I originally wrote this piece three years ago on a random Thursday. As usual, I had been listening to NPR’s Morning Edition while I woke my three daughters, got them dressed and took them to school. The snippets below are pulled from the actual transcript of that morning’s program.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: “Good morning. I’m Renee Montagne. Waiters in France can be rude – we all know that. But the manager of Le Petit Syrah Cafe in Nice says customers can be too. So he imposed a cost on rudeness. Demand a coffee, and it’s 9.50 in dollars. Say please, the price drops to 6. And if you greet the waiter with a friendly bonjour, the bill comes to $2.”
I turn my head from the pillow like a swimmer gasping for air. Keeping my eyes still closed, my hand slaps around the surface of the alarm clock looking for the ‘snooze’ button. It’s my second snooze already. Or is it my third? It doesn’t matter. Either way, school lunches will still get made and like waiters in France, I am not likely to receive a ‘please,’ ‘thank you.’
Twenty minutes later, I head downstairs to deliver my daily roving soliloquy:
“Brush your hair.” / “For real this time.”
“It’s cold outside. Dress appropriately. / “More appropriately.” / “Whatever. You’re the one who’s going to be cold.”
I eye the dirty dishes, then the clock. The syrupy mess will have to wait. I heave another daily sigh into the universe, annoyed. Was the snooze worth the extra time it will now take me to do the dishes later on? I hate inefficiency, but oh how I hate domestic tedium more.
I get the girls into the car and drive them to school. As soon as they jump out of the car, I lose them instantly in the sea of little bodies walking toward the entrance. The automatic sliding door is still beeping shut as I join the lonely parade of minivans exiting the lot. I sneak peeks at the arriving drivers in the opposite lane, and am smug at having gotten there first…even on one of my slow days. It is little solace but better than my usual envy. Nicer cars, nicer hair, more expensive clothes – all the things I gave up ‘willingly’ to stay home. If only envy gave a shit about nuance.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: “Nelson Mandela is lying in state for a second day in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria; a chance for one, last glimpse of the country’s most beloved leader. NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that the remote location of Sunday’s burial – far away, in Mandela’s home province – means that for most, filing past his casket is their final farewell.”
Heaving yet another sigh into the suffocating atmosphere, I remind myself that someday this this chapter of my life will be over and that maybe then I’ll have time to focus on myself. Because if it all ended today, what would I have to show for my time on earth? I used to have a career. I used to be respected. Now I heat up frozen pancakes in the microwave and interact daily with people who don’t know, or need to know, my first name.
On the drive home, I get stuck behind a school bus still picking up children. I don’t have anywhere where to be, nothing pressing to do but dirty dishes, but feel unreasonably irritated by this disruption. Speed up, brake. Speed up, brake again. How many more days, weeks or years will I be held hostage to others peoples’ schedules?
My mind wanders to my parallel life, the one in which I figure out how to raise my daughters and live up to my ‘potential.’ Isn’t that what he called it, that day I quit my job to stay home with kids? Yes. I’m pretty sure he did. With a look of utter disbelief, the VP of Marketing accepted my resignation by saying: “Why would you want to stay home with children when you have so much potential?”
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: “Saturday marks a grim anniversary in Connecticut. One year ago, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 children and six adults. Families of the victims have spent this past year in different ways. And this morning, we meet the parents of Avielle, a 6-year-old girl shot in Newtown.”
Talk about karma.
What the hell am I going on about? Someday this really will be over and there’s no guarantee that it won’t be today. What if my three daughters are taken from me today, on a random school day a few weeks before Christmas by a sick individual with a gun? It could happen. It did happen. To the families of Newtown. Or what if I’m taken from them? What if I die? It could happen. It did happen. To my own family when my dad died after a routine operation.
My heart begins to thump in my chest. I try to take a deep, cleansing breath, the kind my therapist taught me, and remind myself that statistically the chances of tragedy are small. My kids are 3X more likely to be poisoned than assaulted by a firearm and 3X as safe in a classroom than a moving vehicle. Besides, this is why I chose to stay home
in the first place – to stockpile as many organic moments with my children as I can, to share as much of their life with them as I am able.
My nervous system doesn’t give a shit about nuance either, though so blood continues to rush to my extremities as if I’m in imminent danger. Aren’t I? Aren’t we always? The reality is that numbers and statistics aren’t life insurance. The odds didn’t save Avielle Richman. The odds didn’t save my family from the chain reaction of depression, dysfunction and suicide ideation that followed my dad’s death.
I pull into my driveway, turn off the car and sit for a minute. Then I head inside to scrub the hell out of the syrupy mess on the sticky breakfast plates. It is 9:00am on a Thursday morning, two weeks before Christmas and I am grateful for this day.
Transcript courtesy of NPR’s Morning Edition.