These are the cliches I am wrestling with: It is hard for me to believe how quickly the time passed, it is hard to imagine myself working in any other capacity than the job I have taken on here at home, it is amazing how different Mollie is now than she was when we first brought her home from the hospital, the thought of going back to work and being separated from her for an entire day fills me with such despair that I am fairly certain that I will have no cuticles left come Monday morning. I am also filled with such other adjectives as fear (about whether Mollie will forget me/hate me/miss me), hatred (for having to work), jealousy (of those who don't have to work), nervousness (about whether or not I really remember how to do my job), and apathy (about the work itself).
Here is a new truth that I didn't know I would come to: if I could quit my job and stay at home with Mollie, I would do it in a heartbeat. Work seems more trivial than I could have possibly imagined.
The year was 1989 and I was getting ready to go to someone's record hop. For those of you who were not a Jewish teenager in the late 80's or early 90's, a record hop was one way a very rich Jewish kid could celebrate their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Those fortunate kids had two parties -- one fancy party for the grown-ups where a few of their Jewish friends were invited, and one "just kids" party where most of the 7th or 8th grade was invited. While a record hop was good in theory (twice as many presents for the lucky 13-year-old, plus the parents got to have the celebration that they wanted for all of their money) it also meant enduring the awkwardness that accompanies every dance where not-quite-teenagers are forced to co-mingle.
Suffice it to say, it took me about an hour to get ready for the party. I had picked out the perfect outfit, which will sound ridiculous over here in 2011, but I'm going to give it a shot because it is important to our story. It was a predominantly purple tie-dyed babydoll dress, under which I wore a pair of black bike shorts. I wore it with enormous "scrunchy" socks, and what we called "Chinese slippers" at the time, but which are essentially black canvass Mary Janes. I carefully did my hair, securing it into a half-up-half-down 'do with a black scrunchie, and applied the mascara and lip gloss that my mom let me wear to Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.
I came downstairs feeling pretty great, just about confident enough to ask Keith Delaney to dance after a Shirley Temple and some chicken fingers. It was critical that I ask Keith to dance at this party because I suspected that he liked me. He had been snapping my bra strap in science class for weeks, a sure sign of interest, but he hadn't said anything. I figured that the bra snapping was his way of putting the ball in my court. I was determined to run with it.
"I'm ready to go," I told my mom.
"Honey, you need to lose those socks," she responded as she picked up her keys.
Lose the socks? Was she out of her mind? The socks were critical. The socks MADE the outfit. The socks helped to establish me as an almost-cool kid. Without the socks I was just a loser in a babydoll dress, pining after Keith Delaney.
"But the socks are cool!," I protested.
"No, the socks look ridiculous."
"I'm not taking off the socks."
"Then I'm not taking you to the party."
And on it went. I'm not sure why the socks were so important to her. I don't know why she didn't believe me. But we both held firm. Finally, in the car, moments before we pulled into the parking lot for the party, I took off my socks. I held them out to her with tears in my eyes.
"There," she said. "You look perfect now. Have fun!"
I said nothing as I got out of the car, not even looking at her as I walked inside.
The party sucked. Keith didn't come and there were no Shirley Temples. Midway through it I started to feel really sick, and by the time my mom came to pick me up, I knew that I had a fever.
I sat down at the kitchen table with the thermometer in my mouth, feeling like I could fall asleep right there in my dad's dinner seat.
"Honey, I'm sorry," my mom said as she smoothed her hand across my forehead. I assumed that she was sorry that I was sick, but she continued. "You were right about the socks. I saw all the other girls walking in and they all had socks on. I'm sorry I made you take them off. I should have listened to you when you told me that they were cool."
I nodded and headed off to bed. I remember that the illness turned into some of the worst bronchitis that I had ever head, that I missed a week of school, and that by the time I got back, Keith was dating someone else, only rarely snapping my bra, and even then it seemed like it was just for sport.
I don't know why this memory has been so vivid for me these days, but I can't stop thinking about it. I have thought about it over the years because it was so shocking. It was the first time my mother apologized to me like I was an adult, worthy of a real apology. But now I am thinking about it from her perspective. She must have felt really bad for making get rid of those socks, knowing how much I wanted to be one of the cool kids, despite also knowing what losers the cool kids would ultimately turn out to be. I wonder if she decided to apologize to me, or if she just blurted it out because she felt so sad that I was also sick.
A million times a day, I think about the ways that I will need to apologize to Mollie, about how sorry I already am for the ways that I am already hurting her.
I'm sorry I have to work. I'm sorry I can't buy you the fancy clothes. I'm sorry that kids are mean. I'm sorry we can't take a trip to Disney World. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you.
A million times a day, I think about things that I want for Mollie's future.
I want you to be carefree. I want you to be above the popularity contest. I want you to trust yourself. I want you feel safe and secure. I want you to know that I am always listening, that no matter where I am, I love you. I want Middle School to be easier.
She smiles with purpose now, squeals with conviction. She rolls onto her side, talks to herself, tracks her mobile. She knows her mother, her father, her Julie, her Stephen. She is not a fan of long car rides but she is comforted by her pacifier. She tolerates her bath and she enjoys being on her tummy.
She is suddenly a baby and not a newborn, more of a turkey than a chicken, so grown up and so little at the same time, probably the way that I will always see her. I am leaving her to do her growing, her thinking, her learning, her changing, all without me there to watch it.
Move at your own pace, little one. I may be a step or two behind you and it might take longer than you would like for me to catch up, to catch on. But know that no matter what, no matter where I am, I am always behind you.