Your story starts here.
It was a Sunday in February. After your dad made a lunch of Thai curry—then a favorite of mine, full of potato chunks and strips of chicken—he encouraged me to nap with your brother, Miles. I nursed Miles to sleep on the couch, the fire roaring, and quickly fell asleep myself. When we woke, the crocheted blanket was tucked around our feet. Tickling your brother, I laughed as I carried him to the bathroom for the day’s first shower, sleep still gently wrapped around us.
Miles clung to my legs as we waited for the water to warm, our clothes pooled on the floor. Eleven months old, he wasn’t walking and I was still only his. The house was so quiet, and I wondered aloud, “Where is your dad?”
To the tune of “Frere Jacques,” I murmured:
Where is Daddy, Where is Daddy?
I don’t know, I don’t know
He’s around here somewhere, he’s around here somewhere
Let’s find him. Let’s find him.
With one hand in the water, I checked my phone, hoping for a text from your father sharing he went to the gym, the store, he loved me. Nothing.
Softened by sleep, all the knots in my body re-tightened.
The shower still running, empty, I switched to email, and there he was.
He took the car.
He was at the airport.
He was going home to Australia.
He would be in contact.
He was sorry.
My second son. My beautiful force of nature, with a sly smile and a single dimple. Your story is the opposite of what your dad promised me, when he told me he’d never do anything to hurt me, and he’d always keep me safe. Instead, it starts with friends who left dinner half-cooked to find me barely wrapped in a towel, falling apart on the cold tile floor with Miles snaked around me, my phone still in hand, the water losing heat, both of us howling.
What is this scene? you may ask. You’ve never known your dad to make lunch or wrap your family in a blanket, or leave your mother. The family drawings you would later make only include three: you, your brother, and me.
Though a messy chapter in my book, this is only your prologue. It’s short, confusing, and very important if you pay attention.
That was the third time, I think, your father left. For two days, he hid suitcases in our trash, sticky with rotten vegetables and old meat juice. He came back for Mi’s birthday on March 3, full of mystery about how he almost boarded planes to leave the country. I almost maxed out my credit card for his flight back to Iowa.
Two weeks later, for St. Patrick’s Day weekend, we went downtown, where your father ordered glasses of wine for me, insisting I should relax because Lace, you deserve to. We photographed Miles gripping my glass, and college students in green told us how adorable he was. Older women sat behind us complaining about dating, and I could tell by their eyes that they were envious.
At home, Miles easily went to bed, and we stayed up with more wine and a shell game we bought in Cebu the weekend we accidentally made your brother.
Drunk, for the first time in months, I felt safe.
He used a condom. It didn’t work.
A few weeks later, Miles fussed, refusing to nurse before I left for work. Panic rose in my throat, a constant accessory. How could he wean? Then, I remembered the light pink stain in my underwear, the soreness in my breasts. I knew you had come.
My messy chapter. Your prologue, whose pages weren’t meant to be bound.
I had lunch plans with a friend. Before meeting her, I stopped at Target, bought a pregnancy test, and peed on its stick. I cried when two lines appeared, wondering how I would raise two small children alone.
I knew he was going to leave again. It was only a matter of time until he wouldn’t come back.
Do you feel a little bit scared? My sweet baby, I was too. Do you already wonder what would you have done?
This is what I have to offer. I am a writer, and powerful tales matter to me. Do you already see how we can wield our pen, our will and still create a story, no matter what material we are given?
I do hope that, like me, you find the best of your life emerge out of the worst. You are one of those bests. You were the extra miles in a race I never entered, where I heaved my guts out, my legs splayed beneath me, the fire in my lungs burning all breath. You got me back on the road, pushing me to go harder when I would have rather died.
People see the three of us now, and we are their worst nightmare. It would be different with only one child—it happens all the time, doesn’t it?—but two so little? No one leaves someone with several small children. Do they?
We are also the stuff dreams are made of. You two captivate with how you hold doors, pick me flowers, and sing songs, your brother articulate and you in your broken language, unabashed.
And me? I take on the world with a manicure, high heels and a child balanced on each hip. I took us across the country for a promotion I pursued before your first birthday and your brother turned three. Our life is full of books and travel and imagination.
We need only ourselves.
We likely won’t understand what any of this really means to you for many pages. This is how prologues work. Scenes set here play out much later. Characters established who won’t get much ink for awhile. The universals: the exhaustion of early parenting, desperation of trying to keep a family together, shattered trust … it’s all here, scents for you to follow or that will find you on your own terms.
This weekend was another monthly visit your dad couldn’t make—this time he let us know two days before. His regular Saturday call? Another miss. You woke crying from a late nap, refusing me. No. Stay way. No maaaaaaaammmmma.
You kept leaving the room and coming back, your angry cries turning to wails when our eyes met.
I finally found the right questions. Do you want to go on my back? In a carrier?
Once wrapped to me, you leaned into my ear: Dad not call because I bad.
I was back on the bathroom floor. This time, clinging to you as you sunk onto the cold tiles with the realization that someone you love so much doesn’t live in the world you do.
Is this the chapter you want to write? Go back to the beginning.
Listen to me.
It is only your prologue.
Guest post by Lacey Schmidt. "My mom does everything," is how her three-year-old recently described Lacey. Most days, it feels true. Solo parent to Miles and Jack, Lacey is an HR leader by career, Mom always, and all else in the cracks she can find, and where in life she can integrate.