“Mommy, I’m a funny, flappy bird,” Jack, my almost-four-year-old tells me. He smushes his hands together and flaps his little fingers like wings.
“You are?” I say. I’m sitting across from him while he eats breakfast at our table. I smile; he says the greatest things. A few days ago, when he had chocolate on his face and I licked my finger to wipe it off, he said, “Don’t put your dirty water on me, please.”
A week ago, I wouldn’t have been sitting here with him during breakfast. I would’ve been up, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the kitchen, or answering emails. We always eat dinner together at the table, but our other meals get much less attention. Like every family, our days get frenzied. I work from home, and my husband owns an advertising agency and often travels. We find ways to fit in the chores: peel carrots for the crockpot at breakfast, fold laundry in the kitchen during lunch.
Then we went to visit friends for a weekend. They have two kids. They’re busy, professional, good parents. And at every meal — not just dinner — we all sat down at the table and ate. When we got home, my husband said, “Maybe we should be doing that.”
I took this as criticism. My husband works a lot, so mealtimes are mostly my domain. The “we” he was talking about was me.
What about the dishwasher? I thought.
Then, I lowered my shoulders, reminded myself that I’m a big girl, and took his comment the way it was meant. We both want what’s best for Jack. Yes, I thought. I’m home. I have to eat, too. Why am I not sitting down with my son?
It can take Jack an hour to eat a meal, during which I can feel the tug of unanswered emails, a deadline, and the unswept floor each minute. But, as I’m fond of asking Jack when he’s driving his Matchbox cars rather than picking up his Lego before bedtime, what is your job right now?
Now that’s a question that can get you in the gut.
What is my job right now? I have stuff to do. Clients. Vacuuming. They’re jobs. But they’re not the job. My husband is Jack’s favorite, which delights and moves me, but I am Jack’s constant. Constants are there. Constants sit down.
So I’ve been sitting. And, surprise, I haven’t missed a deadline. The house has not become filled with filth and muck. And Jack seems to like having me there. Two days ago, over lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the both of us), he smiled, tilted his head and stared at me.
“What?” I asked, amused.
“Mommy, I love you so much and I can’t stop loving you.”
I could’ve missed that.
God, I could’ve missed that.