Yesterday morning, I was in a rush. I was giving a presentation at the Motherlode conference that afternoon, I had business to attend to at the university in the morning, I had a paper to review, I had ten trillion things to deal with throughout the course of the day. Many, many miles to go before I slept, my head full of those miles, I fretted and stumbled my first steps of the day.
Husband had already left, WonderBaby was happily settled on the floor with the wonderful young woman, M, who cares for her when I am working, and my mind was spinning in sixteen different directions as I gathered up books and papers and laptop and keys and cellular phone – can’t forget this (check), can’t forget that (check), can’t forget, can’t forget – and fumbled around with my coat and absent-mindedly cooed bye-bye at WonderBaby. A distracted kiss blown from the hand, fluttering fingers tracing a harried goodbye.
Bye-bye, bye-bye, see you later, love you love you, bye…
Out the door I went.
Out the door and down the driveway and across the street to the opposite sidewalk where I kept pace a few steps ahead of an older woman who lives down the street and who, like me, was scurrying to the corner to catch the bus, too tired or lazy or frazzled to bother taking ten minutes to walk to the subway. We reached the corner.
I stopped and turned and smiled at her, a smile of transit solidarity: we’ve prevailed. The bus will not leave us behind today, we’re on pace, the day is good.
She smiled back. She said, “your baby was at the window.”
My smile vanished.
“Your baby was at the window. She was waving. You didn’t see her.”
I didn’t see her.
Every day, when Husband leaves for work, WonderBaby and I perch on the sofa by the window and wave bye-bye. Bye-bye Daddy! When M, WonderBaby’s caregiver, leaves for the day, we perch by the window and wave bye-bye. Bye-bye M! When M and WonderBaby leave for their morning walk to the park, before I head off to school, I perch by the window and wave bye-bye – bye-bye Baby! – and WonderBaby always looks to make sure that I am there, waving goodbye. She always looks. I am always there.
Yesterday, she was there, as I left. She was there, and she waved, but I did not turn back to look. I did not turn to see her there, waving goodbye.
And that, that broke my heart. I could think of nothing else for the rest of the day. Work, the conference, the words that I could hear myself speaking about motherhood and love and citizenship and community blah blah blah, words that seemed to come from a distance, that seemed to be spoken by someone else – all of it was blurred, knocked out of focus by the insistent, painful, lurching of my heart.
I’ll recover. I’ll forgive myself. But I will never forget that feeling – that feeling of having let her down, of having disappointed her. The weight of her eyes on my back – a weight that I didn’t feel at the right time, a weight that I missed (how could I miss it?) in the moment that I needed to not miss it – the weight of her eyes, the weight of her expectation, as I walked off down the drive and out into the street, away from her. The weight of her disappointment, the confused disappointment that I know she felt, however fleetingly. I will never forget the feeling of that weight. And I know that that weight will grow, as I make more mistakes, effect more disappointments. I know that there will be times that that weight will threaten to crush me.
I’ll be able to live with that weight. I must – all parents must. Some measure of such weight is inevitable, I think, in parenthood. I’ll forgive myself. And she’ll forgive me, for the future mistakes, the disappointments.
But that weight is there, now. I’m carrying it. It’s heavy.