On Grace by Susie Orman Schnall
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I am not planning on waking up tomorrow and feeling completely different. But I’m certainly not planning to feel the same as I do today and every other day. Tomorrow when I wake up, brilliant sunlight streaming through my windows, I’ll feel as if nothing can go wrong. It will be a momentous day. Sure, momentous is a big word, usually saved for things like fiftieth wedding anniversaries and retirements that come with gold watches, but I’ve decided that I’m going to use that word and own it. Momentous. I like the way it sounds.
Today is the last day before I start the rest of my life, because tomorrow is the first day that both of my boys will be in school all day, every day. It’s been eight years since I’ve had my days to myself all day, every day. Eight years since I’ve taken my own wants and needs and put them first. I’m not one of those coddling, helicopter moms, but even us good-enough moms can’t really put our own wants and needs first. At least not all day, every day.
So as I prepare for momentous, I’m getting all the last-day-of-summer stuff out of the way. Today is haircuts, prepping backpacks, and the last day of collecting colorful summer bugs in glass jars. We’ll take one last carefree bike ride in flip-flops and celebrate with a final late-afternoon trip to Longford’s for ice cream where we’ll probably see lots of other moms who can’t wait for tomorrow and lots of other kids who can.
But for now, the boys are out back playing baseball with some neighborhood friends, and I’m standing in front of the open fridge, trying to figure out what the hell to make for dinner. When my phone rings, I check the caller ID and answer excitedly.
“Hey, Cam!” I practically sing into the phone.
“Hey, Grace! How’s it going?”
“Going great. I really can’t wait for tomorrow. I know I’m going to feel so free, and joyful, and in control of my own life,” I say.
“Wow, that sounds promising! Good girl,” Cameron says enthusiastically.
“One more day and then I can start getting my life back in gear.”
“What exactly is out of gear?” Cameron asks.
“Well, my marriage, my stalled career, my lack of any sort of fitness, and other miscellaneous things,” I tell her. “Not necessarily, but possibly, in order of importance. I kind of have a little plan formulating in the back of my mind.”
“How much of this is because you’re freaked out about turning forty in a few months?” Cameron asks.
“I’ve told you, I’m not that freaked out about forty.”
“You know, Grace, you’re allowed to not be excited about it.”
“But I am excited. I see forty as more of an opportunity to regain control of my life. Sort of like New Year’s Eve. But with much less champagne.”
“Well, I’ll toast to that,” Cameron says. “And while we’re toasting . . . ,” she adds with an unmistakable lilt.
“What? No! What?”
“Seven and a half weeks officially today.”
“Oh, Cameron. Congratulations! And here I was rambling on and on about me, and you had such good news.”
“Grace, it’s fine. Really. I called as much to tell you about me as I did to find out how your day before the big day is going.”
“Well, I’m so happy for you.”
“I know. Sorry I didn’t tell you right away. But you know with my history and all, I just really wanted to make sure. And today is a day longer than I’ve ever been pregnant before. Not that I wouldn’t have told you if I had miscarried again. I just had some sort of weird superstition thing going on.”
“No need to apologize. I completely understand. But to make amends, will you meet me for dinner tonight for a proper celebration? Tengda at 7:30?” I ask.
“Don’t you have to be home with the boys tonight? Last day of summer and all?”
“I’m taking them on a long bike ride this afternoon so they’ll be tired. And they’ll think it’s more special anyway if Darren is in charge of bedtime. So Tengda?”
“Right, raw fish. Méli-Mélo then?”
“It’s a date. And you can tell me more about your so-called plan,” Cameron says.
“I will. See you later. And Cam, I’m really so happy for you. Give my love to Jack.”
And with that, I do a little jig for my best friend who has been trying to get pregnant for five years. I boot up my laptop to email Darren the good news and the heads-up that I’ll be going out tonight.
As I wash the lunch dishes, I think about the part-time job I’m starting on Monday. I’m going to be the new “Family Life” columnist for the Westchester Weekly, our county’s glossy and hip-enough attempt at New York magazine. Each week, I’ll file a 500-word article on something new and noteworthy in the county that’s perfect for families, and I can’t wait to start. It’s nowhere near my old salary, but it’s something. Plus, this job is more about the opportunity to rediscover the woman who’s been deeply buried under the labels of “wife” and “mother” for the past eight years.
I met the Weekly’s owner/publisher, Matthew O’Donnell, in June at a friend’s beach club. He and his wife, Monique, had just moved to our neighborhood in Rye (a leafy suburb of New York City where you would be confident no one would steal your car while you leave it running to dart into the post office, but you never would leave it running because people would be all over you about the toxic fumes released from idling). When I told him I had been an editor at two different fitness magazines before I had my kids (when I was still, well, fit), he asked about my writing and why I wasn’t still working.
I wasn’t sure what was the more pleasant surprise: the fact that I was actually having a meaningful conversation with a man other than my husband (something that doesn’t usually happen at these beach club gatherings where the men all gather around the bar to discuss the double S’s—sports and stocks—and the women hover nearby in their strappy summer wedges to discuss the double N’s—nannies and nips and tucks) or that I might have a connection at a publication I’d love to write for. And he was right, why wasn’t I still working? Well, I had two really adorable answers, but they were starting school in a couple months.
So, I told him, “I put my career on hold, because I wanted to be home with my kids. But they’ll both be in school full time this fall, and I’ll be ready to focus on my work again.”
“Grace has done an amazing job with the boys,” Darren said to Matthew. “They’re lucky she chose them over her career, but she’s not one of those women who is going to be happy playing tennis every day while they’re in school. She needs more than that.”
I looked at Darren and smiled, feeling so fortunate that he was so supportive. We had talked that afternoon about how I was feeling apprehensive about getting a job. How I worried I would feel overwhelmed managing both a job and my family. I knew I would be no good at all that Superwoman stuff. But I also knew that I ached to be creative again. To use my brain for more than just organizing soccer practice carpool schedules and finding innovative ways to sneak green leafy vegetables into mini meat loaves.
Matthew and I talked for a while, and I told him I thought the magazine could use a section dedicated to things families could do together, besides just the events listings in the back. When he agreed with me and said that was something his editorial department had been considering, I boldly—with a little help from my Riesling—suggested that maybe I could be the one to write it. A few phone calls, emailed clips, meetings with the editor, and trial columns later, and I was hired as the “Family Life” columnist for the Westchester Weekly.
I hear my cell phone ring so I wipe my hands on a dish towel and rush to find my phone in my disorganized purse. I find it just as the call is about to go to voicemail, notice it’s an unknown caller, and quickly touch the screen to answer.“Hello?” I say, completely unprepared for what’s about to come