Day off school for Dr. King. The second snow of the year. A child’s size snow, tall as the matted grass blades that are still persistently green.
We are going to a magic show at the Winnetka Community House. I’m having a fairly healthy morning; I get an uninterrupted shower and there are a few moments of quiet while Mia giggles at the rabbits Max and Ruby on TV and Eleanor putters around the playroom. Mia tolerates me putting on her snowpants. They turn her into a chubby bunny, but she immediately wants them off. I’m not in a fighting mood, okay. Eleanor resists putting on her boots, cries, “Cars movie! Cars movie!”
“Not until tonight, Nora.” The magic show starts in ten minutes. All is going well until they are waiting at the door and I’m about to grab my backpack and it’s not sitting at the backdoor as usual. I hurry around the house looking for it, feeling the tightness rising up my chest into my neck and to blow it off, I yell “F***! WHERE IS THE G**D*** BACKPACK?” I don’t want Eleanor to take her shoes off again. It must be in the car.
We go outside. I’m pretty calm, letting Mia make footprints in the snow while I convince Nora to climb in the carseat herself. I leave the garage to fetch Mia and see she’s hiding, announce to the empty backyard, “Where is Mia? I see some footprints! I think I will follow them to see if I can find her!” I chase her down, both of us laughing a little, she makes me laugh again when she discovers how to use the handle on the bicycle pump.
The backpack is in the car. The magic show is sold out. I don’t even mention it to the girls. There are couches and benches to climb on and slide off, pesky boots to remove. I get my best thought of the day, remembering the community house has an open gym some mornings. It starts in forty minutes says the desk guy. We find a vending machine, Mia gets to put in the money and press the buttons, then put in more money and press it again when the damn bag of Sweet and Salty hangs suspended at a breathtaking angle behind the glass. It is that kind of day.
I’m rolling with it, we’re all content to sit and eat our snack -- 300 calories?!! Saturated fat!?! What the hell? It’s raisins and peanuts, what do they do, have to spill fat all over it to keep it from rotting in the vending machine?
We can hear the crowd of children on the other side of the wall chanting along with the amplified magician voice. Then there’s the sound of a high pitched buzzing music. Mia looks at me with a smile of recognition and says, “Kazoo.” When the hidden audience bursts into wild laughter, Mia laughs too at the sound and I think my heart will break for my amazing and sweet and easy daughter.
A group of men, some stooped, one with a mask on the top of the head, wander in slowly. Their faces are blank but they return our smiles. A young African American woman, must be their group leader, rushes in from behind them, heads to the door of the auditorium, is greeted with the usher’s “The show is sold out.” Oh cold. If I were her, I would burst into tears. The men wait patiently while she makes a phone call, asks the usher if there’s another show, gets nothing. She herds her charges back out the door. “We’re in the same boat,” I offer for consolation. She replies, “I hope the bus is still there!” My girls suddenly seem the lightest of burdens.
In Bethany Casarjian and Diane Dillon’s book, Mommy Mantras: Affirmations and Insights to Keep You From Losing Your Mind, the authors suggest meditating on the phrase, “I am not this feeling” when you are at your worst. To separate yourself from your emotion instead of imagining it determines you.
To kill time, we make up a story about a turtle named Mack who outgrows his shell and picks a new rainbow shell at the Turtle Shell store. It’s 11:00 and the gym is still dark. A dad points out the sign: “Open Gym, Monday 11:30.” Oh.
“Girls, let's go have lunch first!”
“I’m not hungry!”
We go outside and play some more in the snow, making footprints and tiny foot high snowman out of three piled snowballs. We play with the water fountain. We eat more peanuts and raisins. The gym doors open early, thank god. The girls are ecstatic, stripping off coats, shoes, socks, throwing themselves into the bouncy machine, sliding around the floor on low-wheeled carts, kicking the rubber balls with aim that makes me proud.
Somewhere in the fun and the noise, my blood sugar level descends to intercept Mia’s rising frenzy and we enter a crisis. Twice, I haul myself into the trembling bouncer to console her. Twice she runs away from me. I wonder if I am chasing her, insisting we leave for my own benefit or for hers. Is chasing her worth it? How bad could it be if we stayed as she tearfully insists? I take Eleanor out of the gym, sit behind the glass and watch Mia play as I wrestle to put on the baby’s socks, shoes, snowsuit of apparent thorns. Mia is chasing a girl around the bouncer, sitting in the doorway to keep other kids from coming in. I have to go get her. I pull her out, gather the backpack, the discarded sweater, my shoes. I’m considering calling Randy, calling 911, starting to scream. I do none of these. I carry Mia out, protesting. She’s four, I’m thinking. She’s too old for this. I pull her shirt down over the angular bruise on her back that I imagine the adults in the gym seeing and wondering. She lies on the floor crying loudly, I go back to grab Eleanor. While I force Mia into her shoes, Eleanor wets the entire front of her sweater in the drinking fountain.
No one offers to help. Well, the man at the counter told me twice there were tables for eating lunch upstairs. He had a soft voice and as we left, Mia struggling under one of my arms, he waves a merry goodbye. I can only look at him and shake my head. Sir, that is so not what I need right now.
She goes limp, refuses to walk, insists on being carried, then screams in my ear when I pick her up. I cover her mouth, snap, “don’t scream!” Outside, in a more normal tone, she says she wants to walk in the snow. I know that this is dangerous, she could easily take off in the opposite direction. I let her walk a little, chase her down, hold her wrist tightly as we walk the blocks to the car. “Ow! You’re hurting me!”
Then, “I’m hungry.” Yes, dear, you are. We stop at a junky little diner, full of kids and moms, all the empty tables full of dirty dishes. The girls watch a train circle the room near the ceiling, I sit dull, without ideas. We eat. “You were hungry, weren’t you?” I ask her. “Mm-hm,” she nods.