So it was dark, a little after 8 p.m., when I parked on our street and let myself into the house. Lights were on, but the place was silent – in a way that NO house with a 5 year old and a 2 year old in it is silent.
I walked around and checked each empty room, puzzling out the possibilities. Joe’s car was in the driveway, so they had to have walked wherever they went. The nearby café we used to frequent for post-dinner smoothies recently closed, so that left the library down the block as the prime suspect.
I grabbed my keys, locked up, and trudged back out to the sidewalk.
But then I thought I heard faint giggles and voices, coming from somewhere in the area of our house.
Could Joe and the girls be outside, in our backyard, though the moon and the streetlights were the only sources of light at this point?
Yep. As I walked down our long driveway, I spotted silhouetted figures bobbing up and down on the trampoline, and heard peals of high-pitched, little girl laughter.
What the what?
Spotting my approach, Joe cued Lily and Neve to say with him, “Hi, Mommy, we love you!” while they kept jumping, holding hands, in a small circle.
“What are you crazy people doing?” I asked.
“These guys were a little jumpy, a little all over each other, so I thought they needed to work off some energy,” Joe said.
“This was YOUR idea? I presumed Lily talked you into this.”
“Nope, this was me.”
At this point, Lily and Neve walked to the opening in the netting to crush me with a two-girl hug, and Neve pulled on my arm, urging me to join them on the trampoline.
How could I refuse?
We all jumped together in the darkness, now an utterly absurd circle of four, and we laughed loudly. We occasionally paused to collapse and study the moon, or point at the stars that we could see. And Joe bounced the rest of us while the girls lay across me like tumbling, blissed out puppies.What I felt tonight on that silly trampoline – what we all felt, I’d venture to say – was pure joy in each other. A fulfillment of the deceptively difficult promise that comes with parenthood: that sometimes, you’ll all just love and “be” with each other (rest of the world be damned) and experience unadulterated happiness for no other reason than that you’re together in a particular moment.
Interestingly, this came on the heels of being asked, by a female EMU student, what kind of work/life balance I’d struck for myself. Though I read articles and blog posts about this topic almost daily – and in fact just today shared this awesome Jezebel post about women like me who don’t “want to have it all,” but just want to be fulfilled by, and happy with, the effort they put in at home and at work – I surprised myself by becoming tongue-tied when articulating my own situation.
But I started by saying, “The primary key for me is having a partner who will step up – who will do his share and really, truly be an equal partner. Because there are a lot of nights when I’m out working.” Pause. Processing. (Buffering?) “And I remind myself often that the best parent, in many cases, is a happy parent. My job makes me happy. I love it. And if I’d walked away from it when I had my kids, I think I would have ended up resenting that loss. So we’ve been figuring it out as we go. And just lately, I feel like I’ve struck a really good balance and finally, completely adapted to this life. It’s taken a few years, I guess, but it’s true.”
Five years, to be accurate. And part of this is probably due to the girls getting older – no more nursing babies will be waking us every 3 hours around here – but I also feel like it took that long to fully give myself over to it all (the noisy chaos, the mess, the lapses in memory and judgment, the stressful meals, the worry, etc.), while also letting of the things that I’d desperately tried to hold on to.
I had to let go of the lovely writing group that meets for hours on one Saturday each month to discuss manuscripts; and let go of international travel; and let go of napped-filled weekends and holidays, and nights of uninterrupted sleep; and let go of devouring the Sunday New York Times whole; and let go of seeing movies in the theater; and let go of any “alone time” that doesn’t happen while driving my car to and from work; and let go of book groups that gobbled up precious weekend afternoons; and let go of long, regular phone calls with faraway friends I dearly love and miss; and let go of the community band in which I used to play; and, for a time, let go of my favorite yoga class.
But in that crazy way that fate works, I’ve recently found my way BACK to that favorite yoga class, as of September. Fitting that it’s the yoga class, of all things, since it seemed like, once I accepted my limitations at last, the universe threw me a freakin’ bone.
Earlier in the year, however, the universe was not being so kind. Sewage flooded our basement, where the kids’ playroom is, in the dead of January, leaving the girls with few toys, severely limited play space, and a long, long winter ahead. Our washer and dryer were ruined, too, so our kind neighbor, a wholly content, happy single woman who’s about 10 years older than me, offered us a spare key to her house, so we could do laundry whenever we needed. (Which is very, VERY often, for those of you with no children.)
My trips carting laundry baskets to the house next door were like mini-vacations to a spa. No clutter, everything in its place, tasteful furnishings and decorations, and a quiet, welcoming warmth that seemed to envelop me in an atmospheric peace every time.
This was a home in which its occupant reads a stream of library books; travels often; does crossword puzzles; gardens; practices piano and recorder daily; and has friends from her women’s chorus, or from one of her book groups, over for dinner.
I repeatedly had what I call “Sliding Doors” moments in that house. Moments where I thought about how, as a young woman, I wasn’t even convinced I wanted a partner for my life, let alone children. Though I loved spending time with friends, I also always desperately needed time by myself in order to recharge.
So I came fairly close to following a path that would have led me to a life like my neighbor’s. And frankly, I think I would have been happy in that life, too. (She certainly is.) That’s not to say I have regrets. I don’t. But my guess is that, if I’d chosen the other path, I’d have no regrets, either. We ultimately – if we know what’s good for us – embrace and celebrate the life we choose for ourselves.
For although we kvetch and drive ourselves crazy when making life’s biggest decisions, the truth is, the decisions are hard precisely because the different options each have their up-sides and down-sides. I have days when the kids are driving me bat-crazy, of course; Lily recently woke up all weepy, and screamed at me for no rational reason. Not a Hallmark card moment. But then you jump on a trampoline in the dark with your young daughters, and suddenly the whole parenting experience feels, for just a moment, effortless, and joyful, and breathtakingly beautiful.
In the end, I’m a firm believer in the idea that good things happen when we honor our choices.
And sometimes, those “good things” consist of nothing more than hearing your girls crack up as they bounce like happy little kangaroos beneath the moon.