My hands are cold inside of gloves, and I worry about her much smaller fingers as we wait for the school bus.
I pull her puffy hood over the fuzzy, grey hat that she wears, and I look at her eyes as she looks down at the marks that her shoes are imprinting in the snow.
Big ice crystals are littered across the driveway and sidewalk, reminding me of the sprinkles that I put on top of the cake I made over the weekend. These snowflakes are so large that they look strange to me when the morning sunlight flashes against them.
She takes my hand and pulls me after her, wanting to walk up and down the long, stone driveway while we wait. I point out deer tracks, and we place first her foot and then mine next to one, comparing the outlines.
We begin to sing "Wheels on the Bus," but we don't get far into it before the flashing yellow lights appear through the naked tree branches. The low, still-rising sun hangs barely above the top of the bus. She grips my hand more tightly before letting go to grab onto the metal handrail, marching her little legs up the large, grooved steps; the bus driver smiles affectionately.
I wave goodbye to both her and the little boy who always sits next to her, his face pressed against the steamy glass. I wave to the baby in her crib, through her bedroom window, and I press the "talk" button on the video monitor, telling her that I'm on my way back in. She waves at the bus and says "bye" to her big sister.
Inside, I strip off thick boots, and the pink hat that my daughter insisted I wear, and the purple leather gloves my grandma gave me years ago. I hang my coat over the rocking chair near the front door and I take a hurried sip of my now-cold coffee before heading into the baby's room.
My husband's had an early day at work, and the baby leaves her crib and goes looking for both her daddy and her sister. I know that she's aware that they're gone, but she still seems disappointed when I confirm they're at work and at school. She trails me to the bathroom, and I put on some makeup. She sits on the black-and-white tiled floor and animatedly hollers, "Pop up!" as she opens and turns pages of a Hansel and Gretel pop-up book.
I contemplate more coffee, but decide to try napping the baby and practicing yoga instead. I try to nurse her, but she doesn't want to, so I place her in her crib and go turn on the space heater in the bedroom that we use for my yoga space. She takes almost my entire practice to fall asleep, but I don't stop because I am desperate for these few minutes alone.
My patience and energy this week have been low -- not an all-time low, like when I was sick a couple weeks ago, but more at a steady level of needing some "me" time, some time to myself to be "Jennifer," so that I can be a better "Mom" (than I felt I've been these last few days).
I decide to do a roughly 30-minute backbending sequence, in an attempt to awaken my body and open my heart a little. This past month has been one of stress, exhaustion, illness and difficult-to-process feelings of guilt and anger.
Near the end of my half-hour, I'm practicing my full-wheel backbend -- the ultimate aim of this series of poses I've been moving through. The first two feel... not so good, but the last two feel great. I end with a few closing follow-up stretches, and bow my head simply as I sit cross-legged, rather than reclining on my sticky mat and taking an unfulfilling savasana.
I look over at the baby through her monitor, plugged in near my mat, and see that she is deeply breathing and finally completely asleep, instead of the restless, fidgeting, trying-to-fall-asleep that she's done for pretty much most of my time alone in my room.
I'm never truly alone these days; even when I'm practicing yoga, the baby is "in" the room on the video screen, and, like last night when I drove by myself to a much-needed massage appointment, I still felt my oldest daughter's slight grumpiness and tiredness that she displayed with me before her dad got home and I left.
My yoga practice, driving by myself in my car, and sitting here writing for these few minutes before I go again down the long, stone driveway to meet my daughter at the bus -- these are the spaces in my life when I must re-learn how to be myself, and try -- at least briefly -- to drop being "Mom."
"Mom" takes up much of my time -- not only almost all of the minutes and hours of my day, but it shares so much of the space in my heart, mind, and life.
Yet I do no favors for my family if I don't take time for myself -- when I don't claim at least 30 minutes, like I just did in my yoga room, or lock myself in the bathroom for my first shower in three days, like I did last night after dinner.
It's difficult to balance being a parent, being a spouse, being a writer, being a fill-in-the-blank, with being an individual person.
It's difficult, but it's important that I hold onto my other, various roles -- even if some take a backseat or get put on hold, or get dropped way down on my subconscious list of importance -- because these children that I'm raising with all of my being, these girls who have graciously gifted me with this title of "Mom," are looking at me. They're looking at how I move about in this world as a human.