Friday, March 28, 2014

See You Later, Hobo

(Post copyright 2013, Dawn Weber)
I wrote the following piece for my book, but it was one of two serious essays that didn't quite fit. I posted a brief excerpt of this last year, but not the whole thing.

You're nervous. I can tell.
You chew intently on your bottom lip from the car seat, up the sidewalk, to the building. You're three-and-a-half years old. Just a little guy.
It's your first day of preschool, held in a classroom at the district's middle school. We stop to snap a picture outside. What a place, I'm thinking, for the administration to locate a preschool, the intermediate building, the spot where kids endure the specific circle of hell that is junior high.  
So I've dressed you in the nicest outfit you own, spiked your hair and slapped some labels on you to keep the bullies away - Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger. I've bought a wee Spiderman backpack and filled it with only bare necessities - a lunch box, a blanket, a light jacket.
I made sure: Everything you need is in your pack. The thing only weighs two pounds, tops, but even as small as it is, its size and heft threaten to topple you. You wear it like a tiny, wobbly homeless man - like a little hobo failure. But you don't complain.
You seldom do.
I've been looking forward to this for a while now. I'm going back to work, you're starting pre-school. We have been home together for two and a half years. It was mostly wonderful - and sometimes awful - and the fact that I feel this way makes me horribly, heart-wrenchingly, gut-clenchingly guilty.
Time at home hadn't been my idea. I was part of a mass corporate layoff shortly after your birth, and my fast-paced, jet-setting world quickly became Barney, burp cloths, the couch.
I should have been grateful - and partly, I was. The rest of me missed my career -  the adult companionship, the paychecks, the capability to buy new shoes. I'd been working since I was 11 years old. I didn't quite know what to make of myself without a job. I didn't know who I was, and I felt lonely. I felt scared.
I felt trapped.
But there wasn't a choice. Plus, as everyone told me over and over again, there are much worse things in life than a mother staying home with her baby.
So I plucked you from the crib each morning, pulled you close and patted your back, and you always, ALWAYS patted mine in return. I changed your smelly, urine-soaked diaper - swollen to the size of a pillow - and I gave you a bottle. Then, we plopped down Indian-style, I pulled you into the space between my knees and began searching the paper in vain for something it would take me 2.5 years to find - a job that paid enough to cover child care.
A job that paid enough for me to leave you again.
You never asked for much then, but you insisted on a few things - Dora/Barney/Elmo on the TV, and you had to have something - always something - to clutch in your hand: blocks, Matchbox cars, superheroes. We didn't have much money with only one paycheck. So for our big days out, you and I went to the McDonald's Playplace where you ate ice cream, then crawled amongst the kids and bacteria while I read the paper, still looking for a job.
After every meal, drink and snack, you quite enjoyed using my shirt and shoulder as your personal towel. Not for you, napkins and hankies, no sir. You wiped on mom, pressing your mouth into my shoulder and turning your head back and forth to leave a slimy trail of spit and snot and God-knows-what right below my clavicle. For years, all my shirts had the same stain, though the colors varied. I'm glad I was the one changing your diapers. Given a choice, I have a good idea where you'd have decided to wipe your rear.
Towards the end of our stint, you lost the diapers and began talking, and those were the best of times, the days you leaned your head back on my t-shirt, heaved a contented sigh and said things like:
"Ahh, boobies. I like boobies!"
You are your father's son.
And we made the best of things, you and me.
All of this runs through my head as I walk you through the hallways to your room. I look down at you, you look up at me, still chewing your lip, and I know we're both thinking the same thing. Let's turn around. Let's go to McDonald's.
Let's go home.

I might do it. I might pick you up and carry you to the car. Because all those times I'd wished for one hour, one nano-second, one new pair of shoes for myself - I take them back. I don't want you to go.
Still, it is time to go.
We have reached your room. We hang your coat and pack in your locker, then I pull you close and hug you goodbye. You pat my back.
And I leave you with the teachers.
From the hallway, I peek through the window and I see: You are terrified. I can tell. You chew on your bottom lip.  
You don't cry, though. You seldom cry.
But I do. All the way back into work.

My book is done - DONE, people! I'm now in the process of writing the book proposal, an extremely left-brained task for an extremely right-brained person. I don't want to tell you the book title yet, but some of the chapter titles include "Purple Hooter Problem," "Sir Snores-A-Lot" and "Perchance to Poop."
Next comes the daunting process of finding an agent and publisher. Please send good thoughts - and maybe some boxed wine.