they were away.

they pulled out of the driveway and i waved from inside the house though it occurred to me after they drove away that i could have stood in the driveway, waving until they could not see me anymore.

i’d like to be that mother. i’d like them to remember me that way, the way i remember my grandmother, standing in her pastel housecoat in her sunporch, waving until i walked out of sight of this very corner.

even into my adolescence, when i was otherwise too cool for school and riddled with the agonizing cringe of self-consciousness, i always waved back. the smile on her face as she watched me go sang, be well! i go with you!

i was one of the grand old ocean liners, an occasion every time i left.

note to self: start waving.

but Friday afternoon they drove away with their father, car piled high with plastic dinosaurs and cups of milk and the miniature Strawberry Shortcake with the scented scarlet nylon hair, smooth and glossy and eminently easier to comb than that of her three-year-old owner. hairstyling implements are weapons of torture when directed at Posey but delightful if aimed at ponies and Strawberry Shortcake. at least for a minute or two.

i threw in all the DVDs i could find. it’s a five hour drive to Dave’s parents house.

between the hair-combing and the dinosaurs and DVDs and the Read-It-Myself books that i placed conveniently by Oscar’s booster seat in paroxysms of proud motherly fantasies of him reading sweetly to his little sister, Dave probably got, what? ten minutes of quiet on the drive? fifteen?

i don’t know. i didn’t ask.

i was alone.

they left for forty-six hours because i had a writing deadline. half-way into it i’d completed a draft, based on days of work beforehand, all on a program i hadn’t used before but had been saving away on, diligently. then, whoops, i discovered that program doesn’t allow saving: when i’d closed the document to email it, i lost everything.

every word, gone.

cue swearing and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

that is how i spent my weekend alone, grunting like Sisyphus back up the hill of my own ideas, pushing the stone of my own chagrin and self-recrimination and disbelief.

still, i was alone.

alone. nothing but my work to get back to. reflexively, i sought out the children as distractions from the job at hand. nobody needs a bum wiped? my brain pouted hopefully, as i winced at the blank screen in front of me. i could almost see the old words. every time i looked for them they grew fainter in the rearview, and more and more beautiful.

that first draft has now become a verifiable lost Atlantis of Shakespearean proportions. may it rest in peace.

but i had time to recreate a thin shadow of it, because i was alone.

in my life as a parent, time alone is terrible and beautiful. beautiful for the unbroken stretches, the chance to forget the clock and the routine and mealtimes and the thousand tiny interruptions and really, truly throw myself into the flow.

terrible because alone? it is a devil’s bargain.

every time things go wrong in my life i am shocked by time’s irreversibility. really? i think. but i just HAD that. i can SEE it.

my hands flap and scrabble at the invisible clock, trying to turn it back. just a bit. a smidge. i blink, conjuring with all my powers that moment just seconds ago when whatever it was worked. or was unbroken. or Was. Not. Blank.

i am dogged and faithful in my magical thinking, my repeated beating of my head against the wall of time’s directionality.

it makes me irrational, fighting against my own reality in this tension of inbetween, in this life where deadlines meet snow days and trips to the ER because kindergarteners walk on the monkey bars, sometimes, and where i am always rushed and there is always something left undone and i am regularly convinced i am drowning.

my writing. my research. my parenting. all tied together in the constant push-pull of doing nothing quite as well as i’d like.

i stare baffled at the spectre of that alone time i used to have: the creative headspace, the flow. i still believe it’s out there, somewhere, not eaten by schedules and deadlines and responsibilities all freely assumed.

it isn’t, except on very occasional weekends when that car piled high with Strawberry Shortcake and plastic dinosaurs goes hurtling down the highway through moose country with the people i love most packed inside it.

and that is the devil’s bargain.

i could blink and find myself on the other end of a phone call, stunned and shocked and disbelieving. but they were just HERE. i can SEE them.

i do not let my brain go too far down that road. it makes me feel sick in my throat.

but standing alone in my kitchen, i see that the aloneness will come anyway, eventually. time moves only forward. and someday i will have long forgotten what the hell i was trying to write on Saturday and all i will know as i shuffle around my empty kitchen in a housecoat is how fast those kids grew up.

and so i mutter my secret mother’s refrain, a plea in two parts:

i want to be alone. just for a bit, though. just for a bit.

and then we all keep swimming on together, never quite going under, and i beam and wave until my arms hurt.