Me In the Middle*

Last night I walked up a stranger’s driveway, my long wool coat flowing behind. My friend and I had to round to the front of the house to check the number. Yes, we had the right one. So on to the back we went, down to the spacious basement where coffee percolated, cookies smiled up from a Thanksgiving tray, flower-tipped ink pens made a centerpiece in a ring of comfy chairs. My second homeschool support group.

“Hello, my name is ...” I fill out my nametag and find a seat and in expected support-group fashion, we round the room and introduce ourselves. Number of children, ages, and for diversity’s sake, genders. “Hi, I’m Rachel and I have three, age nine, five, two. Boy, girl, boy.” Without a pause, the next woman says, “Cynthia, three kids, seven, four-and-a-half, two.” She pats her belly. “And this one due in the spring. Girl, girl, girl, and we don’t know yet.”

I had to think. Hard. “Uh, hi. I’m a little slow on Mondays. Um. I have one, almost five and one almost three and one sixteen months.” I didn’t follow standard form, but that’s not why everyone looked at me expectantly. “Oh! Boy, boy, girl.”

At some point in the evening, the Topic came up, a question asked by another visitor to the group. “Do any of you work, besides homeschooling?”

Without volition, my hand snaked up.

An immediate gulf grew. I wasn’t the only one who worked—but I was the only one who worked and didn’t need to. I don’t need the income, and Lord knows I’m not well-paid (even curriculum-writing gigs average little more than minimum wage). And it didn’t matter that I do my work from home, while the babies sleep and the oldest goes insane with boredom. Someone asked, “What do you do?” The gulf grew to a chasm.

My creative energy goes to something other than my children and family. Some days, I have very little energy for my family at all. I forgot Halloween, I have no Thanksgiving decorations or creative holiday rituals. My family is lucky I ordered a fresh turkey or I really would be thawing it in the bathtub (per Shannon’s suggestion). My passion isolates me, yet I have a dual passion and am faced with isolation on another side.

Tonight I will sit in the parent’s waiting area while my son has his fencing class, my tailored wool coat slung over my chair. A professional coat. “Where do you work?” one of the other mothers will ask. I’ll mumble, “From home.” I won’t want to explain here, to these people, the trials of publication, how I’ve seen a few essays bring in money, and the curriculum. But other than that, it’s an act of faith.

“She also homeschools,” another mom will whisper. Another chasm forms. I’m on a butte, a sea stack (see, we do study geography! We do!), alone, with desert sands or vicious waters swirling far below.

The first woman will smile wider than she needs to; she'll glance at the coat and nod her sympathy. It must be part of my old life, she will decide, and she will say, “Oh. Good for you! I could never do that!” I will translate in my head: “I’d never want to do that.” And the conversation will turn back to talk of day care centers, Kindergarten teachers. I will return to my book. No one here will notice what book it is. The chasm is too wide for them to see me now.

At this very moment I’m balancing a spiral notebook and pen with a bowl of oatmeal and spoon. I scribble my chicken-shorthand, pause to spoon a bite of goo into the baby’s mouth. Two very different tasks, both deserving of my full attention and neither receiving what they deserve. In the middle, is me.

My notes

*Perhaps an inappropriate title, taken from that show, Malcolm in the Middle. I’ve never seen it, but the title does have a certain ring.