|The fountain without Silas, four years later|
The funny thing is that I felt like a fraud the entire time I was gone. At this point in my life, I find my identity wrapped up tightly in motherhood—so much so, in fact, that packing a suitcase and driving away from home for three and a half days led to my initial feelings of anxiety and loneliness. In my everyday life, if I run to the grocery store or pick up a pizza alone while the kids stay home with BJ, I feel like I'm tricking everyone that comes in contact with me. The cashier and fellow customers (if they notice me at all) notice a mid-thirties woman by herself, and may assume that I'm sailing along in life unattached. They can't see who I really am: a mother with three invisible children hanging on her legs, wiping boogers on her shirt, serenading her with stories of thwarting bad spies by intentionally setting the faucet to “too hot” so that enemies who might choose to bathe in our home will get what's coming to them. My kids are inextricably tangled around me and in me, and walking around without them seems deceitful. What you see is not what you get, for I really come in a package deal.
I remember the first time I ever felt this way. Silas was two weeks old, and BJ's parents kept him for a couple of hours so that BJ and I could go eat a nice dinner at a quiet restaurant. I distinctly remember standing and waiting for a table, and suddenly experiencing a panicky feeling. I wondered, how will these people ever know that I'm a mother? They probably think I'm not a mother! For once, the evidence wasn't with me, either in utero or in my arms. Why I think this matters to anyone in the least is beyond me. It is my own self-consciousness, or perhaps my own self-indulgence, that leads me to surmise that anyone may wonder if anything might be amiss when I walk into a room alone. In any regard, the feeling is real, and I have a suspicion that I'm not the only mother who feels this way.
So here I sit on a small United airplane, flying over what I suspect is the Painted Desert, counting down the minutes until I hug my husband and tackle my three children's soft, good-smelling skin with kisses. Only an hour and a half to go. It all reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel's “America,” in which a couple on a bus pretends that fellow passengers are undercover spies in order to pass the time. I'm not a spy in a gabardine suit with a bow-tie that's really a camera, but I'm not who I appear to be either. And the people around me will never know my ruse.