Last weekend, I drove my three-year-old son three hundred miles across Nebraska (his home state) to the small west Nebraska town of Ogallala, to meet my mom at a Best Western and give up my little boy for a week. Ogallala is a half-way point between my Wyoming hometown of Pinedale and the town I call home now, south of Kansas City, and Grandma and Grandpa have been vying for their time with our little man. A week at Grandma and Grandpa’s in Wyoming: it’s a tradition of sorts they and we have been trying to build on. Summer, of course, is the ideal time for a fun-filled week away from home, but our summer filled up so fast – both for us in Kansas and for Grandma and Grandpa in Wyoming – that we were talking September before we knew it.
I drove back to Kansas alone, the car too big and quiet for just one, listening to a powerful and almost gory book by Gillian Flynn. You know. The stuff I can’t read with little ears in the car.
I’ll admit: I was looking forward to some more quiet lulls back home, time to work and crank out some writing. Time to get stuff done. And the week did bring those opportunities. But it also brought a whole mishmash of emotions and some healthy rounds of tears. Because no matter how much I do, I still just yearn to be a mom, with no cares in the world other than loving her little (and big) ones. The tension is always there: how to balance the necessary (and mostly joyful) work with the necessary (and mostly joyful) uninterrupted time with kids. How to nurture your little ones while still nurturing yourself. I can’t not be a mother. I can’t not be a writer. How to make the personal identity and the professional identity go hand-in-hand.
Mothers (and perhaps parents in general) are a living study of paradoxes. The days of child-rearing are sometimes slow, but the years always sprint by too fast. Our jobs are at once simple and profound; coming down to a child’s level can be simultaneously the easiest and the hardest task of our lives. We can find beauty in messes.
With Will away, I am off-kilter. I recognize the gifts of this time, to be sure: fourteen-month-old Eli gets some one-on-one attention akin to what Will had when he was our only baby, and it’s a different kind of bonding than the mere hours Eli and I have together while Will is at preschool. We prepare one little cartoon-character plate for dinner instead of two, and at bed time, there is only one child to put down. Life is a bit simpler. Bryan and I can have a conversation, the two of us talking back and forth with each other (gasp!), while we eat our supper. And yes, there are pockets of time in which I realize I can get so much done.
But there are also the moments when I so starkly realize that Will is not here. After our good Lutheran table prayer which begins, “Come, Lord Jesus,” I wait for my son to burst into song and clapping with his signature, “Thank you, thank you, Jesus!” Nothing. I sing anyway, an adult voice where a child’s should be. I try not to cry.
Sentimental sap. I know.
Then there is the strange dynamic that Will is in my hometown, in my beloved place, without me. He gets my house, my parents, my bedroom, all to himself. “Mom,” he said on the phone the other night. “When you and Eli come, we have a bed all ready for you. It’s right next to my room.”
I wonder how my sons will grow to appreciate Pinedale, Wyoming, in their own way. How will the lens in which they view their mother’s hometown be different from my own lens? Pinedale is chock-full of opportunities to learn, to get outside, to try new things. And every place is, I guess, when you think about it. It’s just that, compared to the suburban Midwest, rural western Wyoming seems almost exotic.
Eli and I are on the plane today, headed out west to my beloved dry and rugged mountains. The writing has come full bore this week, and I am happy to be launching into a trip back home with a solid amount of work under my belt. I am happy to be going home, into the folds of my family’s arms, the heat of one baby with me, the heat of another to embrace when we land.
*What do you appreciate about your hometown as an adult that you didn’t necessarily appreciate as a child?