The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

June 28, 2012

Three more weeks

Today was such a good day, despite the fact that John was working late and it was too inhumanely hot to do our usual playground visit and afternoon run. Will slept until about 8:30, woke up with a smile, and we lay in bed for awhile cuddling and “talking” (I say something; he responds with “meh?” or “mah”). After breakfast, we played with his toys, including a new-to-him toy that I brought out of storage last night, a sloping track for little plastic cars. The look on his face when he entered the den and saw it was priceless.

Some favorite toys these days
When he became bored with his toys, I let him play around with some old cords, a hairdryer, and a computer mouse (which he promptly placed on the desk next to our real computer mouse) while I made the bed and got dressed. Our house has so many random objects strewn around in weird places, but this is how I’m able to put on my makeup.

We left at 11:15 to run errands in the stroller; the heat was intense, so there was no meandering. We dropped off paperwork at his daycare and spent some time at the bookstore, where they have a chest of toys and a great selection of kids’ books. Then we went to the sandwich shop for a really delightful lunch… sat across from each other at a little table in the window and ate our turkey sandwiches with lots of grins and no fussing.

Home again to walk Stella, with Will in the back carrier. He fell asleep, and I laid him on our bed, where he proceeded to take a solid one-hour nap (!), during which I wrote a little and read the New Yorker. He woke up groggy, and we cuddled on the bed for about 20 minutes. Milk, reading books (I sit on the floor in his room and he brings them to me), practicing “How big is Will? Soooo big!,” watching some Korean Pororo cartoons on YouTube, then outside to play in the kiddie pool for an hour—lots of fun stomping in the water, pouring with the funnel, and, of course, worshipping the hose, Will’s most favorite toy.

Inside for our afternoon snack of yogurt and crackers (he knows what “eat” means now, which is so helpful), then off to walk Stella, more playing with toy cars, and 20 minutes of Baby Einstein while I cooked dinner. He sat in the little rocking chair that was mine as a toddler, clutching a wooden spoon and swaying to “The Wheels on the Bus.” We ate in the dining room, more grins and excited head-bopping for the sweet potato and zucchini and cheese. He was in a mischievous mood, pretending to put food in his ears, which he knows is wrong, then putting it in his mouth and reveling in my praise.

The mischievousness continued after dinner, when I emptied his diaper pail, told him to stay away from it, then found him fiddling with its door; when I reprimanded him, he erupted in crazed giggles. Bathtime! I sang Pororo songs and he kept trying to stand up and dance in the tub. So much smiling today, so many hugs and arms lifted to be held, so much dancing and laughter.

As John settled down in the rocking chair to put him to bed, Will closed his bedroom door; I was standing in the hallway. I knocked on the door and asked for a goodnight hug. He opened it, smiled, and gave me one. Then I blew him a kiss, which he doesn’t yet know how to reciprocate, I thought. He blew me two back and closed the door. I sat at the table and cried because I’m so just so happy I get to be his mom.


Unbelievably, I go back to work in three weeks. I still vividly remember my first few days home alone with Will, after John returned to work in late April. I could not fathom how we’d fill the next few months, how I’d get through the 10 hours of each day. Taking care of a mobile toddler on my own, all day, seemed like the hardest thing I’d ever attempted to do.

I’m not going to say that I now find it easy. But definitely easier, and with really, really huge rewards. We’ve had some bad days, but more of them have been like today. It’s just me and him, together, getting to know each other and becoming mother and son. We’ve gone to playgrounds and the beach, on runs and playdates, on the el, to parks and the bookstore, out for lunch and for ice cream, to a local museum. We’ve read books, kicked balls, drawn with sidewalk chalk, walked around the neighborhood, run errands, met dogs, watched Pororo cartoons, played in the kiddie pool, listened to music. We’ve cuddled. There have been tantrums and crying and confusion and worry and naughtiness and boredom and frustration. But there have also been many spontaneous hugs from Will, an inordinate amount of laughs and smiles, bonding, babbling, singing, and dancing.

Sometimes, going back to work feels like the wrong choice. The thought of leaving him—after we’ve been so joined at the hip since April 12—makes me feel incredibly sad (even though it’ll be made easier by the fact that John starts a five-week paternity leave when I go back). Then again, there have been several days when I dearly, fervently wished I was sitting in my office. When Monday morning rolls around, I don’t feel a sense of pure pleasure at the prospect of caring for Will alone for five days. I know that parts of those days will be beautiful, and I do truly love spending time with my son, but I feel a small sense of dread at the upcoming tedium and isolation combined with very limited parental down-time (Will isn’t much of a napper; some days it’s only 15 minutes).

I definitely don’t want to not work. But I realize that I’m wishing I didn’t have to work 40 hours a week. Even working just four days a week, instead of five, would help alleviate the guilt that’s already starting to creep into my mind and heart, settle heavily on my shoulders. I enjoy my job and colleagues, and it’s a family-friendly workplace, and I’ve worked hard to achieve the position I have there. But John and I don’t need my salary to survive. So the wheedling voice of guilt tells me that I’m going back to work only because I want to… because I don’t want to take care of Will full-time… and that’s a selfish choice that isn’t best for a toddler. No one has actually said this to me, and John doesn’t agree with it, but the voice is there.

I know there are other reasons to keep my job. I honestly believe I’ll be a happier, more balanced person and, therefore, a better parent if I’m working. If John lost his job and I was unemployed, we’d be in bad shape. If John wants to change jobs for one that’s less stressful with a lower salary, he’ll have much more latitude to do that if I’m working. Editorial jobs are difficult to come by, and it would likely be extremely tough for me to find another well-paying, fulfilling position if I take three or four years off… let alone at a company that’s as sane and pleasant as the one that employs me now. I could try to build a freelance editing business, but I’m not sure how to schedule weekly childcare for unpredictable work, and I don’t think I can mentally handle parenting all day and editing all night. Then there’s the fact that we’re pretty confident Will will adore daycare and thrive with the activities and other kids.

Still. The guilt, tinged with a little sadness. It’s there, and I’m not quite sure what will become of it. In the meantime, my focus right now is on enjoying these last few weeks of just the two of us. I’m trying to be as present as I can. I’m taking lots of photos. Every night, I write down all the little discoveries and accomplishments and feelings and funny things that happened that day for both of us, knowing that once I’m back in my office—managing, editing, hair done and lipstick on and no need to worry about what the toddler’s getting into or how to entertain him—I will, without a doubt, miss him and these precious, precious days.

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June 12, 2012

So I will not forget

Sometimes, randomly, in the middle of playing, he walks over to me and wraps his arms around my neck in a big hug.

When he hands a person something, he’ll sometimes nod his head emphatically, as if to say, “There. I gave it to you.” And he’ll often willingly and easily give a person something if he or she asks or gestures for it, open his mouth so I can pry a piece of paper out, etc. Somehow I suspect this obedience won’t last, but I’m certainly enjoying it now.

He loves it when I rub his ears, count his chubby toes, tickle his tummy.

He adores balls of all kinds and flaps his arms like an excited little bird when he plays with them.

He mimics people sneezing and coughing. When I flutter my eyelashes at him while we eat, he squints his in return.

If I sing “Dancin’ dancin’ dancin’,” he flaps his arms and swivels his waist.

When I tell him to hug a stuffed animal (in Korean, “ah-na”), he does so, then hands it to me to hug as well.

His favorite toy right now is a red metal Volkswagen Beetle. He loves pushing it along the floor and “vrooming” it over his body the way I taught him. (He remembers things I teach him.)

He can point to his head, tummy, ears, and nose. Two days ago he identified a photo of a ball. Yesterday he stacked six blocks. When I clapped and cheered, he began clapping for himself each time he added another block.

He absolutely abhors having sunscreen applied, having his face wiped, and getting out of the bathtub. Diaper changes often aren’t much fun either.

He brings me books to read. This fills me with no end of joy.

In the morning, when we’re waking up, I say “mm” and he says “mm” and we answer each other like that a few times.

When I tell him “no” (and pretty firmly, too) as he goes for the stove knob or dog’s water dish, or tries the flush the toilet for the third time, he just looks at me and smiles. Depending on what time of day it is, this is endearing or incredibly annoying.

He squawks when we enter any kind of tunnel or enclosed space, enjoying the echo.

When we water the outdoor plants, he picks up his little plastic watering can and follows us, pretending to do the same.

A friend brought us Korean jap chae noodles, and he devoured them with complete vigor and joy, noodles stuck to his cheeks, clasping the empty plastic bowl on his face at the end.

When I ask him if he wants to watch a Pororo video, he runs to the desk and stands in front of the computer bopping his head to the music he’s about to hear.

I don’t know why the fact that he drops things from his highchair annoys me so much, but it really, really does.

He smells like strawberries, even when he hasn’t been eating them.

When the toaster pops up, he puts his hand to his ear as if the phone rang. Good lord how he loves the concept of a phone. He’ll hold anything to his ear and ask “Meh?” as if he’s answering a call.

He loves staring up at a tree while its branches sway in the wind, running his fingers over the rough bark of the trunk. A squirrel or a beetle is mesmerizing. The garden hose is the most brilliant object ever invented by humankind.

This week, he suddenly began clapping more often—for music, for his favorite Korean cartoon, for himself.

How can I write about how his crinkly little smile lights up my heart in a way that doesn’t sound so trite? How will I ever learn to write about that?

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