It has come to this. I now derive my daily inspiration from the marquee outside a permanent hot dog stand called “Dog, Et. Al.”: “A mistake is a lesson on its way to being learned.” (I cannot quite tell the difference between simple and trite these days, but I know it sure beats the church marquee our friends Zack and Laura saw once: “Come hang out with Jesus because he hung out for you.”)
In two weeks, I will be teaching British and American literature to twelfth, eleventh, and ninth graders, and Clara and William will start day care full time. They will be there from about 6:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Today we bought Clara a lunch box, a back pack, and new pair of tennis shoes as well as her day care supply list: a roll of paper towels, a box of tissues, and a box of Ziploc bags. I looked at her Elmo back pack and thought, I am never getting rid of this.
Clara is ready and I am excited for her to make some friends so I don’t have to cry all the time thinking of her Alaska BFFs Bekah and Anna. She sings songs now and tries to draw letters. When we go to the park, she approaches the other kids and says, “I’m a nice girl,” and when we leave, she moans for the girl she played with for ten minutes, “My friend!!!!!” She’s ready for circle time and crafts and more than just mom.
But William. I am trying not to think that all those pac n’ plays lined up in the day care nursery make it look like a baby farm. I’m trying not to worry that whenever I visit, it’s always dark and babies are laying in their pens, left to google to themselves. I am determined not to start this off as “that mom” and ask how often the nursery attendant plays with the babies. It’s just that William really loves to smile. He also loves to sit on my lap and watch Clara play with her train set. I don’t know if they’ll get to see each other during the day.
I am returning to my very first salaried position, and when I went to interview, I saw a lot of warm, familiar faces who, with a blatancy I’ve come to love about the south, told the principal he’d be crazy not to take me back. I’ve done a lot of leaving since I worked there in 2007. Until we moved to Alaska only to move back to Florida, I always understood life to be linear. I always moved forward to move forward, but now that we are working so hard to get back to where we started, I wonder, how is returning any different from going backwards. If life is linear, then going to Alaska might be considered a mistake. But life isn’t linear; it’s layered, and mine is thicker because of the people I found there. Perhaps leaving one thing for another isn’t the same as moving forward. Maybe you can keep moving by staying still, or even going back.
I don’t believe that mistakes cannot be made, however, and when I think about how much our lives are going to change when I start this job, I wonder if I’m not making one now. There are lots of practical reasons for me to work, and like all practical matters, they all have to do with money. I have so many worries, though: Will Clara still adore William if she hardly gets to see him? Will William learn to love Clara as much as she loves him if they’re in separate rooms ten hours a day? Will the kids at day care be mean to Clara if I pack her the wrong things for lunch? Will I know William less than I know Clara because I didn’t stay home with him through his infancy?
I think the only way to live through uncertainty is to believe in what is certain. Today, William was laying on his back while Clara and I sang to him. He was beaming. It was like our hearts were in the air dancing together. It is such an uncomplicated love with children. I looked at William and found what I was looking for: the certainty of love. I feel lucky in a lot of ways—I feel lucky, for instance, that Clara can fall sound asleep in the car with William wailing and then be moved to her bedroom for a long afternoon nap. But mostly, I feel lucky that in our little family of four, the love has always been a big love. Looking at William, I knew that the love there was big enough to wrap itself around ten hours a day of day care. If this change in our lives is a mistake about to be a lesson learned, then I think the lesson might be this: mistakes can change our course but they don’t have to change who we are.