I’m dreaming. In the dream, it is icy cold. There are people having dinner at my house but I keep slipping away with one of my sisters to watch a movie. I step outside and see that next to our house there is a runway of ice that kids and neighbors and moms and dads are playing on – sliding, skating, sledding. They’re having fun, but I do not want to join them. I don’t want to have to join them. I want to slip away, alone. At one point, I’m in a car, fussing with some kind of contraption that will hook me up with a rebellious, Russian-speaking music maker, the kind of guy I would have had a fiery crush on in high school.
I wake up. Pearl is asleep next to me, all snorkly-sounding. She has croup. The electric blanket is blazing and I’m sticky hot in jeans and fleece, my at-home winter uniform. I am disoriented and for a few moments can’t figure out what time or day it is: Is it morning? Is it a school day? Then I remember that it was a nap, and that she is home sick, and we fell asleep together after reading “Amos & Boris” and “Cuddly Dudley.” I get out of bed quietly so as not to wake her and go downstairs, where I wander around, still drugged with daytime sleep. I can’t quite focus. I’m still partly in the dream, except this part is real: it is icy cold. Single digits for the first time this year. Don’t-even-try-to-do-the-carseat-without-gloves-on cold.
I consider going back up to bed. Instead, I make a piece of toast, noting my utter disinterest this time of year in eating healthy, fresh food. Give me oatmeal, give me melted cheese, or give me death. I surrender to this thought as I slather on the peanut butter. I check my email. My mom has sent me something about deals on American from Boston to San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Croix. We have been fortunate enough to go to Vieques the last few winters with my parents. This year we declined their generous offer to help us with miles to get there; Greg and I both felt that if we aren’t (yet?!) earning enough to get ourselves down there, we should stay put. I also appreciate my kids knowing that it’s not a given, this mid-winter, warm-weather excursion. I don’t know if I had even heard of the Carribean at their age; Greg and I went to St. John when I was 26 and it blew my doors off.
But now. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s the third time in a week that I’m home with Pearl – first ringworm, then a fever, now croup. On those mornings, I start out feeling bummed and cornered, and slowly move into a more expansive place – the one where I’ve created a work-life for myself that allows for me to be a mama first. Perhaps for the first winter since Pearl was born, these sick days don’t derail me, don’t necessarily send me down that icy runway of questioning and doubting what my deal is. My deal is this. My deal is that I’m a mama, and I’m self-employed for lots of reasons, and this is one of them.
I pour a glass of diet coke. I really, really do not want to apologize for this. My gremlin tells me I should be drinking tea or kombucha or water, and I tell my gremlin through clenched teeth to go fuck himself. Well, I didn’t really tell him that, but it feels damn good to write. You see? My gremlin is the reason for any teeth clenching that may go on around here. I open my jaw, stretch out my face really, really wide, then squeeze it tighttighttight, then open it and make crazy expressions. This was my favorite warm-up in the acting classes I took in college. My belly presses against my jeans. My gremlin has no opinion about this. He knows better.
I notice where my shoulders are hunched. My hair looks like I teased it but really it’s just like this. Pearl is still asleep. I look at the airfare deals – $208 round-trip to San Juan – and my mind quickly skates across that possibility. I’m dreaming. Dreaming of being able to pick up and go, but the only picking up that’s happening today is Greg picking Aviva up from school and taking her swimming at the Y – usually my Thursday routine with the girls during the cold-weather months, which an hour south of the Canadian border is about half the year.
Aviva recently left a beeswax candle shaped like a fairy under her pillow, with a note asking the fairy to leave something fairy-like for her. She checked it a few mornings in a row: nothing. She didn’t get discouraged. She just left it there and went about her business of first grade and life as she knows it. Finally, yesterday, I had some time and popped into Boutilier’s, an art supply store on Church Street. I picked up two coloring books – one with garden fairies on transluscent “stained glass” paper for Aviva and one with dinosaurs for Pearlie. I slipped them under the pillows last night while the girls were in the bathroom getting ready for bed.
Later, as she colored in the Lilac Fairy and the Daisy Fairy and spelled out r-h-o-d-o-d-e-n-d-r-o-n, Aviva told me that it must have taken fifty fairies to carry her book, a hundred for Pearl’s. She said they must have gotten them from stores at night, leaving five gold coins as payment (“fairies never steal,” she said). She spoke of the fairies with great authority. Just a little bit of magic is all it takes. Aviva is just at that age where she is consciously choosing what to believe. It is so nice to be around, this choice. I think I’d like to be at that age, too. When we looked under the pillows in my bed to see if Greg and I had received anything special, at first we found one old tissue and an empty roll of toilet paper. But later, when we checked a second time at Aviva’s urging, there was a beautiful, sparkly dragonfly pin under my pillow, a tiny smooth stone under Greg’s.
Slipaway, skateaway, flyaway dreams, single digits, frozen fingers, clouds on breath on the air, like faith made visible. I choose sparkly surprises; who cares how they got there. I choose gratitude for flexible and understanding clients and the ability to be with my sick kid. I choose awareness that it could all be otherwise, and will be, for better and for worse. It will be a lot of things. There will be gifts under pillows and there will be emptiness and disappointment. I choose the breath, the unclenched jaw, the inside-shoe shuffle, the permission to dream of faraway places without condemning this place, this here. This life.
image: élena nazzaro, aka french toast girl