The day before I left for Hawaii, I sat with a cup of coffee in front of my computer at 6:30 a.m. trying to come-to after a sleepless night. Suddenly Chicken Noodle burst in, arms aloft, and declared with delight,
“Everything’s better, Mom!”
About what happened next Noodle later recalled, “Mommy went (palms to face, mouth open, sharp intake of breath). Then she cried.”
Because everything wasn’t “better.” Not unless you think two children with their bangs cut to the scalp is “better”.
Noodle’s happiness crumbled in light of my tears. “Stop crying, Mommy! I’ll never do it again!”
But after a half-hour when I was still crying, she was all eye-roll: “Mom, are you ever going to stop crying? Like, by ten?”
I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t crying out of vanity because their school photos are ruined, even though they are. I wasn’t crying because they could have lost an eye, even though they could. I was crying because I took the situation personally. I saw it as a direct cost of my primary conflict: my work vs. my children. Or put more succinctly: self vs. family.
Because what I was doing in front of my computer at 6:30 a.m.—as beauty school commenced in the other room—was stewing over my book-in-progress. Obsessing, really. Not thinking about my children. Or their access to sharp objects.
My writing life lives in the same house as my family life. It’s like having two lovers. The problem with two lovers is that one of them is usually neglected. I steal a few moments for Lover A and Lover B slashes her hair off.
When I finally got my sister on the phone an hour later (yep, still crying), she laughed. “Almost every kid does this.” I continued to sob, insisting on my singular ineptitude and selfishness.
“Seriously,” she finally said. “When is this going to be funny?”
I sniffled. “Maybe next week?”
Here I am in next week, groping for the humor and self-forgiveness. As well as being practical. I’ve got to have a life of my own. And anyway, it isn’t possible for the chickens and me to spend 18 years together without sometimes being apart. I am banking this will build autonomy and confidence for all.
Still, I am not an idiot. I hid the scissors.
By the way, the reason Noodle declared that everything was “better” after having removed her bangs? “Now I can see my forehead like you, Mom.”
Let that be the final word on the subject: as long as my oldest daughter wants to emulate me, I must be doing something right.