We walked into the preschool classroom just before 8:30. G was like a kid on the first day of school: excited, fidgety, nervous. One teacher commented on his new shoes. He's been out so long his feet have grown. Another commented that he looks taller. He does, I thought, standing for the first time in days at an objective distance from him.
His favorite teacher walked in behind us. She called his name. He spun around, put his hand on his hips, cocked his head. A smile spread across his cheeks and down his whole body. He stared, open-mouthed. He ran to her, she reached out her arms, he leaped. "I missed you!" she said. I missed-ed you, too, he whispered. I really missed-ed you.
He's never said goodbye to me so fast.
And I went back to work.
We had a disorienting collective amnesia today, we, the former furloughed. We couldn't remember systems passwords or project priorities that had been, just three weeks ago, entirely intuitive. I spent most of the day just establishing my status quo but despite all the disorientation, sitting back at my chair at my computer in my office -- that felt right. Terra firma. I started making notes in my calendar and stumbled. Next week is the last full week of the month. I haven't even started this month yet. I lived a time lapse.
I learned some things on furlough, not about my work or about the relative vitality of government or about our government's leaders -- I have for the moment become completely apathetic to those topics -- lessons of a personal nature. May I share them with you?
I could succeed as a stay-at-home mom. I always thought I couldn't do that gig. Guess what? I did fairly great. Factor in that the lovely husband was gone for more than half the time but my parents were here for a bit, we all came out on the other side okay. I spent 17 days never more than a bathroom lock away from mister G, the never-alone third child, the kid who depends on socialization like oxygen. In the first days he couldn't entertain himself for more than two minutes. By the end he learned to play on his own for maybe seven or eight. He created his own imaginative play instead of relying on his sisters or teachers to write the story line. He always wandered back quickly, but in its own school-depriving way, I think this furlough was a time of personal (and not just shoe-size) growth for him.
My job is integral not just to my identity but to my mental equilibrium. I always knew that I believed in the work that I do at work, but I never realized how well the work suits me. I spend hours at a time talking to nobody, seeing no one, enjoying only the sounds of my fingers hitting keyboard. I went a little crazy with the assault of constant small-person stimuli. I kept the crazy in my head (mostly) or until bedtime (mostly) but WHOA. Being back in my bubble of silence at work today was more restorative than a week of naps.
I can summon the patience. I learned that I could prime, paint and seal an entire bannister with a little boy who wanted to help by holding my elbow as I brushed. I could sew whole projects with that boy on my lap. I could unbuckle him from his car seat, hoist him out, lift him up, let him insert the credit card, let him remove the credit card, let him push the button and the button and the other button, let him fumble with the cap, help him lift the handle and depress the handle and all again in reverse just because he expressed in interest in how to pump gas. When you really have all the time in the world, when time is not a practical consideration, the world is indeed filled with strange possibilities and unglimpsed wonders.
We drove the long way home because I let him pick left or right. We volunteered three times in L's kindergarten class and chaperoned E's 2nd-grade field trip. We had ice-cream dates to every shop in town for which I'd stowed away a gift card. We had slow, lovely play dates with wonderful furloughed friends and exploratory expeditions to parks we'd never visited.
I know the answer to life, the universe and everything. For every action, there is an equal-and-opposite challenge in the form of a question. "I need to go upstairs." But I'm the gate! What's the magic word? "Let's do your straps so we can drive to get your girls." You can't do my straps until you say the magic word!
It's CHICKENBUTT, okay? That's the magic word. I'm just telling you. When you live your day by the needs and whims of a three-year-old boy, it turns out that all you really need is chickenbutt. Beat that, Congress.