Fergie’s My Humps thumped through the car’s speakers, and I didn’t have to change the station for the sake of kid ears. In fact, I was just reaching to turn it up, ready to shake my, um, rump as much as the passenger seat allowed, when my cell rang.
I hesitated, touching neither the radio’s knob, nor the phone. Caller ID said it was my husband, who’d stayed home with our two daughters.
“Do I answer it?” I looked to my best friend for wisdom.
“Are you willing to throw away all we have before us?”
“I am in ridiculous need of this day. Shopping. A meal out. I’ll let it go to voicemail.”
“I know he's calling about food. I sat mac and cheese on the counter, in plain sight," I reasoned. "How could he miss the blue box? It says Kraft.”
“They won’t starve,” she said. “He can boil water. Right?”
“I knew I should have made lunch before I left.”
I imagined my girls, my babies, hungry and weak at the kitchen table. My lips puckered, a reflex, into Mommy's Lovey Kissy Face. The long stretch mark, the one wrapping my hip, twitched.
“Be strong,” my best friend whispered.
I swallowed. “Hello?”
“Come back. We can’t live without you.”
“I can’t live with you if I don’t get some time away.”
“You don’t know what it’s like here.”
“It’s just for the day. Pull on your Daddy Pants, big fella. You can do it.”
My best friend hunkered over the steering wheel, face pinched in urgency. “Hang up! Now!”
“Love you, honey," I cooed. "Have fun!”
It was a glorious snatch of time. I ate something I can never have at home, because I'm the only one who likes it, tried on clothes, and shoes, with no one to corral into a fitting room, or lose beneath the circular racks. I looked at books for thirty quiet, blissful minutes. Bought a jumbo pack of maxi pads and answered to no one.
When I got home late that evening, I was floating and soft, disconnected after my time away. I walked through the kitchen, paying only half-mind to a cookie sheet on the stove. Covered with dozens of… hard and curly… shoelaces? I shrugged, didn't care.
I shuffled past the starving dog, navigated the floor of Barbies. Found my three loves had fallen asleep in my bed, in their day clothes. Knew with that maternal intuition that not a toothbrush had been touched, not a face had been washed.
I unearthed the remote, which had become wedged between my husband's armpit and my daughter's forehead (that had to be comfortable), and killed the muted rerun of Futurama.
My heart filled full at the sight of my family, and I was glad to be home. I climbed onto the available edge of mattress, curled into a compact ball as my fingers grasped the last square-foot of quilt, barely enough to cover my cold toes. And I fell into a deep, contented sleep.
The next morning, over breakfast, my husband blushed.
"So... I thought they were shoestring potatoes. You know, fries."
"Yeah, but they were all hard and gross after I baked 'em."
"Yeah." I smiled at my daughters.
"Turns out, they were egg noodles."