Separation Rituals

Jardana Peacock | Essays

Day One

After my children leave for their father’s house, I place the pillows on the sofa and fluff them. I am like Mr. Potato Head collecting toys in my elbow creases.  The cat has not yet returned from her daily jaunt to take comfort in the afternoon sun patterning the floor. Every angle the window bleeds is harsher today.

Inside the desk drawer, a clutter of half-drawings: Pokémon and treasure maps. Squiggly lines of partial giraffes and elephants penciled by the youngest. I sigh at the mess. I save them all because I am more sentimental than I let on.

White star baskets bulge with brown and black plastic barn animals, Star Wars figurines and Happy Meal prizes. My foot pushes them across the rug, the density of plastic, insufficient  compared to the heft of knowing for the next five days I will not talk with my children, they might not even think of me. With the toys tucked in the corners, I leave my life as a parent and enter the other one.

Day Two

I make tea. In the kitchen, quiet is a shrill scream, vibrating along the walls. It descends through me like the drop tower carnival ride. I loathe this emptiness. When do mothers breathe? I breathe. Relief gathers as quickly as the ants searching for crumbs. I love this calm.

Years ago, my mother yelled “Can I get a minute, just a minute to myself?” She slammed the door, shutting herself into the small pantry. Three kids watched on. One was me.

I leave the lone crusted cheerio stuck to the bamboo table.

Day Three

I sit on the chipping painted concrete porch step. The evening is warm on my face. I watch the birds devour a full feeder in less than an hour. A goldfinch pair rests on neon yellow flowers, their song a lyric lingering in sun yellow, more yellow. The boys down the street play basketball: beat, beat, swish. My twenty-year-old neighbor’s second floor window is ajar. I hear her gossip on the phone. She has cried on my turquoise sofa twice and once thought I was young enough to flirt with. 

Day Four

I run the water hot for a bath.

When we look back on our life, memory will reveal the gaps. Memory is the smallest Lego lost in the crack between the cabinet and the wall. Isn’t that the one that secures the Pteranodon’s wing to its body? My children hold halves. Half families. Half houses. These halves make up a whole life but we will fail to fill in the void without all the pieces. I pick up the green Lego before I am distracted. After all, I am a mother without much sleep.

Most of all, I worry they will forget me. How do we belong to each other in this separation? Now I am angry. I did not gestate and labor for quiet and clean. What is the purpose of a caretaker without snacks to make, arguments to untangle and bedtime when each little one needs: one more book, snuggles, please and the ancient childhood chant: I am not tired.

I submerge into the water.

After the bath, my hair drips down my back. I dry my body. Tonight I will have sweaty sex. I will be like Gumby morphing and changing to fit myself into the dip of my lover’s soft pelvis. I will be a different person but also the same person. I will stay up past midnight. I will sleep late.

Every day they are gone

I walk into their room. Granola wrappers and empty plastic cups clutter the top of their dresser. Books fan out from the bookshelf, pages doggy-eared and finger smudged.

I remember the postpartum depression when I rarely left bed. When on my back, I watched ceiling shapes, my uterus clenching, my hips straining. Motherhood is the best thing that will ever happen to you, every parent, nurse, aunt, stranger, chorused. For months my only purpose, milk and comfort. Calmed and fed, family members scooped the babe away and closed the wooden door. The sun rose, the sun disappeared.

In my children’s room, now, there are blanket heaps in the center of their bunks. Five days. It is as if I am not a mother. I remember how I did not want to be a mother and now all I want are my children.