The twins' father called the other week: they needed a sitter for that evening. My neighbor would pick them up from school and then hand them off to me since she had a meeting to attend for our condo.
I biked home, stopping to get supper supplies, which included taking into account my veganism, my desire for a low-gluten meal, and the girl's nut allergies. Oh, and the palates of six-year-olds. The last didn't worry me much; when I used to nanny them as babies, they had more than their share of hummus and veggie meatballs, and would toss aside anything for steamed broccoli.
At home I met my neighbor, and the kids raced up the stairs for hugs and kisses. I made dinner for us all, and it was a success.
As we sat at my dining table, the girl commented on one of my paintings hanging on the wall. It's very large, and depicts a series of houses floating in line through the sky. I explained that it was part of my search for the meaning of home, that I'd moved around a lot, and I felt that home was more than just a physical place; it was the people you met and the experiences you built, and the sense of yourself that you carry inside you.
"But you're not moving any more," she said.
I heard my neighbor groan softly. And i felt my stomach drop. Shit. how did I let this happen? My plan to tell the kids about my departure was not supposed to go like this. There was supposed to be a lead up, a little preparation, not this sudden left-turn.
But I've never lied to them, and I promised myself I never would.
"Well, actually, I am going to be moving. I'm going to go to be closer to my family, who live in Massachusetts."
"But not for forever, right?"
"Well, yes, I'll be moving for good, but I'll be coming back to visit you, and we'll see Jim's play together in the spring. And you'll see me before I leave."
During this the boy had gone from chowing down on his food to freezing with his fork in mid-air and staring at me. Huge eyes. Enormous eyes. I knew what I was doing: I was dropping a bomb, and I knew it was cruel, had hated it when it had been done to me as a child, but the option was to tell them that no, I wasn't moving, and then move. Betray a trust and go back on my word. None of this was going the way I'd planned. I'd planned it in my head a dozen times, and in not one of those times did it go down this way. In my fantasies, as the kids grow older they talk about all the fun times we had together, not the time I emotionally sucker-punched them during dinner.
"I'll still come back and see you -- you're my favorite kids, remember?" Silent nods.
I gave them dessert and the boy stayed to play with a neighbor's kids while the girl decided to accompany me to the drugstore. I put a blanket in my Radio Flyer and she reclined like a queen with her Rice Dream bar while we trekked the several blocks to the drugstore. While in line, she asked me about the false eyelashes on display, and I explained what they were for as her face took on more of a WTF?" expression. So we talked about makeup.
"Makeup can be fun when you want to dress up, like when you put on fancy clothes or wear a necklace or put a bow in your hair, or paint your toenails pink," I said. "But there are women who think that they have to put on makeup in order to be pretty, and that's not healthy. Everyone is beautiful, and we should love ourselves the way we are."
Her mother has very short hair that is flecked with gray, and wears no makeup in general. I'm the same. "The women in my family don't really wear makeup," I said, "So it's never been something that I thought a lot about or used very much. I'm too used to my own face to want to change it."
She agreed and said that it could be fun ("sometimes I use lip gloss"), but you should indeed be happy with who you are.
We stopped by the community garden on the way back and she helped me water my plants. Naturally, I got in an explanation of how in some poor countries girls her age had to haul water for miles, as heavy as it was. I didn't lay it on thick, though, as I don't want to turn her into someone who feels more guilty than grateful. We had some sweet fresh-picked cherry tomatoes, smelled some oregano, then headed back. We talked about what happens after you die (she brought it up), and I mentioned my thoughts on reincarnation (I lean toward it), and the girl said, "but then you never get to heaven."
"Well, the idea is that you keep coming back to learn all the things you need to learn in order to become a wise soul, and then you go to heaven."
"That makes sense." Reminder: she's SIX.
Back at my place, I told them that I had some things that I wanted them to have, since I was moving and wanted to find good homes for them. (By now, any mention of my move prompted the boy to drop his blanket, put his hands over his ears, and stare silently at me, recalling a line from an Elvis Costello song: "It's the damage that we do we never know.")
When he realized he was going to be given something, the hands came down and he relaxed. I brought them into my bedroom and showed them an enormous stuffed Curious George.
"My mommy got this for me when i was twelve. I think he needs to be around some little kids. Do you think you can take very good care of him?" The boy was certain he could.
Next were two Fisher Price dolls. "I got these when I was your age. Do you think you can give them a good home?" The girl was sure she could.
I added a Toy Story stuffed alien to the mix and we headed out, meeting my neighbor, who was done with her meeting.
We piled the toys onto the Radio Flyer and the kids made sure everyone was comfortable and not falling out. As we proceeded, I choked up. Something about parting from these things that had been part of my landscape, purchased for me from people who would one day be gone, and the imminent departure from the kids, and the progression of life, and a view of mortality and life as loss overtook me. I pulled it together, because I didn't want to disturb the kids.
At their house, the boy put Curious George on his bed and introduced him to his stuffed dog, and opined on the friendship that would develop between them. The girl was already putting barrettes in the dolls' hair. We discussed the folly of cutting doll hair, and I extracted a promise that she never would. I'm not sure she'll remember, but they're hers now.
The new additions seemed to put aside my news of departure, and we played for a bit before my neighbor announced bath time, and I had to head home. Hugs and kisses and naked children, and I was on my way. On the walk home, the dark night hid my tears.