This afternoon, I had to peel my body out of the despondent grip of my daughter’s tiny arms and close the door to my mother’s van and walk away, knowing that in so doing I was breaking her heart.
Whether or not the injustice she was actually suffering warranted the outburst of raw, uncut sorrow it elicited is beside the point. The fact of the matter was that my daughter was honestly, abjectly wailing for me and I was walking away from her because, as I tried numerous times to explain before the entire situation came to an ugly head in front of everyone and their mothers in a driveway off Conewango Avenue on Easter Sunday, in the unholy year of our lord 2021, “I had to go to work.”
Now, I didn’t actually have to go to work right that very moment. I had to go home and go to sleep so I could get up earlier than it was logical to drag her down the hill to her grandmother’s tomorrow and go to work. Also, I’d be at work so late, and traveling so long tomorrow that I wouldn’t get to see her until the following evening, after yet another multiple hour journey and, you guessed it, more work.
For nearly the past year my mother has all but raised my daughters for me so that I could work.
The verb is such an unwieldy monster, isn’t it? Especially for women. Who have children. And no backup at home in the form of an equally invested peer and partner.
I do have to work.
But I also have two daughters whose past year has been inconsistent, unstable, and without enough substantial interaction from me to actually claim that I’m a good mom right now and know it in my heart to not be a bald-faced lie. I do have to work. Because my kids need to eat. And they need heat, and a house, and we really can’t do without the poultry at this point. Or the access to Impractical Jokers on our favorite streaming service. There are legit days when Q’s bewildered face is the only thing keeping me from disappearing into the Montana wilderness and erasing myself from the human record altogether.
Anyhow, my eight-year-old wasn’t the only person weeping openly on our family’s lawn with motorists passing by probably thinking they were witnessing a mandated removal of my child from her family home rather than a quick goodbye between over-the-road stints for me and days at grandma’s house living, legitimately, like a freaking princess of the highest order for her.
The fact that she clung so hard to me in the backseat of a car, driven by a woman who lives to be her chauffeur, maid, chef, life coach, teddy bear, best friend, and humble servant, tells you that there’s just something intangible but indestructible between a mother and a child. Even when that mother has been a heinous grumbly monster for the past two days because she’s been stressing over work even when she’s not there.
Even on my days off this week, I’ve had to sit my kids in front of a device and steal a few minutes to several hours of time – rightfully, their time – in order to be as present and available as possible to my employer.
And I signed on for that. But there, in the driveway at Aunt Theresa and Uncle Bill’s, the ham and mashed potatoes spoiled in my stomach as I struggled to push myself away from her trembling body, I felt a mighty wave of rebellion sear through me and I was lambasted, as I said, with a moment of clarity that was none to gentle in its landing. I had a choice to make. My daughter, for two days, or gainful employment.
It is never easy for me to send a letter of resignation because it always feels like a failure even when it’s not. I always feel like a complete and utter let down, even when I am so, so not. It’s even harder, though, when I find myself saying my goodbyes without a two-week period of gentle separation. Like the dividing up of things and packing of boxes after a divorce announcement has been made.
I hate not giving two weeks’ notice. Even if I’m really bad at my job, to the point where I’m more of a hindrance than a help, I feel morally repugnant if I don’t give two weeks’ notice.
But, in that moment, it became glaringly obvious that her need for my undivided availability was greater and more worthy than my employer’s, and because I, like all woman with children, do not get to expect much understanding on the part of either party for the plight of the other, I did what most women, I think do, and I chose my daughter.
I don’t regret it.
But I am terrified.
I don’t like feeling out of control in any situation, and I found myself longing, as I drove home to draft a letter of resignation I’d have loved nothing more than to never write, for the familiar, cool weight of my tarot deck in my hands. I learned how to read tarot cards in college, and I received a well-seasoned Rider-Waite deck from the gnarled old hippie who lived behind the tattoo parlor
I tend to prefer logic to emotion in any moment of change, but I remember thinking, as she pulled the first three cards I’d ever seen in my life off the top of the stack I’d just shuffled and cut (with my dominant hand, of course, very important) that these archetypal little stories – seventy-eight of them in all – were just another way for me to look at the question I’d come to the deck with in the first place.
That question, by the way, was every bit as vapid and ultimately meaningless as the thousand’s I’d lay before the cards over the years.
“He loves me he loves me not” nonsense.
What a wizened and gnarly, knobbly old clairvoyant I’ve become.
“Does he love me” has aged and matured into “do I need work or to be a present and benign caregiver to my offspring?”
What a life we do lead.
Anyhow, I’ve spent the better part of this evening mildly to moderately nauseated as I’ve tied up loose ends and set myself up as auspiciously as possible for the days to come. There are prospects and opportunities. I’ll be working again in a week or so, one way or another because, in the end, I know as well as anyone that I need both of the options laid so starkly before me today. But finally, the official letters of resignation were written, and considered heavily, and sent, inevitably. The disappointed confirmations were received and the adrenaline flushed and finally, I was reminded of that aching in my hands for the weight of the deck and now, as I sit here still moderately nauseated but just relieved enough to know that the correct choice has been made, however difficult an end it was to reach, I find myself looking over a spread of three cards that feel as right to me as the decision I’ve made.
The past, present, and future all aid out in a tidy spread of individual universes contained on their colorful cardboard faces.
The Six of Cups, the Queen of Pentacles, and the Ace of Swords.
Two cards reversed. I always hate a reversed card, as it demands I look more deeply at whatever conflict I’m seeking clarity on within the deck. For the little twinge of easiness to crash over me. There are a thousand ways to read the cards, with the choice of whether to acknowledge a card dealt upside down or not as being a reversal of its original meaning. Just like life, a tarot reading is never as simple as it appears.
People come to the Tarot with yes or no questions.
Do I quit my job and take one that’s probably not going to pay as well so that my daughter can sleep well, and deep, in her own bed the majority of nights each week, safe in the knowledge that I am, in fact, in my own room right next door, as I should be, and not three hours away down some endless highway in some nameless town she’ll probably never see?
How on earth can a deck of pretty cards answer that question for me? I can’t even answer it for myself.
But the Queen of Pentacles is a righteous and formidable lady, and reversed or not, there she is in the middle of this three-card spread, implying that I could be just as clever and self-sufficient, as composed and in control as she is. And for a minute – never for more than that, and only for a full minute in the most ideal of fleeting moments – but for a minute, anyhow, I feel like maybe I can be her. And since the cards on either side of her really only exist to inform my interpretation of her, in the middle, in the only moment that actually exists – the present – I suppose that she will just have to do.
There is only right now.
And right now I know that the bad news I had to deliver to my supervisor will be the glorious news I get to deliver to her as soon as I wake up and return to her.
A mother lion, reunited with her cub. A pair kept too long from one another by the crushing expectations of the world outside their own universe of a relationship.
I can be a queen.
I’m going to have to be. And hopefully, some of my queenliness will rub off on her, too.
She already thinks she’s a princess. And, actually, she is, in my heart and her grandmother’s house.
Where she’ll be spending a lot less time, starting tomorrow.