Suddenly, I was alone, and it was blissfully silent. It was, of course, only because I had shut myself in our bedroom, but the quiet felt decadent and the pillow over my head felt heavy and solid. I could feel my muscles untangling, unknotting themselves from their frayed and fragile ends. Moments before they had been screaming, my whole body begging me to run and get away as fast as I could. The transformation felt almost impossible. I could feel the beats of my heart in the pillow, feel my lungs expand and contract against the floor beneath my back. As the tension left, I suddenly felt like the wind had been knocked from my chest, as if I had fallen from a swing and very suddenly found myself attached to the ground instead of flying through the air, with black spots across my vision, and my lungs so flat I didn’t think I would breathe again. That was what being home with the kids always felt like though – oscillating moments of flying, pumping, free falling into the sky, and body meeting ground so hard my bones seemed to crack. That morning had been more of the bone cracking kind.
The baby was teething, which is to say, he had spent the morning screaming and clinging to my body. It was the kind of scream that curls itself into your shoulder blades, wraps around the base of your throat and settles hard and solid in your stomach. By mid-morning, we were all exhausted, and the oldest one announced that he planned to run away. He grabbed his backpack and stuffed it full of trucks and blocks and his favorite snacks from the pantry. He stood by the front door and when I told him that he was only allowed to run away into the backyard, he started crying too, his body shaking with disappointment and rage. The baby and I unlocked the back door and opened it wide for him, but he shook his head. He told me that I was mean and stupid and bad while I pretended that I couldn’t hear anything and waved wildly at the backyard, gulping in big breaths of air to keep myself calm. Then, he walked over and slammed his hand into the baby’s back and I lost it, yelling at him to go upstairs, the sound of my voice so ragged that for a moment, both of them were still.
Then, the baby took up his wailing and the oldest stomped up the stairs, launching his cars behind him towards where we stood at the bottom. The baby watched them as they bounced and tried to pluck them from the air as they came down at us like hail, or at least that was how I would describe it to my husband later. In reality, he tossed three or four at the most. I shouted up at him to go to his room and stay there, and he slammed the door so hard that the walls seem to shake like a fist shaking itself at my mediocre parenting choices. I could feel my cheeks light up, feel the anger and shame rock its way through my chest. I set the baby down and made my way to the master bedroom, which is where I found myself with the pillow over my head, back against the floor, a few moments of silence bringing me perspective and patience.
Afterward, I scraped myself off the floor and opened the door for the baby to come in. He had laid his head across my chest, brushed his fingers against my cheeks, and whispered soothing nonsense words until I started laughing. The two of us rescued his brother from his room and we all went outside and sat in the sun until naptime. The baby sat on a blanket and was distracted from his screaming by the blades of grass that he stuffed into his mouth and then subsequently, spit back out with a spluttering noise that made us all laugh. The oldest and I ate peanut butter sandwiches and pouches of baby food and chunks of oranges that left our hands sticky. We lay in the sun, arms out wide like we were swinging, falling through the sky; and maybe, we were.