Sometimes I write from a coffee shop that's nestled in the center of the town I drive my 3-year-old to every day so she can trade boogers, spit and God knows what else with the pre-schooler set at the local YMCA. I drop Violet off and try to make a quick escape before she misses me -- or doesn't (I'm not sure which is worse) -- and drive around the corner to the coffee shop.
It's standard local coffee shop fare. Raised stage in the corner for the open mic night I have yet to attend and probably never will, seeing how I'm mom to two toddlers right now. A slew of baked goods that would inspire guilt until nightfall were I to avail myself of their gooey goodness lurk near the cash register flaunting their lusciousness and comfy couches, chairs and tables are scattered around the one large room in no real discernible pattern.
A couple weeks ago, when pulling out my computer from the bag I always carry it in, I found an electric blue toy car. Hot Wheels. A '69 Dodge Charger, I think it is. Henry, that scamp -- my 1-year-old -- must have stashed it there while ticking items off his very important list of Things To Do which include but aren't limited to taking all my shoes out of the closet, trying to eat the lotion on my nightstand, making a lunge for my glasses that sit next to the lotion and trying to make the dog wear them, attempting to plug in the fan that sits in my room then stick his fingers through the flimsy grill that separates him from possible stitches and, of course, the oldest of toddler pastimes -- jumping on the bed. At some point he must have been monkeying with the bag -- it hangs on my closet door -- and slipped in one of his toy cars. A calling card. Hank The Tank Was Here.
Finding toys in strange places is, as any parent knows, nothing new. I routinely find cheap, plastic somethings in my clothing drawers, bed, shoes, couch cushions, the refrigerator and, of course, the toilet. But there was something about being out and about on my own, in a place my children have never been, and discovering something that belongs to them, something I'm used to seeing in the context of our home.
Like spotting an ex-boyfriend from behind at a movie theater, my heart did a flip-flop. My Henry. I turned the car over in my hand, running my index finger along a pencil eraser-sized black wheel so it spun in circles. Vrooom.
Unexpectedly discovering my son's toy car in my bag was almost like discovering a love letter from a secret admirer. I clutched it a moment longer and then set the toy on the table next to my coffee where I could see it as I typed. It made me happy. I've set it there ever since.
I also took the Charger to New York City last weekend where I went to investigate this BlogHer that all the cool kids seem to talk about every year. I put it on my nightstand at the boutique hotel I had purposefully rented away from the epicenter of Internet Insanity and, again, the sight of the tiny toy made my heart swell like the Grinch's upon hearing the Whos sing even after his crazed Christmas Eve rampage.
It is better than a picture, this little trinket my son once gripped in his chubby starfish hands before tucking it away in Mom's bag with no idea about how much it would come to mean to me. At home it's just another of too many toys I have to put away every day or risk sleeplessness until I assemble order, dammit! But away from our home, taken out of context, the car transforms into a blue badge of motherhood, a physical manifestation of the mischievously delicious boy who waits for me at home.
My husband, a retired rock'n'roller who spent more than a decade traveling the world with his band before hanging up his guitar for good, once spent several minutes explaining to me how the sight of our daughter's teensy-weensy sock unexpectedly falling from his duffel bag and onto the floor of a hotel room in Spain once nearly brought him to his knees. Now, I completely understand what he was trying to say. I couldn't at the time because I hadn't yet been away from my children, had only daydreamed longingly of solo vacations where little hands and voices weren't constantly demanding my attention.
But last week, while in New York City and feeling not the freedom I had daydreamed of but strangely empty, I saw the familiar car parked on a strange hotel nightstand and was filled with a love and joy so intense that it threatened to choke me. I cannot fathom living in a world where I don't step on cheap, plastic dinosaurs in the dark of night, find soggy crackers in my shoes, discover my toothbrush in the toilet or pull a tiny blue Dodge Charger from my computer bag. It's coming faster than I want it to, that world, and so I remind myself of that when I'm fishing that toothbrush out of the john, Windexing smudges from the window again, scraping off food gunk shellacked into the frustratingly tiny grooves in the high chair (how did he get food under there?) or picking up toys for the millionty-fifth time in an hour.
One day all this will be gone. My house will be exactly as I spend several futile hours a week trying to make it look now; clean, everything in its right place, no crayon markings on walls, no fingerprints on expensive television screens to lament and no toys to pick up... And although everything will be in its right place it will never, NEVER, feel as right as it does now.