When we’re not together, I’m just another shopper selecting avocados in the produce section, an average customer making a deposit at the bank, an ordinary woman checking her hair in the bathroom mirror at a rest stop.
I’m not someone’s mother—at least not noticeably—the only evidence buried in the depths of my purse where an eclectic assortment of toy cars, baby wipes and half-eaten fruit bars take up residence next to my wallet and keys.
When we’re not together, I bask in the simplicity of running errands without you, in the lightness of navigating parking lots and doctors’ office waiting rooms unencumbered by diaper bags and car seats, free of clammy little hands holding mine or chubby legs locked around my midsection.
But I feel a tangible absence when no one approaches my cart to comment on your smile, when the man at the deli counter who will happily twist his face into seemingly impossible expressions to make you laugh asks why I don’t have my sidekick with me today.
When we’re not together, I roll down the windows of daddy’s fast little car that used to be mine and crank the stereo up to ear-bleeding decibels, luxuriating in the feeling of driving well over the speed limit. I hug the tight curves of the road and watch the needle on the speedometer inch upward, relishing the adrenaline rush that comes with driving the somewhat careless way I did before there were two pieces of precious cargo strapped into the backseat.
But then I remember that, with the music so loud, I wouldn’t be able to hear you singing in your adorably high-pitched voice, too young to know the words or care that you have an audience. That fast little car, I realize, would be speeding by the cars and trucks you excitedly name from the backseat, nothing but a blur in your little window to the world.
When we’re not together, I try to convince myself that I’m still young enough to patronize trendy bars where the party doesn’t start until well after I’m ordinarily at the tail-end of a Netflix binge. I pretend that I belong there, clamoring for overpriced drinks with the fresh-out-of-college crowd, swaying on a packed dance floor in uncomfortably high heels to songs I no longer recognize.
But then I pull out my phone to check the time—how is it only 9:30?—and there’s your toothy smile lighting up my screen, reminding me of what I’m missing when we’re not together. In that moment, I secretly wish for nothing more than to be in the dark of your room rocking you to sleep, singing an off-key version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with your sweaty little head pressed into my chest.
When we’re not together I can almost believe that I am someone else entirely, a woman who doesn’t spend her days cleaning poop off her jeans while humming the theme song to Daniel Tiger and her nights wrestling little bodies into pajamas and negotiating the number of bedtime books to be read. When we’re not together, I am freer, less frazzled, more composed. I am simultaneously counting down the hours I can stay away and the minutes until I can come back to you.
It’s true that I traded in a lot of my old life to become a mother—the freedom, the simplicity, the faster car and the louder music—all of which seems so tempting during the long days when we’re together, without a break from each other. But it’s when we’re apart that I realize just how much I’m missing out on when I’m away. And your absence reminds me that the coming home will always be infinitely better than the being gone.