9:09am. We are driving down Fall Creek Parkway, rush hour to all but us. We barely made it to 9:09am. But barely is enough and all three of us dressed, fed, on the road.
Our windows open as they get, spring air sprinting through the car from window to window like it’s the wind olympics. Hair tousled. Coldplay’s “Lovers in Japan” is blaring from the speakers, on its third repetition. Lovers, keep on the road you’re on. In the back seat are my two girls. My nearly-four-year-old is facing east, her eyes closed tight. The bright morning sun runs with us. Trees from Fall Creek cast a strobe effect on her closed eyelids. I smile because I remember, I remember what it’s like to do that. Closed, open. Light, dark. Seeing, not.
My younger one, she’s looking west. Her eyes follow one car, the next, the next. The sound of quiet from both, both mesmerized by light, movement. Sometimes even the right is wrong. We are moving at nine miles over the speed limit to what is supposedly a massive seasonal sale at Macy’s because the girls need spring clothes.
Day is golden. Ripe and plump with possibility. Spring.
Everything is right, right now.
It is 2:40pm. We are on the naughty chair. My eyes sting and pulse with salt and water. My daughter on my lap. We both did wrong. Me, I yelled back. I was louder than I thought I could. This is a pattern, an act we play and we both know it, and here we are again sharing the same seat.
Her body gets big then small like a paper bag. She turns with a start. Her eyes to mine, wet highways down her face. With all the honesty and sincerity only she can muster “Daddy. You can. Go. I will stay. I have forgiven you.”
I’ve been slapped, and I turn my eyes from hers and bury them in my hands.
Where does she find these words, where does she find the strength to forgive? How do we get from her to me and where is it all lost.
10:38am. Northwest on Michigan Road a few miles from downtown. We dropped Momma off at work. Alexi Murdoch’s “All My Days” this time. The sun is again keeping pace.
Take a snapshot. A perfect morning.
But life is a continuum, each moment context to the next and last, and this is not perfect.
Do you parent? Then imagine chaos. The voices in my head talking faster than I can drive, all of them screaming YOU CAN NOT DO THIS.
Raising kids is so hard.
I have snapped like a rabid dog at my children since we woke.
I was pretending when I kissed my wife.
The morning shitting on the toilet and resenting parents on Facebook.
Fuck arts. Fuck crafts. Fuck playgroups. Parks too. Fuck life lessons.
I turn a corner and its an unfamiliar road. It’s quiet so I go there.
Magic: we are in the city, stoplights and traffic and strip malls, and then not. Hills and trees and a field. A wooden fence and behind it the sun hefting itself up.
A small farm up ahead, just over the rise. I slow to peek.
A voice from the backseat: “Look! Horses, Daddy! Horses!”
It is 3:14pm. The three of us are sitting on the sidewalk. Our backs hold up the brick storefront of Joe’s Cycles.
Heat simmers from the pavement. Ice cream is freefalling from our chins and into pools.
My girls charmed Joe into tripling the scoop size. “Chalk-oo, too, please, Chalk-oo, too, please!”
I am closing my eyes and imagining the perfect scene as a stay-at-home-dad and when I open my eyes I am seeing what I imagined. I elbow my way in for another bite of ice cream. I am giving a gift to them….and the gift is this: the pavement, the cars, the soft push of a hot sun on our heads, the laughter from the shadows of the bike shop, the tiny dandelions peeking out from cracks, the gangly bright smiles from homeless passerbys, the ant carrying a crumb across the sidewalk.
this moment, here.
No plan. No will to make it happen. In the morning this moment did not exist. Yet, here it is and here we are in it.
As I wipe my chin I realize my great gift to my children is to fall and stumble like an accident into these rare mundane moments.
8:21pm. The sun is barely holding on, me neither, but are we not both trying our best. The neighborhood birds are pecking at the ground. One last easy meal.
The days are cards flipping in the air from a deck fallen from my hand. A third on the way. Sleep is a stranger. Anxiety is a companion but not my friend. So much to do. I need to find a preschool for my first. My second spent two weeks restrained to a bed in a hospital. “Huhrt, Daddy, huhrt,” she says, and when she does my insides scramble to the outside.
I am always scrambling and I am scrambled.
Where does it all fit.
I am digging in our garden outside. The dark dirt is soft, pliable, parting. Plant this, water here, and then green from the black. A bark from a dog across the alley. I stand up to look. Someone is looking in our trash. He sees me and scurries away to the neighbor’s bin.
Behind me, the cry of little girl seeps through the thin windows of our ancient house. I listen for a bit, and then bend down to the soft ground and dig a little deeper.