I’m a straddler of two opposing worlds, a two-timing juggling act with one leg planted firmly in the magic and muck of constant discovery and the other—well, also stuck in the magic and muck of constant discovery, but in an entirely different way and on an entirely different scope and scale.
I’m a mom. I’m an MFA student. No cooperative amalgam of the two. No “momdent” to make it seem like the two can be done simultaneously, as one so versed in maternal things can avert spilling milk while halving grapes. No, they are separate and sometimes divisive and always knocking at my kneecaps for attention.
You’d think the two could get along, seeing as though each is governed by a strict set of rules and very specific vernacular, not to mention they both share a mutual insistence for getting shit done. Well, frankly, they hate each other and if they were made to share a seat at the dinner table, it’d get feral fast.
The two worlds are so absurdly contrary, so two-Beta-fish-in-the-same-bowl, that I now have an idea of what it must feel like for a family doctor to start his day looking inside a four-year-old’s ear and end it with dousing liquid nitrogen on an eight-year-old’s septic hemorrhoid.
I am Mom. I am Student. Hear me try to reconcile the two assonant worlds.
This past weekend, I emerged from the studious dank of my office into the backyard. I’d just wrapped up a rigorous writing session and was still a little damp and effervescent from the effort and thrill of spilling words on paper and typing shit I was sure I’d mined from the caves of revered antiquity. I’d even pulled out a battered copy of Jane Eyre, but my hands and eyes found the familiar palsy that classics seem to induce and I returned to my new BFF writer, Wells Tower. Point is, I was swollen and woozy with literary foreplay, and not quite primed for what came next.
The sun whacks my face, then a fist clocks my hip at its tender joint. “We’re hunting rabbits” my five-year-old announces with a baby carrot in hand.
“Well that’s nice,” I say, squinting because the whole world feels intrusive.
“I’m going to shoot him in the eye. With this.” He brandishes his Nerf gun.
“We don’t shoot animals,” I remind him.
“We eat chickens,” the three-year-old announces from up on the playhouse. PAL gives me the you-get-that-one look.
“You’re right,” I breathe, trying to process this world of real, sassy characters, then add, “But we don’t shoot them.”
I’m deep in a hole of hypocritical ethics, and so badly want to shirk back to my safe office with its small consequences. But alas,the days carry on and the school work piles and the big ideas from the little people continue to bloom.
Days later, after three hours parked at a Starbucks and playing in the attic of my brain, I pick up the kids at preschool and load them in the car for my laser hair removal appointment.
We talk about the scab on someone’s knee that fell off in class, a loose tooth, the resident cricket that showed itself in the boy’s bathroom and just about hopped on a schoolmate’s penis. We’re not afraid of the anatomical dictionary in our house.
Then we debate the next course of action for my chin hairs. “What the heck is wrong?” my five-year-old asks. I tell him that I don’t know, that all my parts are stubborn. He suggests an x-ray to see why my chin hairs are the first in the history of chin hairs to flat out resist laser treatments.
I think about the four hundred plus pages of Jane Eyre I need to read and how, or if, my brain wil be capable of shifting gears tonight and again tomorrow, or if one day, the gears will suddenly stick and I’ll wake to find all my verbs missing and be unable to move beyond reading directions for hatching sea monkeys.
Later, at bedtime, the three-year-old asks if Chinese people are nice and I panic, thinking I’ve said something inadvertently at one point to cultivate a racist. Yes, of course they’re nice, I say. Do they do karate? She asks. Sometimes. Everyone can do karate, I say. She picks her nose, pulls something out. “Does everyone have boogers?”
We say our goodnights, drink our waters and check all the lights ten times. It’s quiet. I think: here I go to the other side of my moon. THE glowing, bodacious side. My brain swoons.
James Joyce’s, Dubliners is in hand when the five-year-old gnome comes bumbling down the staircase, doubled over in third-world hunger.
As he nibbles on a granola bar, lifting fallen crumbs with a dampened forefinger as I do, he suddenly lifts his shirt.“Why do boys have boobies?” He taps his nipples, seems transfixed by the small nubs. “They don’t give milk? right?” He looks up at me for reassurance. No, yours don’t give milk, I assure. Boys’ are decoration, like tree ornaments.
He smiles, stuffs the last of the bar in his mouth and mutters, “Do dogs have boobies?”
Finally, the house is quiet, except for the tap, taps of PAL’s electronic drums. He’s plugged in to keep the din down. And the mercurial shift commences: I move away from questions way too big to answer and into a universe I can put in a stranglehold if I have to.
And there it is, a first sentence to a new story. It goes, “Alice isn’t sure which world is kinder anymore. And on most days she wants somehow to live in them both. If not only for the ironic pleasure of missing one when she’s occupying the other. “