I'm a sucker for many things: foods with the word truffle in them, ghost stories, anything featuring the comedic stylings of Kathy Griffin. But I've been fascinated for a very long time with What If Things Had Turned Out Differently. You can bet your bippy I've seen Sliding Doors more than once. I loved some Choose Your Own Adventure books as a lass. In a way, I based my book on this idea.
One time, when Caleb was three or so, we went out for bagels. I must have been staring off into the distance. "Mama," he said, touching my hand, "are you thinking about dinosaurs?" I was not thinking about dinosaurs, but probably some alternate reality. If things had turned out differently--different choice of mate, different choice of region, different choice of lifestyle--could I still be happy? Could this other Jennifer be happy living on a farm? Could she be happy as a single advertising executive? Could she be happy hugging some other mate hello each evening?
No good answer, right? Sometimes I'd wonder, though, what it would be like if I weren't a mother. Motherhood's dripped into every facet of my life, but I look at some of my friends without kids and their lives are perfectly fulfilling. I wonder sometimes if that could have been me, if things had turned out differently.
I knew that I'd be travelling away from Caleb for a long time--two and a half weeks--a long time for us, anyway. The morning on the day we left, he leaned in to hug me. He hugged me for a long time. He's almost nine now, and he has that almost-nine-year-old heft, his father's broad shoulders, a certain kind of sturdiness. I had to lean back into him to keep us from tipping right over.
About a week into the trip, I got my answer: I cannot be away from the boy that long. On the Metro in D.C., I tried really hard not to stare at a little kid, maybe eight, in his baseball hat, joking with what looked like his grandma. By the time I got to Philadelphia, I'd been away for over two weeks, and I was jonesing bad. Can I just say halleujah for Lauren, John, and their boys? I hadn't seen Jack and Will since they were tiny, and hanging out with them is just what I needed. We played Speed; we played Crazy Eights, then Crazy Tens (Will's idea), but ran out of time before Crazy Queens. (Isn't that a float at Mardi Gras?)
Because of bad weather, Caleb's homecoming was delayed, and delayed again. I got phone calls throughout the day from him. "Hi," he'd sigh. "We're in the airport." WELL DAMN IT! I wanted to roar.
Finally, he got home and I realized that there is no alternate reality. Maybe I could have skipped motherhood, but I already know my Caleb, and there aren't any do-overs. "How'd I get so lucky to be your mama?" I asked him.
"I don't know," he said. "You just did."