Sometimes there are moments in a day that invite you outside of time. These moments are rare, lovely and disorienting. They also, apparently, are prone to invasion by Talking Heads lyrics, which are what came to me the other day as I was sitting in my driveway.
A unique quality of suspension comes from sitting in your car with two children asleep in their car seats on a winter afternoon that is letting go of its light all around you.
First of all, it’s quiet, which by itself feels like a slip in the space-time continuum. You’ve rolled through the day’s drop-offs, pick-ups and carry-withs, and have yet to reenter the chaos of home and figure out to what to make for dinner.
And then, you find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile (and you think, as you look at your old Vespa, which you kind of wish was a motorcycle, Oh, I have become a mom driving an SUV). And you find yourself staring at your beautiful house (which, actually, is shedding stucco and isn’t really all that beautiful). And you ask yourself, Well, how did I get here?
I was, in this suspended moment, listening to the message of a college friend. The light was soft and red in its dimming, and I got a bit teary. The sound of my friend’s voice reminded me of an orbit far removed from its current patterns of nursing, naps, preschool, laundry, well-child checkups, paid work in half-hour increments, laundry, cooking, laundry and the Ohori’s coffee drive-through.
This was the college friend with whom I climbed mountains; backpacked through Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria sleeping in olive groves and public parks; wore rainbow eyelashes to our formal graduation dinner; smoked very particular types of cigarettes with very particular types of cocktails; feigned accents and assumed foreign identities; and toured South Dakota’s Corn Palace in a cross-country road trip. How exciting! Who was that girl? And where is she when I’m bent over the toilet cleaning poop off a microfleece diaper?
I am not yearning to relive my younger life. Like most people, I move through my days as a product of my experiences without constantly reminiscing about them (thank God). And, like most parents of young children, I move with a limited focus—though “focus” is a completely laughable concept.
Compounded with this narrowed scope is the fact that my name is sometimes dropped in favor of, simply, “mom” (my son saying, “Hey restaurant worker!” when he passed me in the kitchen once is really just a variation on this). The doctor’s office directs, “Mom, you sit here”; the preschool teacher says, “Mom has got her hands full”; my husband—my husband!—says, “Mom, can you pass the salt?” I stare at him, wondering whether I should go get my prairie bonnet or wait to pass the salt until he recalls my actual name. I get lumped in a “mochaccino mom” demographic when I don’t even like mochaccinos.
Given this, it’s easy to feel one-dimensional. So when the voice of an old friend comes through, it carries with it a jolt of recognition, and reassurance, that there is more to me than it sometimes feels like there is.
I’m grateful for this rousing reminder. And I realize it doesn’t entirely explain my emotional response. The fact is, this time of my life doesn’t afford much time with friends, and the threads of voicemail messages that characterize many of my relationships now reach truly ridiculous lengths. So when I listened to this friend’s simple hello-how-are-you, the quality of her voice conveyed an entire friendship. Yes, it reminded me of my former free-agency status. But it also held conversations about childbirth, balancing babies and work demands, pumping breastmilk in small bathrooms, and watching a tiny person figure out how to balance on two legs.
It is too simplistic to say that I cried in the driveway because of nostalgia or late-afternoon light or a song called “Once in a Lifetime” or gratitude—just like it’s too simplistic to say that my life has become either smaller or infinitely expanded by having two children. I experience both profoundly, all the time. But it is true that my range of motion is circumscribed right now, a state that feels fundamental and good (most of the time), occasionally isolating and—kind of like the non-interactive parallel play of infants—shared by people I don’t talk to nearly enough.