It was an odd feeling, Terry thought, this sensation of standing outside her life looking in. It happened now and then when she was particularly harried. Like this morning, stuffing baby Jack into his quilted snowsuit while Jessica danced around the room frantically singing “Have to go potty, Mommy! Have to go right now!” In her mind’s eye, an image of herself appeared, dressed for work in her favorite Donna Karan suit, her Coach bag neatly packed with her laptop and ideas for the next issue. This sleek, put-together version peered disapprovingly at this morning’s Terry-black knit pants bagging at the knees, and tattered Eddie Bauer thermal t-shirt with a suspicious looking stain just below her breast.
She sighed, and abandoned Jack in favor of Jessica, whose need seemed the most pressing. She wondered how long it would take the six month old to realize he had been ditched – left lolling in his crib while his mother hustled his older sister toward the bathroom and her pottychair.
“Wahhhh!” Terry heard, before she and the wiggling Jessica even reached the bathroom door.
Obviously, not long at all.
How long had it been, Terry wondered, since she felt even nominally in charge of her life? Back then, in her PTP (prior to parenthood) days, she had managed a successful monthly magazine, kept writers, photographers, and a slew of assistant editors in line, while maintaining a creative presence in each department. Now, she was exhausted before 9:00 in the morning, trying to satisfy the demands of two individuals whose combined weight was less than 30 pounds.
Terry blinked rapidly to dispel the image of her former self with pure disappointment etched across her face, observing the fumbling inefficiency of this current, clearly inept, version. With renewed energy, she hustled her daughter through her morning ablutions, and back into Pull-Ups. Hurrying back to the nursery, she went to work on baby Jack, who seemed startled by her grim purposefulness and stopped screaming long enough for her to work his sturdy legs into the snowsuit and snap it up to the apex of his chubby chin.
Twenty minutes later (a new record!) Terry was on line at Starbucks, Jack nestled happily in the Baby Bjorn, Jessica tucked into her stroller, content to arrange her Cheerios’s in neat lines on the tray. The usual morning crowd stood desultorily ahead of her – college students, bleary eyed and toting grungy overfull tote packs, young executives in pressed suits and overcoats.
Terry took a deep breath, sending a silent prayer heavenward that her two children would remain calm until she had her mocha latte firmly in hand.
The middle aged woman standing in front of Terry snapped her cell phone firmly shut and turned briskly. Terry recognized the rigid set of her shoulders and felt the aura of intense concentration – she’s had a call from the office, Terry thought, remembering those panicked phone calls requiring her instant attention on some seemingly earth shattering dilemma. The woman’s face softened when she noticed the sleeping baby, and a smile brightened her face as she looked down at Jessica’s tousled blond curls.
“So precious,” she said wistfully, looking at Terry with obvious envy. “God, I remember those days when mine were small. Life seemed so much simpler then.” She stuffed the sleek cell phone back into her Coach tote and pulled on black leather gloves. “Now I can’t even take time for a decent cup of coffee,” she muttered. Sighing, she pulled out of line and headed for the door.
“Enjoy!” she said, barking the word like a command.
A mental image emerged in Terry’s mind, this time of her power suited self 20 years into the future, rushing to catch the train into the city and carrying nothing but a cold leather briefcase. She wrapped her left arm tightly around Jack’s solid torso, snuggling him closer to her heart. Perhaps her life was pretty good right now after all.
“Mommy,” Jessica suddenly cried out. “Have to go potty! Have to go right now!”
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