On Tuesday morning, I am still in Celeste’s body. I’m not as shocked about this as I was the last two days, but it’s safe to say that it’s still not the best way to wake up. Furthering my annoyance, my phone is full of text notifications from Celeste about what the day should hold, what lunches should be packed, where I should be when, and with which kids in the car. This doesn’t stop me from giving the kids money for school lunch—Taco Tuesday, of course—and spending the beginning of my day playing with Joy. Somehow I have forgotten in just a few years how busy a toddler can be. She’s alternating between potty accidents (I forgot you have to remind them if they start dancing) and finding dangerous things despite truly over-the-top childproofing (did she crack the drawer locks?) and just generally taking things you set down for a millisecond and immediately losing them. Through all this she is staying weaned, technically, but still requires a lot of bribes. Thank goodness Celeste gave this her blessing yesterday, or I would feel awful today. In retrospect, perhaps telling another woman what to do with her boobs—even though I may be temporarily attached to them right now—may have been a poor choice.
Similarly, I may be forced to admit that there might be a smidge more to her life than gourmet lunch boxes and afternoon minivan rides. Every time I take a peek in her planner—which, by the way, I desperately want to replace with one of mine; she would love it—I see I’ve let another ball drop. As I try to field messages from my job that, I have to admit, aren’t all of the highest import, she’s forwarding me emails about envelopes she promised to stuff for a gun-safety town hall and the upcoming school play. I try to tell myself it’s all busywork that can wait or just not happen, but then, did I realize she was going into the third-grade classrooms to provide talented-and-gifted challenges every week? At last year’s referendum we had to choose between funding third-grade music or third-grade TAG, so without her there’d be absolutely nothing going. That will be Linus’s classroom next year. And to help the summer all-sports budget, she’s in charge of stitching the entire swim team’s initials on their new warm-ups—saving fifteen bucks’ personalization fee per order. Zoey isn’t even on the swim team. Ugh. Celeste. She’s just so . . . freaking . . . helpful.
And then there’s the fact that she’s the quintessential housewife, and without her the place is going to pieces. There’s an ominous pile of wet towels on the floor of the once-pristine laundry room, and the groceries—Samuel eats more than Linus and Bridget combined—are running down fast. And this morning, as I dodged kisses and a booty pat—the guy is so crazy in love with his wife—Hugh told me sweetly that he couldn’t wait for some more of my home cooking soon. He said, “It’s better than anything you can buy in a store.”
He should just wait and see about that.
Meanwhile, I saw a truly shocking sight this morning—Seth in the carpool lane with my two kids in the back seat. When they got out, they were each carrying lunch bags. Somehow Celeste is beating me at my own life.
But with the things Celeste said to me last night still ringing in my ears, stuffing envelopes becomes something of a contact sport. Is she really right? I ask myself as I mangle brochures and envelopes that seem designed not to fit together. Are my kids unhealthy and spoiled? Do they need to learn some new skills if they are going to be able to cope as adults? The idea has taken root. I think back on times I’ve seen Seth around his mother and shudder at the idea that I might be sending Linus in a similar direction. But at the same time, I’m not sure I know any other way to parent. I’m gone all day every day, sometimes weekends too. I cannot be home with them enough, and when I am home with them, I hate it to be a struggle. I want it to be nothing but happy times. I want to give them what they want. I owe it to them.
Maybe tomorrow, I tell myself, if I’m not myself yet, I will try on a little Celeste impression at her house and see what I think of it. I can be Celeste Lite. Yes, I resolve. Tomorrow I’ll make almond butter and jelly for the lunch boxes and bake that casserole on the side of the noodle box for dinner if I have time after my Expo prep session. I can even do some laundry. Laundry can be very relaxing, when there’s not an eleven-year-old shouting at you about it and a staff meeting in an hour. Or at least, that’s how I remember it in my twenties.
But turnabout is fair play. If I’m going to pay any mind to what Celeste said to me, I should also be able to bring a little Wendy to Celeste. For instance, in two nights, she gets to go to a black-tie event with her husband, be shown off to all his colleagues, and enjoy fine dining, live music, and socializing with interesting people who are neither clients nor children. It sounds positively fabulous. I am going to go in full Wendy mode. Chic clothes, sparkling conversation, and all the free chardonnay a girl cares to drink. Hugh will get to see what his wife looks like after a shower and a little makeup. For just one night, Celeste can turn all that loving, boundless energy onto the person who’s given her—what did she call it?—the whole ball game.
Since I have a window coming up today while Joy is supervised at a children’s music class, I call my fitness studio, tell them I’m sending a friend in to use one of my virtual guest passes, and then take myself to the place where all the most invigorating torture happens. I cannot wait to give Celeste’s body a little workout, get some blood flowing, and realign her slumping muscles. It’s not that Celeste doesn’t have energy—in fact, despite the shape she’s in, I feel more vital in her body than I do in mine, probably because she feels so much less constant stress—but there is a sag to her that speaks to me of insecurity or inattention. It’s a lack of self-care, I decide. She doesn’t give herself any time to go out with friends or treat herself to the spa, even though she totally could. Certainly she could do a couple of barre classes a week. If she wants to feel better, she has the materials.
Or so I think, until after one excruciating boot camp session. Celeste is out of shape, and everything I’m used to doing in my body is an experiment in pain tolerance in hers. Her legs shake halfway through squats, her arms can’t handle the lightest weights, and her shoulders, while strong from picking up so many kids, seem to float up higher around her ears with each rep. Rebounding, my absolute favorite stress reliever, is off the table—Celeste seems to be more than slightly incontinent.
The worst comes when I hit the floor for core work. On my back, knees bent, I try to engage my abs and lift my head and shoulders off the floor, but nothing happens. I look down at the void that is Celeste’s midsection and see it tensed properly, but there’s something seriously wrong when I do at last manage to crunch up one time. There’s a big bulge right down the middle of my stomach like a kind of hump. While I writhe around on my tailbone trying to get even one decent set of medicine ball crosses in, the active trainer comes over, gently leads my shoulders back to the floor, and says, “Have you been checked for diastasis recti?”
I lie down, panting, and try to think what she’s talking about.
“It just looks like maybe your abs aren’t coming together correctly when flexed,” she adds, and I remember being warned about this while I was carrying Linus. It’s some kind of normal but gruesome tearing of your abdominal muscles during gestation—common, but it doesn’t always self-heal. Dear god, I think. Poor Celeste. Her body is totally broken.
“What should I do if I have it?” I ask the trainer, who probably has the same amount of medical training as my mechanic, but still.
“Talk to your doctor and get physical therapy,” she says. “And absolutely no core work until you know what’s up. I mean, real credit to you wanting to come in here and work, but you just had a baby. This may be a better time to rest and get centered,” she says invitingly. I flop on the floor and shake my head in wonderment, knowing there’s no use in telling her the baby is three years old. Well, then. Celeste even gets to nap during abs.
Can you develop a crush on someone else’s work colleague while you’re operating inside that person’s body? This is a question that has likely never come up before in the history of the world, and yet here I am pondering it. Davis is so handsome, so tall, so not Seth, but equally—and I feel very guilty saying it—not Hugh.
When Hugh came into my life, that’s the day that everything changed for me. We were both taking econ at the U, and there was something about him I loved from the start. I remember my very first thought was that his chest looked so solid. His background (dead center of middle class), his dreams, a job with a good paycheck and benefits, his appetites (vast quantities of hearty food and long make-out sessions on his futon with old movies playing in the background): all of it felt at once grounded and exhilarating.
Now I almost laugh to think I could use that word to describe him. Hugh is my everything, my night and day, my love, and yet after twelve years of marriage I’ve heard most of his jokes and seen most of his moves. He’s shared my goals and dreams, brought me solidly into the middle class, stood by me when we lost my mom, been an amazing father to our children, and listened while I’ve tried to explain the quagmire that is stay-at-home motherhood in Birchboro Hills. And somehow I still have moments when I feel lonely, misunderstood, and overlooked.