about to be a parent, and while life definitely threw me with that one — threw me for some loops, threw me to the wolves — it also gave me clarity. Who I was got more clear when I became someone’s mother. And while it didn’t happen overnight, I caught on quick. And I kept catching on.
I found an enormous sense of purpose in this gift that I didn’t ask for, but life to handed me anyway. Suddenly, I had this motivation — a drive, a fire in my belly that I’d never felt before. And I know I have my babies to thank. For that, and so much more.
Some mornings, when my daughter has already gone to school and the baby has gone to my mother’s for the day, I take the dog for those seamless walks. I’m 31 and I’m just now realizing what a dog person I am. I let him stop and sniff because it’s just us and my arms are empty. He’s a rescue, with only a year or two left, and I want to give him all the love and good walks I can. Sometimes we jog until we both get tired. And when we get home, the house is quiet. It’s messy — so messy — but it’s quiet.
So I load the dishwasher, I pick up the little blue car that I’ve tripped on three times in a row. I sweep up the egg shells and clean the pink toothpaste off the edge of the bathroom sink. I’ve lost at least two hours by the time I finally sit down at my desk, which is not really a desk, but the dining room table, piled high in school worksheets and markers and my husband’s stacks of papers from his sales job. I put in a few hours and before I know it, it’s time to go and get my babies.
Sometimes I want more of the quiet, but I’ve mostly missed the noise. And I’m thankful that the path I took, the one where it sometime rains and everyone has to be dragged home, led me here — to the place where it’s loud and messy; where there’s a fire in my belly, and they call me their mother.