“What is your favorite part about skiing?” he asked her, sure her response would be “Riding the Magic Carpet!” For an almost 3-year-old, skiing involves wrestling unwieldy legs and feet attached to teeny-tiny skis down a hill covered in snow and attempting to understand what her father means when he tells her to make a “pizza,” which, for an almost 3-year-old, is infinitely less interesting than getting to ride something called a “Magic Carpet.”
But while Elle undoubtedly enjoyed standing in her skis on a moving walkway that ever-so-slowly jettisoned her uphill, her trips on the Magic Carpet weren’t her favorite part about skiing.
Elle’s favorite part about skiing, she told my husband, was getting to “hang out” with him.
Much of Elle’s life thus far has been mommy-centered – for obvious reasons. It was my face she saw first every morning after Craig went to work, and my hands that rescued her, hungry and crying, from her crib in the middle of the night. For our household, it just made more sense that I cut my work responsibilities in half to stay at home with our kids while Craig worked to pay for everything we needed.
Some would say that child-imposed detachment from work and adult life is a significant sacrifice. I certainly say that to my husband, sometimes, after spending a day sequestered in the house, chained to a cranky toddler and teething infant. But that freedom to leave the house in the morning, when your kids are still pajama-ed and cuddly and sweet, to head bravely out into that adult world of adult conversations and adult concerns, can feel like a sacrifice too. Because to forge that path away from home each day, you have to leave your kids behind.
The bare trees and half-covered slopes look bitter cold from my vantage point behind a steamed-over living-room window. The fireplace kicks heat into the still morning-cool air. Elle is curled beneath a fuzzy pink blanket on the couch, hair touseled from sleep, talking in singsong to her doll about building snowmen. The baby, full and round and happy, sits importantly on the floor curling and uncurling her twiggy fingers around a rattle, occasionally broadcasting a gurgle or chirp. I am drinking tea.
Craig, meanwhile, is gulping coffee and searching for things.
“Have you seen my gloves?”
Throwing on a coat. Pouring coffee into a to-go mug. Opening the fridge.
“Your lunch is on the second shelf,” I holler from the armchair.
Closing the fridge. Shoving things into a backpack. Standing at the door, finally ready, his momentum halts.
The backpack he just slung over his shoulder slumps to the Welcome mat. To-go coffee is set on the windowsill. He melts to his knees.
“Elle, can I have a hug?”
Elle looks up from her doll, considering. (Even at not-quite 3, the girl already seems to know the womanly art of faking disinterest.)
But the joke is soon up. She throws the blankie aside, scrambling off the couch in snowflake pajamas, rushing to her father for a big hug.
“Have a good day,” she counsels, before heading back to her doll and pretend snowmen.
“Bye, Emme,” Craig crouches to the floor beside the still-a-bit-wobbly baby. She grins, showing pink and smooth toothless baby gums behind chubby baby cheeks.
He leans in to kiss the closest cheek, but she turns towards him and grabs his nose.
“Bye, baby,” he whispers, then stands. Backpack back on. Coffee back in hand. Hand on the doorknob. Time to go. Another pause.
He doesn’t have to say a word, because what he’s thinking is written across his face. I don’t want to go.
“Have a good day,” I say, chipper and a little bit smug. I know I won’t sit in the armchair drinking tea and watching my kids go about their happy morning routines for very much longer; diapers will need to be changed, toddlers will need to be coerced into clothes, and yes, work of my own will need to be done. But right now, I’m so thankful it’s not me standing at the door trying to leave.
“Hey, Elle,” Craig says, opening the door. “Want to go skiing next weekend?”
There is no faking disinterest now. “Yes!” she squeals. And with that – the promise from his little girl that they will, sometime soon, get the chance to “hang out” – Craig goes to work.