I knew it was likely. We do this sometimes, fail them, lie to their faces so they hope and wait patiently. The lovely husband is in Atlanta tonight and the girls, so well behaved tonight my sweet girls, they got their pajamas and ate their vitamins and brushed their teeth and brushed each other's hair. When their brother threw a kazallion silly bands out of L's purple bucket they worked together to clean her room and when he pulled all the tissues out of E's wastebasket they squealed together as they cleaned up the mess and I diapered him, I changed his clothes and I knew, I knew, he was too awake. I knew he'd take too long to fall asleep and both girls would themselves fall asleep, waiting for me. Still I told them each, "pick out two books and wait in bed. I'll come read as soon as your brother is asleep."
And there I found them, each in her room, one in the glow of a purple lamp and one in the glow of a pink, each with lips softly parted, lashes closed like shutters, each clutching a book like a teddy bear. Each waiting for the mama who didn't come. And I knew it would happen.
The saddest part, if you want to draw out my melancholy, is we had our fantastic nanny babysit last night, and it was the first time she'd put any of the kids to bed, and G messed with her, bad. So last night both girls fell asleep holding books and tonight they fell asleep holding books and I always wonder if they know: Mama isn't coming. I'll wait patiently and be a good girl like she told me to, but she's isn't coming. I wonder if they fight sleep, I'll just keep my eyes open and maybe she'll be here soon or if they are content, daydreaming into slumber, truly patient or resigned to my lateness. They never say, the next day, Mama, where were you? or why didn't you come? but L asks only will you read that book to me tonight? because I fell asleep and I lie "yes, baby, yes," even knowing that my odds of success will be no greater; and E asks did you kiss and snuggle me? and I answer half-truth: "yes, baby, yes" because I kissed her, I kiss each girl when I tiptoe in to turn off reading lamps whose purposes went another night unfulfilled. I kiss her and gaze with lament on her sweet face, innocent and trusting and sweetly not angry come morning, and I wonder every time why.
The lovely husband is in Atlanta and I don't like being the sole proprietor of feelings when he's gone. G fell asleep in my face, really, in my breath our noses almost touching as he grabbed one ear of mine and the other, hugging them with his fingers, my cartilage his lovey tonight in his daddy's absence. There were sirens tonight in our quiet neighborhood, probably nothing, of course, but there I lay in the dark, custodian of so much love in this curly-haired boy that he trusts my breath to bathe him into slumber, and two earnest girls waiting the gifts of words and quiet attention, and I'm alone and have to worry for all of them at once. I worry that the boy won't fall asleep, or that I will, or that the sirens mean something on our block and if I have to evacuate three kids by myself do I have enough arms and where did I drop my keys? and these are the sadnesses I feel when I'm alone: that these three wards of mine place their trust in me, that he'll fall asleep on my heartbeat and I feel so vulnerable, so alone and charged with too much.
That's the unbearable sadness of the lovely husband's absences: I can pack lunches and kiss boo-boos and set out school clothes and work harder, next time, to get us all upstairs earlier and maybe we'll all read all our stories in mama's bed before G goes to his room. The mechanics of parenting, I got that. It's the tender faith they have and I'm the only one to carry it, and because they need to believe and I need them to believe it, I will lie to them: I will say "yes, baby, yes, I"ll be there"
even when I know I won't.
Before you get ahead of yourself rolling your eyes at my vapors, allow me this: it's the longest night of the year. Tomorrow night we'll light the Chanukah candles and fill our house with light. Tomorrow night the lovely husband will be back, having cut short his planned trip to be home so we can celebrate together. Tomorrow night the nights stop their lengthening and reverse course. Tomorrow night the lovely husband will tell me the order of the coming trips: Dallas just after New Year's, Florida the week after, a quickie up to New York, maybe Atlanta again. Cloudy with a chance of Utah just into February. Week after week, there will be a night or two there, a night over where, and I'll be here, kissing our kids and trying not to lie to them or break their faith in me.
This is what we do; this is our partnership. But I hate when he's gone.