She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along.
~Margaret Culkin Banning
My sweet girl,
I wanted to go with you
I need you to know that
When you came to visit me at work
I know it wasn’t easy
I know it wasn’t where you wanted to be
You said it over and over again
‘I want to go home. I want to go home.’
No one could miss the fact that you weren’t happy there
You were confused and frustrated that Mama’s computer didn’t play your games
The lights were bright
People were talking in different directions
It’s far from ideal, I know
But then I showed you the white board and the dry erase markers
And in an instant, everything changed
‘I will draw me as a princess’ you announced
And you did
And your ‘friend’ – she’d be a princess too
So you drew Sabrina
The girl you met that one time that you went to the sunday school class
Three years ago
And you were happy, feverishly coloring in the princess dresses
One pink, one red
I wanted so badly for Mama’s work to be a place you’d like to visit. It broke my heart when I’d asked the day before if you’d wanted to come on a day this week when a couple of other kids would be visiting. You’d said, ‘NO’ without hesitation, then added an emphatic, sing-song ‘SORRY!’ for good measure.
But for a few minutes at least, stopping by quickly with Daddy to drop something off, you were happy there. An open door for next time. All I can ask.
When it was time for you to leave, I said, ‘OK, baby girl, it’s time to go now.’
I knelt on the floor to hug you and you said something.
You said. ‘Mama, I want you.’
I stayed frozen in the moment, hugging you in the middle of the floor. An absurd place to be, but there we were. Your long, lean arms were wrapped around my neck. There was no space between us.
‘Oh, honey,’ I said, ‘I want you too.’ I whispered in your ear, ‘Thank you for telling me that. I want you too.’ And then I told you it was time to go with Daddy and that I’d see you later at home.
You didn’t let go. (You always let go. Hugs don’t last like that with you. Ever.)
‘I want to go home with YOU’ you said.
And I split right open there in the middle of the floor.
I searched for my game face.
You see, my little love, Mama is always Mama, but at work, well, Mama doesn’t have the option of splitting open in the middle of the floor. (Which probably explains why it happens so much at home)
You finally had the words to tell me what you wanted. And you did – so perfectly, so succinctly, so beautifully. And yet, in that moment, I couldn’t give you what you were asking for.
So I hugged you for as long as your little arms stayed wrapped around my neck.
‘My girl wants me,’ I thought. ‘My girl wants me.’ I could have clicked my heels together in that moment. Or sobbed. What can I tell ya, little one? Sometimes cloud nine comes equipped with a stake through the heart.
Last night we put The Script on a loop, remember?
This time it was me that had to hear it again and again – me who needed the comforting reassurance of familiarity.
‘Brooke, do I like being away from you?’
‘No, you like being WITH me’
‘That’s right. So what happens when I’m at work?’
‘You MISS me!’
You took another run at me as you said your last line, trying to ‘nick’ me over, as you say. I let you knock me down and we rolled to the ground together in a single giggling heap.
I once found out that when asked to describe me, a colleague had said, ‘she’s great at what she does, but what you need to know about Jess is that she’s a mom. First and foremost, it’s just who she is.’
It had surprised me at the time. It’s true of course that I’m a mom before all else, but it surprised me to hear it in that context. I’m sure it sounds silly to you that I was surprised, but I’d thought I’d done a pretty good job of compartmentalizing my life. (I can just see you reading this someday, rolling your eyes and laughing. Oh God, how I hope you roll your eyes and laugh at your mama someday.)
My love, I need you to know that I wanted to come with you. I need you to know that, despite your big sister’s entreaties to the universe to ‘somehow make sure that everyone can just get all the things we really need for free so that we can all be together all the time like it was in the history days,’ life just doesn’t work that way. Someone needs to pay the bills, baby. And I’m grateful to have the wonderful job that I have, which is why I feel such a tremendous responsibility to do it well. Someday I hope you’ll understand that. How lucky we are that mama CAN work.
As you left, I put my game face on and went back to work. I was stronger, lifted by the fresh reminder of who I do it for every day, why I’m really there.
And torn to pieces by the overwhelming fear that you may not understand any of that.
I love you, my sweet girl. More than anything in the whole wide world. Remember our other script, baby? The one we say when we’re lying on your bed when you’re supposed to be sleeping? The one that we said last night as we stared together at the ‘moon’ you’d made from the flashlight’s beam on the wall –
‘What would I do for you, Brooke?’
‘What wouldn’t I do for you?’
Mama wants you too, my angel.
Mama wants you too.