I took my kids for a walk on Sunday morning after Abie and I had our First Big Quarantine Fight. I’d started to pick him apart in my head 48 hours earlier: I was annoyed that he didn’t seem to care to meet me at the shuttered bar where I was getting wasted with panic and desperation as the three of us cogitated about the potentially long-term catastrophic impact these stay-at-home orders and the consequent business not-just slowdown but straight up shutdown could have. What I didn’t see then, obviously, is that my desire—to begin installing solutions beyond the ones we’d already built in—ran counter to what I was actually doing which was, effectively, spiraling. And look, I’m not trying to judge my spirals. I read Brene Brown, I know all about shame, and the silver lining of their presence is that often after they’ve subsided and I can see more clearly, I make good change. The trouble is that when they’re not managed correctly, they take everyone down with them. And that hangover is a bitch.
Anyway, I should have expected he might bang his hands down on the kitchen counter and yell, “Enough!” at some innocuous moment but somehow the prospect escaped me until around 8:30 a.m. last Sunday morning when he was pouring ingredients into his smoothie and I asked, “Do you really have to use all those hemp seeds?”
At that point, he lost it.
I mean, he didn’t lose it—Abie is very even. It’s rare to see him act out of character, but when he does, it reminds me that his layers are there and that comforts me—I’m not sure why. Maybe because it makes me feel less crazy. Or because it reminds me that he is just as crazy. Either way, we become one-in-the-same for a brief moment. My problems are no bigger than his, his no smaller than mine because ultimately, they’re the same. Even if they’re not.
I’m glad it happened—he screamed about using whatever “fucking ingredients” he wants however he wants to use them. Then it seemed like he was going to throw a handful of the seeds on the floor, but he took a deep breath and suggested I go out for a walk. I was too pissed off to agree with anything he would say so I said, “No, you go.” And he did. The subtext I have not mentioned is that I was also getting frustrated that as bad-cop mom I had been cooking and cleaning my fucking fingertips off, disproving of Madelaur’s requesting cake for breakfast, while he seemingly floated like a fairy among them—FaceTiming all the grandparents and watching movies and singing songs and sharing his paleo-ass cookies, doing all kinds of stuff that might make you want to say, “No mommy. Only daddy.”
Of course, this is all in my head. It’s not actually like this. But you know who is never at the bar getting wasted with me, panic, and desperation? Objectivism. Logic. Reality. So maybe if he went off on a walk and I could be alone with our kids, free to parent and play my way, the role would reverse. No daddy! Only mommy! Bliss.
So he left. And me and the girls were off to a hell of a start: we finished our breakfast, we cleaned our faces, we had a dance party, and then we changed. We changed to go for a short walk because the weather was glorious and they could use some fresh air and frankly, so could I. We put on our gloves and our masks and went downstairs to an empty lot on the corner of Howard Street and as we were playing, “Don’t touch anything but run as fast as you can!,” Madeline face planted into the cement sidewalk.
I didn’t see it, even though I’m pretty sure I was looking at her, but I heard it and I swear to you, every time my mind quiets down just a little bit, I can hear it happening again.
The next thing I remember was grabbing her off the ground, plopping her into my lap as she cried and watching as her forehead bruise became a bubble became a golfball. Through my head crisscrossed the wildest fears I know I have: Did I just willingly put my child in harm’s way? I am a terrible mother. And then the one I didn’t know I have: Is this the nail in the coffin that finally makes Abie quit?
I don’t know what I was more terrified to do: discover that she’d incurred a concussion (she didn’t, thank God) or tell Abie what had happened. When we got home, I called the doctor, but hung up before anyone could answer and called Abie. I told him she’d fallen, that we were home, that I was icing the bruise and that she seemed okay. He asked if he should come home, I said I thought that was a good idea. Then I called the doctor back. She told me to test her vision through a series of gesticulated exams. I’d wash her face, use all the healing ointments I have, and monitor her behavior for the rest of the day.
When Abie got home, I expected that he would say, “I never should have left,” which I would take to mean, “I never should have trusted you with our kids.” Instead, he gave me a hug. He gave me a fucking hug and kissed my forehead and said, “I know how terrifying that must have been.”
And in that moment, I swear to you I became even more earnest than I have been the past five weeks. I wept in his arms for, like, 20 minutes and neither of us said anything because neither of us had to and a couple of hours later, when I was lying in bed, I had this thought that maybe Madeline’s classic case of Falling Toddler was a wakeup call. Another plea to slow down, chill the fuck out, go easier on myself or something.
I wrote that down and then read it back.
Go easier on myself?
Yeah. By doing that, I could go easier on everyone else.
Here I’ve been on this hamster wheel for, like, ten years, but especially the last five weeks, and in quarantine, it seems like I have been saying the same thing over and over again: it’s time! to clean out! the cracks! and corners! I! have been! avoiding! But now I’m thinking that maybe confessing this has actually been my way of not doing it. I’m not really sure — and from the vantage point of today (it’s Thursday, April 7346871th), I kind of want to roll my eyes so far back while reading the below, something I wrote last Sunday, but here it is:
You can’t give people the shit you think they need, no matter how badly you want to if you don’t know how to give—and receive!—it yourself. I’m learning this—I’ve been learning it—but sometimes I forget. I don’t know how or why it happened that at some point really early on when I was learning what “love” is, I got this idea that it’s finite. Sacrificial. That it’s a fixed mass to which you can add, I guess, but mostly from which stuff is subtracted. The bravest among us seem to know that actually, it’s an infinite well. I think this is the knowledge that lets you hug your partner when they fuck up instead of judging them. It lets you hug yourself when you fuck up instead of judging.
Abie and I never closed the loop on those hemp seeds, and ultimately, Madeline was fine. Her appetite never waned, she didn’t get dizzy, and within an hour, the bruise went down. It’s me who stayed a little fucked up, but you know what I’m thinking now? That I’m fine, too. That I’ve probably become even chummier than usual and am judging the hell out of it but need to, yeah, go easier on myself. Which I think is as easy as just like, doing it. No need to overthink or analyze and intellectualize any part of it. Just let go, you know? Butt cheeks unclenched.
What’s going on with you?
Feature photo: Leandra and Laura wearing On Cloud Nine pajamas.