I can't tell you about it because you're a grown-up. Grown-ups can't know about these things.

The Time Thief

Don’t tell anyone but I ran away to the beach today.

I was on my way to the shower this morning when I got detoured into Kate’s bedroom. There I was transformed into “Hannah” a very sick girl who was required to “lie down flat” in bed and be “fixed” by the doctor. Twenty minutes later I finally broke free of my sickbed, unraveled the red yarn that was tightly wrapped around my “broken” legs, peeled six Dora Band-Aids off my “broken” arms, and fled to the bathroom. I locked the bedroom door. I could hear Kate banging on the door and the babysitter trying to distract her with offers of card games and water colors. Sitting on the toilet, peeling off another Band-Aid I discovered on my elbow, I felt a great peace descend. Then the cat nosed his way into the bathroom, sniffed, meowed, and crawled into the underwear that was pooled around my ankles.

Most mornings I’ve usually done one round arts and crafts; played one (endless) game of Groovy Girl Crazy Eights; performed one raucous duet to the soundtrack of High School Musical; and endured one stint as a customer in a painful beauty salon before 8:30AM. Then I drop Kate at school and steal away with my laptop to the local café. Today a lethal combination of 60’s-muzak and a local expectant-mom’s-meet-up makes it difficult to concentrate. I am too busy eavesdropping on an episiotomy conversation, imagining what the women would say if I butted in with a detailed description of Perineal massage. Clearly I’m procrastinating, but I can’t go back home. The cat has migrated from my underwear to the shelf under my computer table. Kate and her little friend have come to our house after school and are busy tormenting the cat with their Barbies. I can’t go home or I’ll be seduced into playing Polly Pockets and my working hours will evaporate into a blur of tiny pink shoes. So I ran away to the beach.

When Kate was four months old I took her to a housewarming party at a friend’s trendy Chelsea apartment. The baby was cute as a bunny in her one-piece fuzzy jumpsuit and I was feeling very happy to finally be out and about. A successful magazine editor with two young sons cooed over Kate and asked me how I was doing. She was surprised to hear me honestly respond that I was still in a fog, and I was wounded by her surprise. What was wrong with me? Why was I still floating in the confusing nether-world of new motherhood while others had emerged much sooner with their feet on the ground?

The editor then remembered that she had gone back to work full-time when both her boys were 3 months old. There was no opportunity for long-term fogginess. There was an office with a name on the door; employees to manage; and voicemail and e-mails to cut through the mist. She told me she thought I was very brave for choosing to freelance so I could spend more time with my daughter. She confessed her struggles, adding up the hours she spent commuting and working versus the hours she was able to spend with her boys. I felt a surge of terror as she sent up her list of compromises like a sinking ship. Nobody wins. The kitchen we were chatting in had a shiny new stainless steel refrigerator and I could see the fuzzy outline of my body in it. An anthropomorphized kangaroo-person with Kate stuck to my chest in her snuggly. How did I really feel about my new reflection?

I made a choice to freelance so I could have a flexible schedule and spend time with my daughter. But maybe the choice made me? Now that she’s older, and our bank balance reflects the loss of a full-time second income, I’m wondering who benefits most from this arrangement? I visit a moment in my childhood. I am sitting with my mother who has just started working part-time after freelancing for my first three years. She is holding a wall calendar while I cross off her “work days” with a giant red marker. Probably just as painful as peeling 6 Dora Band-Aids off.

Today I am a paranoid secret agent, I sprint down the beach road past the playground. I’m hoping that Kate or her playmates won’t spot me out of the corner of their steely eyes. Maybe they’re still at home under the spell of My Little Pony. It’s a gorgeous day. Hong Kong winters bring warmish winds and bright sunlight that make a person happy to be alive.

Between the glare of the sun and the hair blowing in my eyes, I can barely see the computer screen. As the waves rush in and the majestic Hong Kong kite birds swoop overhead, I squint at my writing and peck out words with one hand while I pick the hair out of my teeth with the other.

I have become a time thief. Stalking the streets of our small village, stealing away into the mid-morning light with my laptop and papers, hiding behind the fruit stand when I spot my daughter walking towards me. I sneak away before she gets home from school. I sneak away to the library, the cafe, and the windy beach. And then I worry about her. Is she bored? Did she eat her lunch? Is she arguing with her friends?

If I finish early I can sneak back to see her. I will put my key in the door and hear her scream “MAMA”. I won’t even make it inside the front hallway before she comes careening towards me to wrap her arms tight around my waist.

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Mama & Kate

Mama & Kate
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