“Gently, he gives the pearl to the silence above the sea.”
“My name is Pearl and I’m a recovering wife and mother”.
“Hi Pearl! Welcome!”
I hear an imaginary chorus of millions of women like me, up at the ass crack of dawn like me, their sleep cycles irrevocably and forever jacked, like me, raped and pillaged by round the clock feedings, middle of the night pizza vomit and making not only breakfast, but lunch as well, like me, for husbands whose work days begin in the pre-dawn light.
Hello, ladies. Hello, lovelies. Hello, comrades.
And if you are truly anything like me, 52 and middle-aged (just go on and give or take as many years for yourselves as you like), those left living in your household are still in a deep REM sleep (haven’t they always been?), peacefully, blissfully and solidly slumbering. They’re also of an advanced age and completely capable (although perhaps not exactly willing) of feeding themselves independent of any type of nipple-shaped aperature and making it to the toilet before they hurl all over themselves as well as their sheets, blankets, floor and walls. At least I hope this is true for you. I really, really do. Because, as any true recovering wife and mother knows, Middle Of The Night Throw Up (and its accompanying Middle Of The Night Bath, Bed-Making and Laundry) are THE SCOURGE of motherhood. (More about this later. More about everything later.) (Promise.)
I say, let them sleep.
Enjoy this, lovelies. This most magnificent part of the day, the part of the day that I have come to cherish. The quiet, tranquil, fragrant beauty, being alone as another day begins to awaken itself to start. It’s amazing what one hears when there is no baby shrieking to be fed or to have its diaper changed in these ebony hours, how calm one’s soul can be become when the tranquility is not exploded by the hall light and the chaos of a wailing and/or whimpering young one (whose temperature is the exact same number your bathroom scale read in junior high), your son or daughter who has just projectile vomited the entire contents of their child-sized stomach (which, apparently, expands to hold an amazing and mystifying 36 gallons of both liquids and solids) all over themselves and anything within an acre, waking the entire household (with the curious exception of your husband).
It’s remarkable to breathe in the soft fresh scents of night-blooming jasmine. One can easily lose themselves in such a faint and heady fragrance when one’s nose is not being assaulted by the rising fumes of a four o’clock a.m. shit-filled diaper. Shit which we are as interested in and committed to studying, notating and analyzing as when we were Dean’s List college students. Was it just me, or did you, too, read those diapers like you read the Los Angeles Times? Cover to cover, intensely, studiously, in order to become informed of and on top of daily events. Shit was, quite literally, happening, and I wanted to know what it meant and how it impacted not only myself, but the lives of my family and my community as well. (This shit was part of my job. And I took my job very seriously. People.)
To be alone at this time of the day is still not-so-small a miracle to me. For so many years, I was never alone. It was as if when I signed my first marriage license, I signed away my right to ever be alone again. Ever. I immediately began sharing a bedroom with my husband. And a bathroom, along with every square inch of every structure we ever lived in from that moment forward. When the kids came along, they shared the space as well, a space that did not expand or enlarge magically to accommodate three additional people. People that, granted, began very small but, over time, grew to be regulation-sized human beings. And that was fine, I was fine, they were fine, we were all fine. Living in a house, sharing rooms and hallways and staircases and porches and backyards and bathrooms. There would be no pitching tents or barracks. We were a family, not garrisoned soldiers.
But even enlisted men have privacy in the latrines.
And early on, my kids figured out that this was actually an excellent time to approach me for a little one-on-one face time. Bright, intelligent and quick on the uptake were never in short order in my family (at least not in family members born after the Eisenhower Administration). And the kids, at very early stages in their cognition and motor development deduced, and correctly, that if I was peeing there was a fairly good chance that I’d be doing that and only that for a brief 3-5 minute window and that they would have my undivided attention. (I think I know what you may be thinking. Pooping. Are you thinking pooping? That it takes longer than 3-5 minutes? For most? You’re right about that. That’s why I never pooped on duty. First of all, who had that kind of time? Second of all, pooping occurred at night, behind a closed bathroom door, on the other side of which was my husband. This would be, of course, when we discussed the kids. And other important matters, such as when the last time we had sex was, his job-or lack of it- and/or whether or not we could afford to continue feeding the family and providing them with clothing as well).
So, waking up at 5:00 a.m. now, as a recovering wife and mother, with a quiet, peaceful, calm emptied nest has become the place where I launch myself into a very different day-to-day quiet, peaceful, calm emptied nest life.
This did not happen overnight.
It took me eight years (I call them “The Hateful Eight”) to come to this place. Nearly eight very long and terrible years. The worst, really. I’ve had to recover from a thing or two (more about this later. More about everything later.). (Promise.)., but recovering from the greatest gig I ever had, the only job I ever wanted; being a wife and a mother, was by far, the hardest recovery of them all.
It wasn’t just “the job”.
Being a wife and mother was everything I had ever wanted since I was a little girl.
It was all the hopes I had ever hoped, wishes I ever made, stars I ever twinkle twinkled on, birthday candles I closed my eyes, made a wish and blew out, pennies I tossed in wells and fountains, daydreams I lost myself in, doodles I doodled on notebook paper, secrets I locked in diaries with little golden keys, filled nonexistent hope chests with invisible items, imagined, fantasized, pretended as a little girl (yes, I was always the mommy. And a very fashionable mommy par excellence whose specialty was Mud Pie served in a Cornhusk Dish that I lovingly served my handsome husband and my 6 adorable children, including a 2 darling fraternal twins, in a Mama Cass caftan and a pair of cracked white patent leather pumps I’d discovered in a box marked “Goodwill”.)
In my last semester of college, I married my high school sweetheart. A year later, I was expecting our first child, The Son, two years later, our daughter, La Belle, was born. Change in personnel in the Husband Department and six years later , we had our daughter, The Badass Bunny.
And there it was. All I ever wanted.
For 23 years, from 1985-2008, almost to the day, I had my Camelot.
It was not, I should tell you, a perfect, straight line.
There were significant Changing of the Guards. So to speak.
But some things didn’t change because I wouldn’t allow them to-I remained a wife, a mother and my family was the single most important thing in the world to me. Being a wife and a mother was meaningful, fulfilling, purposeful, thrilling, challenging, exciting, enjoyable, hilarious and fun. It was every mother and wife dream come true. And then some. (plus a few nightmares. Not gonna lie.). Every childhood wish, secret, hope and fantasy. All the doodles turned into masterpieces, all the pretending played out, day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, into a long, gorgeous reality that exceeded anything that I could have ever made up as a little girl.
Including the Mud Pies.
And the moon, which I had gazed upon when I dreamt of my future as a young girl, turned into a luminous pearl in a storybook that I read to my children.
Then, in June of 2005, the dream began to become undone.
And three years later, as a result, I made a terrible mistake.
One that would very nearly cost me my life and imploded my family. One that would take us all away from each other, some for a little while, some for forever. One that would not so much end one dream, but pause it, so that it could dovetail into another. This latter part I did not know at the time. But I do now.
Because I hadn’t thought beyond wife and mother. Not once. Not ever.
It would take me the better part of eight years to begin tentatively, carefully and cautiously easing myself into this next part, this new dream. Eight long, hard, lonely, painful years of running for a lot of covers, living a lot of nightmares, losing, losing,losing-people, places, things-literally, physically,metaphorically. Eight long years of losing and then finding my lost children, getting to know them, letting them get to know me, slowly, carefully rebuilding loving, trusting relationships with my daughters; lovely, amazing young women, independent, accomplished, funny, smart and living their best lives, La Belle at 25 and The Badass Bunny closing in on 20.
It took three years of writing it all down in a journal (Sorting and Filing, as I like to call it ), four years of therapy with two different therapists ( one whom I hold in very high esteem for life because she cried, and laughed, almost as much as I did), two years of my physical body talking to me via system failure after system failure as it too broke down-three surgeries to repair compressed nerves, trigger fingers, torn ligaments, four extracted teeth, stitches to sew up inadvertent slices to my skin, corrective glasses (talk about your I once was blind and now I see and all that happy horse shit… ), wrist splints and a terrifying six month cancer scare PLUS a year in the purgatory of menopause and an additional four months of fresh, new Hell.
Then, one morning not so very long ago, I awoke at the ass crack of dawn ( normal people call this “the middle of the night”. Or so I’m told. But let’s don’t be hairsplitters, k?), a freshly brewed mug of coffee in one hand, a smoke in the other. I glanced up and saw the moon, round, alabaster and perfectly balanced between two leafy branches against an inky sky.
It was the same moon I had read about to my children so long ago, as a wife and a mother, with so much love and happiness and joy.
And in that very moment, I realized that I had a little something something to say to recovering wives and mothers like me and maybe like you too.
It’s the part I never thought about, not once, not ever.