Love, Doubt, and Guilt Dance on Head of a Pin
Do you even know what I wore to bed last night?’
The question made contact like a right hook. Finley and I were waiting for the bus in a driving rain.
I’d worked late the night before and, as I always do, I’d slipped into their room to kiss them goodnight. I brushed my lips as delicately on Briar’s face, knowing that despite her pleas for me to wake her, she would start disoriented and upset. Ave, up in the top bunk, is the heaviest sleeper, but never fails to murmur, “My mama, I love you,” before rolling over and back to sleep.
“You know what, honey? I don’t know, but I did come in to kiss you last night.” I said the words quickly and lightly, wanting to move along from this question.
“Dad promised Briar and me that he would tell you to wake us up when you got home and then put us back to bed. Why didn’t you?”
I gasped, “Oh, but I did, you just didn’t wake up!’ We looked at each other, I wondered if she knew what the question meant to me. Does she wield guilt knowingly or am I imposing my own struggle on an innocent question.
Her eyes got big and she giggled, “Really? Guess I really love my sleep!”
“Did you have a good meeting talk thing? She asked. I smiled, lately they’ve been trying harder to understand what it is that I do. Briar had been eager to show me that she was supportive of the work that I needed to do. She shared one of her performance tips for me in a text in the afternoon. It reminded me of the kinds of peppy texts I send to her.
Waiting to take the stage, I felt odd. The specific block of time that I had to be away for this event is usually off limits; it is a sacred-to-me-time. I missed homework and the post-day chatter. I wasn’t there to hear the stories, or fix the snacks, and I wasn’t at the dinner table. I felt an ache, but I also felt an adrenaline surge. I was representing my company, my beliefs, and living up to the kind of go-for-it attitude that I try to ignite in the girls. My business partner and one of my employees were in the audience laughing, nodding, and taking pictures. After so many years of feeling like I had no tangible product and doubting whether or not the time away from the girls is worth it, I saw myself and all the different roles that I have.
The contradictions and deficits that I sometimes feel faded. I stood before the backdrop of the the words and ideas of mine that Sean had collected and packaged. The points that I planned to cover were each artifacts from moments in my career, as my voice filled the room it felt like Sean was there and, in some ways, so were the girls.
At the moment Briar thought I was taking the stage, she’d sent me another encouraging text. I didn’t get it until afterword, not until after her bedtime in fact. I smiled thinking about riding out my head cold and stage-fright-weakened voice.
A great deal of what I do, as a parent, wife, and business person, is rooted in emotion — leveraging joy, learning from defeat, plowing through fear, and allowing myself to be spurred to action by my own doubt.
I texted Briar, then I texted Sean. My cheeks flushed; I was guilty for feeling exhilarated and ashamed that I’d missed bedtime. I was longing to have my guy with me, not the dad, not the business partner, but my guy. He told me he wished he’d been there, I told him that it felt like he was.
“Do you want to guess which pajamas I wore?” Finley asked. I remembered kneeling on the floor in the laundry room on Monday folding clothes. I could see the striped pjs sets I’d stacked, the long nightgown of Briar’s, a short one of Fin’s, the Trampoline Dart League shirts that they sometimes wear. She asks each morning and each night what the weather is going to be like to help her decide between long sleeve or short. It had been in the high 40s on our drive the night before.
“I’m not sure, but I don’t think you wore pants and a shirt.”
“Correct!” She squealed.
“I think you wore the light blue nightgown that’s short but has long sleeves,” I said.
She lit up, “Yes, but what’s the pattern?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Crowns, crowns like a queen. Like you are mine,” she said.
It’s inevitable that we spend moments pulling ourselves taut; it’s how we grow. Stretching doesn’t make us weaker or put us at risk of breaking, it makes us stronger. We lean into work, surrender ourselves to intimacy, devote time to our kids, these are the ways that we nurture the different parts of who we are and the people we love. It isn’t easy and I don’t think any of it comes without debt or compromise, but each instance of enduring the tautness and learning from it helps us understand the things that we want to hold on to and the ways that we can contribute.