This cannot be how I spend the final minutes of my final maternity leave: tidying. Emptying the compost. Ferrying laundry. I should fix the screen door, I think, as I gather up the scythe and the loppers under a sherbet fantasia sunset. I look at the sofa pillows on the playroom floor (earlier, my home-from-school-again-again-again son and husband were couch jumping) and manage to leave them. I light the window candles. I adore window candles and spend half the winter months turning them on and off. My new ones came with a clicker that makes me feel like Dumbledore (only in reverse (the boys and I have been reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the illustrated version)).
Endless clever essays have been written, I’m sure, on the subject of the writer’s ability to procrastinate, and if the same cannot be said for the mother writer, it is only because she has not gotten round to writing them.
Is it fair to call it procrastination if it is also work? Albeit work that quickly self-erases. The clothes dirty. The scythe re-emerges. Daylight comes and tells me to turn off the window candles.
I’m rereading The Last Samurai and it’s Sibylla’s procrastination that stands out this time, rather than her thwarted-by-early-single-motherhood genius. Her procrastination and her pinballing mind, which are, of course, inter-related. At least there was no internet!
(“Excellent idea as etymology so helpful for spelling,” lodges in my brain for weeks (along with a billboard message I saw on Twitter: “Guess who’s back back / soup / tell your friends”)).
There are two dryer sheets on the den rug. I leave them. Someone has hung a medal (mine) on my desk chair, and each time I shift and it clinks I think it is the washing machine’s error chime. Go switch it to rinse cycle, I keep telling myself, before I remember.
It is Ottie’s first full day at daycare and I feel a … rabid? Primitive? Quasi-feral? Need to go to her, to hold and smile at and feed her. I suppose it was the same with the boys, minus magical steampunk hearts.
I meant to think about what I would write to mark this end of a beginning as I ran; instead I thought about a coat.
A truly brilliant piece of tailoring, this coat — it was made by Abigail Lorick, who did the clothes for the original Gossip Girl, which featured a number of elegant coats, sumptuous coats. Coats with gravitas or girlish elan. Coats that said the gloves will be a buttery leather and the cashmere scarf bounteously swaddled.
The coat was a Christmas present my junior year of college. I returned to the city early that year for an internship at Page Six; my school friends were weeks away from their own re-entry but my craigslist roommate invited me to a party in the West Village. It was freezing, glittery snow and I walked there in my coat and came up into a brownstone with an infinite atrium and aged leather furniture, bright white walls, oriental rugs, pop art and gelatin posters of films I recognized from my Gallatin syllabi. Across one of the elliptical balustrades I caught the eye of a man I’d met at a 10K out in Bridgehampton the previous summer. A South African photographer with mild, searching eyes. We talked about that summer, the life of the chronicler of the super rich and narrowly famous, and about the house, which belonged to his parents, NYU professors who’d picked it up for some wincingly low sum in the 60s. Bob Dylan slept here. The photographer introduced me to a friend who wrote Talk pieces for the New Yorker. What was his process for identifying ideas, I asked, and he said he kept his ears open, always open, because anything could be a story. Could this be a story, I asked, meaning this night. He demurred. What was happening in the beautifully maintained brownstone in one of the most expensive blocks in the city was not exactly sacrilege; the satire it offered was tired.
It is nice to think: coat as armor; use it to stride into work. That well-cut wool imperviousness served me well after my previous maternity leave. But I have little reason to wear that coat these days. It is not warm enough for day-to-day winter walks; it is too refined for errands, demanding, as it does, a thoughtful pair of boots. But still, I hold onto it and intend to indefinitely. It is beautiful, both an encapsulation of time’s passage and thumb on the nose of flash in the pans. And I never know — perhaps a time to wear it more regularly may arise.
It is dark dark in my long-unvisited office. I don’t turn on the light. I think about how writing about heaviness, even obliquely or in fragments, attenuates its actual weight.
I know the dryer sheets are still skimming the rug below, but. It is time to RECORD. As I noted, this is my final maternity leave. Is it not worth recording?
People say, oh motherhood. Enjoy your showers/sleep/old life while you can. I dunno. I suppose there are elements of deprivation — I mean, yes: time! Time is a precious and illusory resource — but showers? Put the baby on the floor if you have to. Ottie likes the sound of the shower; I could shower all day if it seemed worthwhile.
What, then, to record?
The migratory pillows below my back as I nurse Ottie in the pre-dawn and watch the window illuminations from the cars turning off Hunting Lane slide along our ceiling. The dove-grey light on the guestroom coverlet, Ottie batting me with her fleece feet, her hot, scrabbling hands. Me sliding in and out of the convivially digressive Way Down in the Hole.
The days/weeks/months where Brady and I are ships on the hinternight, chiding floorboards, switching bedrooms, children.
The thrice-folded New Yorkers tucked into the crevices of the blue armchair and the compressed lighter-blue ring my coffee mug leaves upon one arm.
Ottie’s joyous squawk and wriggle when I bend down to pick her up out of the crib.
Two hawks flying low above my head in quick succession.
The mornings where I roll over to find a pumpkin in my bed, or a tyrannosaurus rex or a small cave man in a jay-blue loin cloth.
Perry at the airport in his tartan pajamas, holding two small bunnies and Bob the Dog II, comforting me as I try to find my cellphone by means of shuffling slowly about the terminal with an open laptop.
Or: Halloween, when the heaviness of the air (it was warm) meant that the real mist conspired with the liquid nitrogen to hang like curtails about the many yards of Ivy Lane. It was that yellow fog of prufrock, shivery against the late-blazing foliage and bare branches. The children behaved. They were awed, then Perry came to accept it as course while Irving’s little brain went full tilt.
Or: the night where Brady is gone and I gather all three of them in our big bed, my body divided in tranches like a heart of palm. Scuffy, the left flank. Perry the right, Ottie the heart. Scuffs makes incursions into ottie’s territory but she holds firm. Per keeps to his own land. So my body is a map of children, and when one leaves for his own bed, the map rends.
Or: Again to the days in the hospital. Teeny tiny Ottie-who-never-cried. Who gave me what I swear was a real smile when she was but a few days old. Ottie with her briar patch of EEG monitors, the bandaids that held the canula in place nearly the size of each cheek. Ottie-who-did-not-like-the-breathing-tube (who would?). There were hard parts, but also: a narrowing of time, or how to spend it. I think that is why those days don’t hurt to dwell on. Not that I miss them, but. By their very narrowness and weight, they were hyperconcentrated.
“Linus and Lucy” is playing below. Irving wants to see something; is shouting on and on about it.
This is how I will spend the final minutes of my final maternity leave. Trying to convince Irving to let me hold him. Checking the app the school uses to see how many ounces of milk Ottie drank. Glaring at the dryer sheets. Picking up the dryer sheets. Watching a sloth swim, slowly, in the pursuit of love. Getting into the car and battling traffic through town and arriving at the school and holding my baby, not willing to let her go.
And then letting her go, the next day and the next and the next until it’s been a week and I’m on a train back from the city, finishing this instead of reading the book I’d swiped from the free table, the book I thought was The Matrix because the cover said The Matrix but when I opened it I saw it was actually something called, and I kid you not, Mother for Dinner.