Whenever I replay it in my mind, the scene starts here: Me at the rear car door, hovering. Him with his head craned back, stalling.
“Mommy,” he starts.
“What Jack?” My words are staccato. My toes aren’t tapping, but they might as well be. I’m sandwiched between my three-year-old and the daycare parking lot, the end of one workday and the start of another (Evening Mommy). What I want from him is complete compliance. What he wants, I think, is the same thing he’s wanted since day one of daycare when he rejected all of his bottles — to act in complete defiance.
“I see the moooon!”
“Where, honey?” my voice softens.
His pointer finger shoots up, his voice rises, “There! There!” and I follow his gaze to the crescent moon, barely a fingernail clipping, hanging low in the cerulean sky.
“It’s so shiny,” he remarks. And he’s right — it is. We linger, eyes up, heads tipped back, suspended in time. When I finally buckle Jack into his carseat, I thank him for making me notice the beautiful moon. He beams proudly.
Now in the driver’s seat, I press the ignition button and notice the dashboard clock reads 5:55 p.m. Classical music floods the speakers. I punch the radio off. I can’t shake the feeling I’m doing this wrong — motherhood. That I’m missing out on most of it, the wonder and joy of my son being three, because I work. This hunger for what I can’t have — a different life — wakes with a grumble.
What if all I’m getting is just a measly sliver of the moon? What if all I’m giving is waning light?
“Mah-AhhM! Why are you not moving?”
“Sorry honey,” I say, my voice faltering. I don’t turn around to face him. Careful as ever I check the backup cam, reverse, signal and merge onto Pulaski. Pulaski divides a crowded, crumbling cemetery; tonight the western sky above the gravestones blazes with magenta and persimmon fading into blue. I want to slow the car to a crawl and gape, maybe turn into the cemetery lot to take in the horizon.
Eyes back on the road, I exclaim, “Look honey! Look to your right!”
“Honey, there’s a sunset,” I say, motioning toward his window.
“It’s a rainbow!” Jack shouts with glee. Jack loves rainbows, and I hold this fact tenderly, knowing there may come a day when someone tells him it’s not acceptable for a boy to love rainbows. I hope he keeps loving them all the same.
“Sort of,” I chuckle. “The sky lights up with all kinds of colors when the sun goes down. What colors do you see?”
“I see orange … and pink… and blue…” he trails off.
I glance back at Jack, eyes wide and smiling. I will tell him this, I resolve, that boys shouldn’t be ashamed to love this beautiful world with an open heart.
At Foster, I turn right and drive straight toward the sunset. The skyscape shifts to peach and lavender; the fading light silhouettes a crop of trees in shade. I recall a stanza from John Mayer’s song, “3×5”:
Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when
I’m in the mood to lose my way
But let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
It brought me back to life
“What do you see, Mommy?” Jack’s view is a bit obscured now, and I have the better vantage of the sunset.
“Hmmm… I see new colors — peach and lavender and blue darkening above us.”
I hear him sigh and add, “Almost home, buddy.”
Pulling onto our street I realize Jack and I only have a few more sunsets to watch on our commute home before the light patterns shift. Daylight Saving Time is coming.
For the next three days, Jack will ask me about the sunset. Together, we’ll delight in bright hues painted across each evening sky.
A week after Daylight Saving Time, everything will be different. Daycare will be closed. I’ll receive a mandate to work remote — effective immediately. The social distancing and lockdowns will begin. The grocery store shelves will be picked over. I’ll call my elderly neighbor, my grandmothers and my parents, ending each conversation close to tears. I’ll cling to my husband’s frame in bed, mind churning over the COVID-19 pandemic, body starved for sleep. I’ll hold my head in my hands, stomach knotted with worry, and pray. My son will watch and mimic my motions.
I’ve read that three is when memory begins to form in children. Later, I’ll wonder if Jack will remember any of this — the food rationing, the “staycation with Mommy and Daddy,” the world as we used to know it turning. I hope he’ll remember learning to play Go Fish on the living room carpet, games of tag in the backyard, homemade bread, long baths and daily FaceTime with his grandparents. I hope he’ll remember relishing those sunsets from the car, a fleeting ritual, but one that brought us so much joy.
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to lose my way with words
For the time being, I park the car in our garage, blissfully unaware of the changes to come. Hands busy fixing supper, I wonder:
Am I missing out on moments with Jack because I work too much?
Can I still teach him how to savor the light?
Much later, when the pain overwhelms, I’ll return to that night and embrace its delicious normalcy. Old, insignificant worries. A new resolve. My son forever pointing me to beauty — light.
And here, maybe I can save this sunset for us, and maybe my son will read about it someday, when he’s in the mood to find himself in words.
I wrote this part as part of a blog hop with Exhale, an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. To read the next post in this series, click here.