Thursday morning all the kids went to camp with John (where he teaches and they attend) and I went to work. Sometimes on Thursdays they all sleep over, out in a big field on the grass and under the stars instead of in tents. Last night was one of those nights, and then they stayed at camp all day long today and I didn’t see them until 4:25 this afternoon. They arrived home sunburned, smelly, dirty, and exhausted. Five minutes later the big kids’ dad and his fiancee arrived to take the kids out to see an old friend’s band perform at a park in San Jose. After Lex washed his feet in the bathtub and I found clean socks for Nate, they were set to go. Except for Sophie. Sophie had on clean clothes and a fresh coat of sunblock over her sunburn, her hair was in braids and she had shoes on. But, she couldn’t stop crying and she wouldn’t let go of me. I held her in my arms, standing on the front porch, and she clung to me, burying her face in my neck and shaking with sobs. She couldn’t even speak. She just couldn’t go knowing that she wouldn’t see me again until Monday night. We decided that she could just stay here for the night, and that I’d drop her off at her dad’s house in the morning. After they drove away, Sophie and I sat on the couch and she just hugged me, still a little shaky with all that effort of crying so hard.
I need to be with you, Mama, she said.
I suggested that we go out for dinner. So we did; we went to our favorite place and ordered the same things we always do. When Sophie had eaten all of the salmon she could, she came over to sit in my lap. Can I have a sip of your juice?
No, I said, it’s only for grownups.
What will I look like when I grow up? she asked me.
Well, I think you might look a little like me. She made a face. Huh, I said, does that worry you?
Well, no, she said, but your hair is black and mine isn’t.
That’s true, I said, your hair is much lighter. But your face looks kinda like mine.
She put her hands on my cheeks and said, Oh goody, cause you are hotter than July!
It’s so hard sometimes, this whole split family thing. I get along really, really well with the big kids’ dad, and I honestly, sincerely love his partner. She’s awesome. It’s not easy, though, for the kids to have to move back and forth between our households. The rules are different, the lifestyles are different, the houses are different. With me working full time, I feel like the time I spend with the older kids is so rare. It’s still jarring one year into this (the full time job) because for almost ten years I was with them whenever they were here. Today I was looking at a bunch of photos of the kids and I realized that I wasn’t around for any of it. I didn’t recognize some of the other kids in the pictures. I feel like a fucking stranger sometimes. But, I do have my girls here with me tonight. They’re just out of the bath and are stretched out in the living room, watching some of the new movies we scored at the closing sale of the video store we used to always go to. When it gets dark we’ll wander outside, to see if the guy a few houses down, the one with the boat, has fireworks again this year. And maybe we’ll stand in the dark street, covering our ears, laughing nervously at the booms, keeping an eye on the sky for the occasional firework display. And I will watch their faces, like I always do, while they take it all in, cementing the memories that they’ll carry with them and bring out like treasures someday when they’re grown.
Okay — now it’s a little later and we’re back in from walking around our neighborhood. The guy with the boat did not disappoint. His display this year was quite impressive, and we totally cheered and yelled as the bottle rockets exploded over our heads. I got hit by a few chunks of firework crud, and I did have to stomp out a couple of embers on the lawn, but it was so fun anyway. I went outside in my cowboy print flannel PJ bottoms, a tank top, flip flops, and a beer, but it was dark so we walked over to the junior high field anyway and watched the far-away fireworks. The moon was perfect, a low and huge sliver of a crescent just on top of the houses and trees. When the girls got too cold, we walked back home, and now we’re all in my bed. The girls are giggly and making butt jokes, (Sophie just said to Willow, You are made out of balls! Men’s balls! You are a salted turd!) and the fireworks are still exploding outside. We’re all done, though, and are going to try to get some much needed sleep.
Happy 4th. Here’s to freedom.