It’s Just Me and You

I feel a sharp kick in the ribs as my son rolls around in the throes of waking up. I glance at the window, see daylight, and wait to hear the little voice from the other side of the pillow: “Mama, is it time to get up yet?”

This is usually about the time I roll over, look at the time on my phone, and realize we are already running late even though the day hasn’t yet begun. This morning is different.

A few weeks ago, I was living in South Carolina with my three-and-a-half year old son. Each day, I spent an hour getting him to preschool and then getting to campus at the two-year college where I taught English. I would spend another hour at the end of the day picking him up and getting him home in time to play for a few minutes and eat dinner. My husband was in North Carolina, where he moved when he landed a teaching job at a community college twenty-five minutes outside of Asheville. We had visited the city the previous May and fell in love with the area. It just fit. We could see ourselves hiking on the weekends, building snowmen during the winter, and raising our son in a small town in the mountains. My husband found the job posting a month after our trip, and before we knew it, we were making plans to move our little family five hours away from home.

I quit my teaching job to make this move — a job I got only after earning two master’s degrees and working for five years. Walking away wasn’t easy, but neither was leaving my son in daycare when he was three months old. Working full-time and being a mom, I felt a constant pull — never completely present at work because I was thinking about the moments that I was missing with my son, but never completely present at home with him because I was tired or thinking about how many papers I had to grade. I have always wanted more time at home with him. Now that he’s three-and-a-half, I don’t have much time left before he goes to kindergarten.

Identity is a funny thing. You don’t realize how much your job is a part of your identity until it isn’t there. And you don’t realize you will grieve for that loss even while experiencing the happiness of being home with your child.

But you do realize how fleeting childhood is.

On this morning, I sit up in bed and stretch my arms. I can’t shake the feeling that we should be rushing to get ready. Instead, we slowly climb the old, wooden staircase of the little rental house in the mountains, my son’s tiny hand grasping mine. I think about my friend back home, who is getting ready to teach her first psychology class of the semester, and feel a pang, but then I look down at the blond-haired toddler standing by my side and I smile. Teaching will always be there when I am ready to return. This time with him will not.

“What do you want for breakfast, buddy?” I ask him in between yawns as I start up the coffee maker.

“I want you to pick,” he says with a small smile.

I look up at the row of cereal boxes on top of the fridge, decide on the one I think he wants, and pull the box down. As I turn to grab a bowl from the cabinet, I see him open the fridge to get out the carton of milk, and I consider the choices I made to be here with him now. Those choices were right.

“I got the milk all by myself,” he says proudly, hoisting the carton up onto the counter.

“Thank you! You’re such a great helper. Would you like to eat breakfast with me?”

“No school today?” he asks hopefully.

“No school today.” I look down at him and put my hand on his shoulder. “It’s just me and you.”

And our day together begins.