“Is being a mom hard?” she asked.
I answered without hesitation. Fear and a desire to understand better washed over her face almost imperceptibly. She mentioned something about working and the things we do.
“It’s not taking care of them that’s hard. I mean, you figure that out pretty quickly, just like with anything else.”
“Right,” I saw her nod her head in my rear view mirror.
“It’s the other stuff that’s hard. It’s knowing that you have to do more than just take care of them. You’re raising people, you know? I’m constantly think about how this decision or that reaction will make them turn out. I’m afraid that I’m fucking them up.”
She laughed. She always laughs when I say fuck, especially if we’re having a serious conversation.
“Someone told me once that it was like your heart walking around outside your body,” I continued. “That’s the closest way to describe it. The hard part. The other part. It’s like when you give birth, your heart leaves your body and it’s just out there. Walking around with no protection.”
“Right,” she said again.
“I know it sounds like a cliche. But everything that touches them touches you. Every bruise, bump or fear. Every moment of sadness or hurt. You feel it times ten. Nothing that could ever hurt you hurts near as badly as something hurting them. Even just the little stuff. Even the stuff that you know is no big deal, the things you know they’ll survive. It’s agony to watch them hurt even for just a little while.”
“That sounds like a lot,” she said.
“It is,” I agreed.
I packed my two hearts into the back of another mother’s van this morning and sent them on a three day journey to Iowa.
They’ve been counting down the days to their summer vacation. They’ve been making lists of all the people they’ll see – Grandma and Grandpa and Kellen and Ellie and Nana and Lil Papa, too, right? And yes, Lil Papa too. They’ll spend a month reconnecting with their family and they will have the time of their lives.
And they will be fine.
But this morning, Emma cried.
While Devin chatted happily in the seat next to her and tried to wrestle his Ninentdo DS from the bag beside him, Emma bit her lip and reached out for me. And she cried.
I leaned back into the car and wrapped my arms around her again. I kissed her perfectly soft hair as hard as I could and refused to cry.
“You’re going to have so much fun,” I whispered.
She nodded her head, but her cheeks grew more red from the tears she was struggling to hold back. She buried her face into the fur of her stuffed bunny and tried to wipe away the ones that had escaped.
“I love you.”
She nodded again.
“Call me. Whenever you want. You call Mommy. And I will see you again in just a little bit.” My jaw hurt from the tension it took to keep my own grief hidden.
I took a deep breath and backed away from the van. The farther our bodies got from one another, the more difficult it was to breathe. The door slid shut, and she was still crying. Quietly. Trying to reconcile her eagerness to go and her sadness over leaving her mother.
I forced my lips into a smile and opened my eyes as wide as I could. I waved as if my heart wasn’t breaking.
Oh, yes. Being a mother is hard. And it’s the times when you don’t get to do it that it’s the hardest.