The next chapter
A miracle happened in our house on Sunday. All four humans in our family remained in bed until nearly 9 a.m. This is certainly a record, one that may not be touched for years. The parents of the household had been out on a long-awaited Date Night, leaving the children in the care of a brand-new babysitter. I felt a few tremors of guilt as I watched my daughters warily appraise this stranger who would be doing their bedtime, but the need to go out alone with my husband, sporting a bohemian dress, high black boots, and jasmine perfume, overwhelmed all other concerns.
The girls would survive. Said babysitter was a lovely, responsible graduate student of psychology -- they would be safe with her for four hours. And they could comfort each other if necessary. They could snuggle together in one bed till they fell asleep.
There’s nothing like losing oneself in a thrilling movie to get out of a rut of boredom, confusion, and self-doubt. A cold pint of lager, sweet-and-spicy grilled shrimp, and candlelit adult conversation don’t hurt either. By the time we returned home I was so grateful I tipped the sitter $15, then crept upstairs to find the girls tucked in Ava’s bed -- Carmen spread-eagled on top of her ducks, open-mouthed like a drunken sailor, Ava curled sideways into her pillow.
These are the moments of immense gratitude for my life, when flickers of fear flare up, then subside with prayer. "All, all could be lost," writes the poet Louise Gluck, and the line whispers itself in my head before I ward it off with a mother’s protection spell. That night I felt like Mrs. Darling blessing the nursery before Peter Pan flies in, about to entrance away her three offspring: "Dear Night-lights that protect my sleeping children, burn clear and stead-fast tonight."
The next morning I woke to Ava standing by my bed. "Mommy, it’s 7:55. Time to get up!" she crooned sweetly. My vivid dream slipped out of my grasp like a wraith. I wanted to chase it.
"Honey can you go play?" I groaned, rolling over.
Forty-five minutes later, two girls slid into our bed for an extended family snuggle that started with love, bliss and dream-sharing and deteriorated into tickling, wrestling and belly-blows (Carmen’s favorite pastime of planting a noisy raspberry on a parental abdomen). By the time I leapt away from the thrashing shrieks, it was close to 9 a.m. -- an extraordinary lie-in -- and high time for strong tea.
This landmark morning highlighted the truth I’ve been coming to for several months now. The era of Spilt Milk is over. I’m not making milk; I haven’t for years, and if one of my kids spills a drink I can hand her a sponge and ask her to wipe it up. We’re a full year out of The Baby Cave, and new possibilities open at every crossroad.
I recently found my pouting older daughter reading the Reformer on a Saturday morning.
"Mommy, I am NOT a feral cat!" she protested, indignant, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to mine our family life for writing material much longer. I plan to continue my column through January 2013 -- four years exactly from when I started Spilt Milk, when I had a baby and a toddler attached to my body and couldn’t see beyond the next bedtime. I’ve had a good run writing these parenting chronicles, and I’m grateful for it.
After our record sleep-in, I bustled around the house like a domestic dervish, washing dishes and baking muffins, fueled by the lingering buzz of Date Night. In an effort to prolong the high, I decided to practice yoga in a black velvet bustier I’d dug up from the past. I put a Latin dance mix on the stereo and busted out some sun salutes before the girls joined me.
"Mommy, is that a gymnastics outfit?" asked Ava, recalling the spangled leotards she admires at Woodman Athletics.
"No, Ava," explained Carmen gravely. "It’s a long kind of bubby-bra." Carmen loves rifling through my lingerie drawer and knows every item in my seldom-worn collection.
"Oh. Where did you get it?" said Ava, curiosity piqued.
"In Montreal, the week before Daddy and I got married," I said.
"I didn’t know you went to Montreal!"
I smiled mysteriously but didn’t elaborate. There are stories my children won’t hear till later, like that Bachelorette Night in Montreal, chipping along the gray avenues, bitter wind blowing off the frozen river. How we ducked into a boutique to buy stiletto boots, then into the lingerie shop where a chic Quebecoise wrapped the bustier in tissue paper (after all, I was getting married!). How we gathered our courage to walk into a strip club on St. Catherine Street, trying to ignore the blank eyes of the women on the pole, then laughed our way through a boozy French meal before the culmination- ecstatic dancing on the bar at Club Tokyo. I remember the silk sheen of my bronze mini-skirt, arms waving in the air besides my sister and best friends of that era, all five of us young and free, shaking it to Madonna’s "Holiday."
This is the sensation I can try to conjure in my own home, when I want to feel alive and juicy again. I don’t need to be a decade younger, I don’t need to be single sipping a pink cocktail some French-Canadian guy bought me, I just need the right music blasting and a risqué outfit and maybe the company of two girls who leap and cartwheel around the room to Shakira. Carmen wants me to bounce her up and down on the big blue yoga ball, eyes shining with risk, getting hang time in the air as above a miniature earth, holding tight to both my hands, thrilled with our dance.
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