Heather backs out of the driveway. The windows on her childhood home reflect a golden light across a dry front lawn. “Are you sure you can’t stay?” Arlene asks. “I can reheat the meatloaf.”
“I want to get home to tuck the children in,” Heather says.
Arlene nods. “You never believe they are going to grow up and then one day they are gone,” her mother says and turns to face the wind. Fallen brown and red leaves from the giant oak tree swirl near her bare feet. She walks inside the dark house and closes the door behind her.
Heather drives down the street. It is always a relief to go. All of her mother’s annoying habits; her setting a place for her dead husband at the dinner table and the way she slurps her morning coffee, have taken a toll. Heather looks forward to the sound of waves crashing on the beach and seeing her children. Still, her eyes are moist when she reaches the stop sign at the end of her mother’s street. After all of these years, the conflicting emotions shouldn’t come as a surprise. Turning left toward the freeway, she’s tempted to turn around and stay at her mother’s for one more night. But she can’t. She has morning carpool duty.
She joins the rush of traffic and turns on music. XM Alternative plays songs by bands she doesn’t recognize. She used to go to Lollapalooza, obsessed with Perry Farrell. Now, she listens to Radio Disney. Sometimes even after she’s dropped the children off to school she finds herself alone in her car listening to The Jonas Brothers. She turns off the radio. Tomorrow there’s baby group and afternoon piano lessons. Would Dylan ever practice without her reminders? She doubts it. It seems like nothing happens without her nagging. Often, she cringes at the sound of her own voice. Maybe she should let him quit. Her sweaty hands grip the steering wheel.
Two hours pass as she makes a mental to do list for the week: Room mom emails about the Thanksgiving food drive, Costco and book club. She bores herself with the details. She rolls down the windows and inhales the salt air. It feels good to be back in the Palisades. She turns off PCH and drives up the dimly lit hill. A cold breeze makes her alert. Her Mediterranean style home is lit up like a jack o lantern. It’s after eight. The neighbors must be wondering why the children aren’t asleep. She parks, grabs her bags and walks to the front door. She hears the kid’s high-pitched laughter as she turns the key and walks inside. The house is a mess just like she’d hoped. Baby Ava sits in her diaper, on top of a skateboard, while Kaitlin pushes her across the travertine floors in hallway.
“It’s bedtime,” Heather says and picks up a plastic toy airplane from the floor.
Kaitlin rushes over to give her a quick hug and then returns to her game. “Watch her, Mom,” Kaitlin says, as she shoves the skateboard in the opposite direction. Ava hangs on and laughs.
Heather shakes her head. “That’s dangerous,” she says.
Kaitlin shrugs and looks disappointed.
“I missed you,” Heather says and kisses the top of her daughter’s sweaty forehead. “Go get your pjs on. It’s too late.”
Kaitlin runs up the staircase as Ava calls for her to come back. Heather picks up the baby, who tries to wiggle out of her arms, but Heather won’t let go. She kisses Ava’s fat cheeks. The girl smells like baby powder. There is the sound of electronics from the family room. Michael and Dylan are on the sofa playing Wii, Dylan frantically shaking the controller and staring intensely at the TV. An empty pizza box sits open on the coffee table; paper plates and napkins litter the floor.
“I’m back,” Heather says.
Michael turns and looks surprised. He sets down the controller. “I didn’t hear you come in,” he says.
“I just died,” Dylan says. “Hi Mom.”
“It’s time for bed,” Heather says.
Ava starts to cry in her mother’s arms.
“I lost track of time,” Michael says.
She’s been home just a few minutes and has somehow interrupted everyone’s fun. They need her after all. Michael cleans up the remains of dinner and the children reluctantly get into their beds. She kisses them and tucks them in. This is what she wanted, right? Her role as a mother is so pivotal to their overall well being that they can’t function properly without her. Still, why does it feel like she’s ruined their night? The house is quiet now. She thinks of her own mother as she walks along the dark hallway to her bedroom.
She unpacks to the sound of Michael snoring. Her taupe silk blouse smells like smoke. She stuffs it into the dry cleaning bag at the back of the closet. Maybe tomorrow she’ll get a chance to tell Michael about the reunion and her blog. He might laugh. Between homework schedules, AYSO practices and dirty diapers, adult conversations get last priority. She closes the closet door loudly hoping to wake him. Maybe they can talk now. But, he’s still asleep. She thinks about gently shaking him awake but he has work in the morning.
In the bathroom, Heather brushes her teeth and washes her face. She looks pale without makeup. She’s tired but isn’t ready to sleep. Marigold, their eight-year old pug, brushes against Heather’s bare leg. “You need attention too,” she says and she bends down to pet the dog. Tomorrow she should schedule an appointment with the groomers. Marigold smells. Heather stands and washes her hands.
The light of the laptop illuminates her corner of the bedroom. She sits in an oversized floral chair stained with spit up and milk. She nursed all three children in this spot: Dylan for one full year, Kaitlin for six months and Ava for three. The luxury to sit still and uninterrupted diminished rapidly after each child. While she tried to breastfeed one of her other children would always need her. It wasn’t like she could just ignore them. Still, those women at the Pump Station made her feel like such a failure.
She checks her emails in the dark. Thirty-seven unread messages: Most are junk, a few updates from schools and one from Angie. “Can’t wait to get together again. Loved your blog! I think you should keep writing. It was so much fun to read and provides some real insight into the possible future results of my sperm exploration.”
Heather writes her blog in the dark.
When I walked in the front door I was excited to see the kids and Michael. They told me they missed me. The kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes. I heard about Kaitlin’s controversial tied soccer game and admired Dylan’s playdough lemur in his rainforest diorama. Michael said that Ava had woken up at 5:15am looking for me. The only way he could console her was by watching a repeat episode of Dora the Explorer. So tonight Michael went to sleep at the same time as the kids. He was exhausted. It’s good to feel needed. But now the only one in the house with whom I have a chance to share details of my reunion weekend with is my dog, Marigold. And she smells. The sad truth is that when I came home a few hours ago I forgot that I even owned a dog. I don’t think she got out of her dog bed to greet me but if she did then I probably just stepped right over her. Some best friend I am.
Note: The ModernMom Chronicles is a completely fictional novel. The story is not a personal blog, nor is it based on existing people or families.