I’m living the life I never imagined these days.
When I was a girl of nine, I dreamed I would be the first female president of the United States. I imagined myself standing on a podium before a crowd of cheering supporters with red, white and blue balloons filling the air. My handsome grey-haired husband stood next to my three well-groomed children applauding with pride shining in their eyes.
I give birth to a red-haired boy on the same day I give birth to my blonde daughter. I bring her home, swaddled, diapered and fed. I soon realize I have forgotten the boy at the hospital. I run back through damp streets and twisted gray hospital hallways. “I’ve forgotten my son,” I yell to the nurse. She opens a doorway. My red-head sits up in bed. I have missed his whole first year.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom. The best kind. The kind that had warm chocolate pudding waiting for me and my sister after school. The kind that delivered forgotten homework to school. The kind that volunteered at the school library. The kind that took us to an apple orchard every fall to pick a thousand different kinds of apples.
As a child, I took for granted that she would be there when we got off the bus at the end of a school day. I assumed that it was easy for her to drive us to any kind of after-school activity that interested us. And as much as I loved having her attention, as much as I loved knowing that she would be there at the end of every school day, I did not want to follow in her footsteps.
I hear a baby crying, but I can’t find it. I search the bedroom, the kitchen and then the bathroom. My mother is in the bathtub. She says, “Why aren’t you taking better care of that baby?” I look into the open toilet; a baby floats in there. When I reach to pick the baby up, her head slides back into the toilet.
When I was a girl of 12, I wanted to do something Important. Something prestigious. Something that would leave everyone at a party impressed. I thought, perhaps, I’d be an investment banker. I did not know what an investment banker did, but since it had the highest starting salary in the 1983 Forbes magazine list of top 100 careers, I thought I would be able to figure it out.
My daughter, older, maybe 16, wears a black, white, and pink striped skirt. She’s getting ready for a party. I stand in the kitchen and watch through the open doorway as she twirls, faster and faster, until her face and her skirt become a blur.
It wasn’t prestige alone driving my young ambition to be something other than a mother; it was also fear. I often wondered what would happen to us if my dad decided to take his money and his upward career trajectory and leave my stay-at-home mom behind. What if my dad became one of those men I heard whisperings about at the YMCA pool? What if he found another woman and started a new family? I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough money to survive without my dad. My mom didn’t seem overtly concerned about this possibility, but I noticed the intensity of her wrath when she spoke of men who left their families and the new women they settled in with.
My husband betrays me in Paris. I am able to float back and forth over the Atlantic between New York and Paris, but only as long as I can hold tight to the two rocks between my legs. If they slip, I will sink into the ocean.
When I was a woman of 23, I wanted to be a lawyer. I imagined I would wear pressed suits and work hard in an office with a door I could close. I thought I would always have a steady income. I thought I would find a man to marry and have one child, probably a girl. And I thought, while I worked in my office, my round-the-clock nanny would change all the dirty diapers, leaving only an occasional wet diaper for me.
I take a class at a studio called the Barbie Lounge. Everyone needs a purple ticket to enter the classroom. I have a handful of purple tickets in my pocket. An older woman, with the same name as my daughter, sits across the table from me. She says she loves me because of my unique and beautiful mind. I hand her all of my purple tickets.
Now I look around at my life. It’s nothing like I imagined. I was trained as a lawyer. I planned to work hard for many years and after awhile, I thought I would become a judge or a partner at a law firm. I didn’t plan to feel so empty as I worked long nights in that office. I married a man that I love, and we decided that neither of us wanted a nanny spending more time with our young children than we did. I didn’t think that I would feel so little desire to leave my infant son for longer than an hour or two at a time. I didn’t imagine how glad I would be to have warm chocolate pudding waiting for him after school. Or how lucky it would feel to be able to cancel work plans to stay at home with my sick daughter. Or how grateful I am that I don’t sit in an office and look at pictures of my kids because the view from my office is my front yard, where I can decide to join my children splashing in rain puddles on a gray windy day. I didn’t know it would feel so good to teach my son how to peel an orange.
My son gets ready to go to kindergarten. Instead of a bus or a boat, the children are ferried to school across the water on horseback. When it’s my son’s turn to mount the horse, he jumps into the water and swims. He’s not scared at all.
Some days my old childhood ambition gets the best of me. Last year, I took on a bigger freelance project than I should have just to prove to myself that I could still earn a chunk of money if I needed to. I slogged through the project many late nights, cursing my leftover childhood fears as I woke up bleary eyed to my children’s early morning laughter.
My daughter, now an adult, holds hands with a dark haired man wearing a pink t-shirt. They both sit on my great grandfather’s antique loveseat. My daughter grips the dragon head carved into the armrest of the loveseat and says, “We’re carrying again, and it seems good this time.” I reach for her hand and say, “I know it’s a girl and we’ll miss her every single day until she arrives.”
I remember sitting in the passenger seat of our family car at about ten years old. My mom and I were alone on a spring day, returning from a trip to the grocery store. The stop light at the foot of the hill was red and rain streaked the windshield. I asked my mom, “Don’t you wish you had a job like Dad’s? Think of all the money we’d have.” She looked over at me, her eyebrows raised. She shook her head and said, “You and your sister are more important to me than any amount of money.” I remember feeling confused and skeptical. I remember feeling sure I would feel differently if I were her.
I stand looking at a road teeming with fast moving cars. On the other side of the road is the ocean. My son starts running for the ocean. I screamed his name over and over, but he doesn’t stop. I start to run, but I know I will not reach him before he reaches the road. He runs into the road and a car grazes him. He lies on the pavement face down. I reach for him and roll him over with his arms stretched wide. I kneel on the ground and cry saying, “Please, please, I need to keep you safe.” He looks at me with blue eyes and I am scared he doesn’t understand how important he is.