And/Both

I’ve been mentally refining a metaphor-in-progress for days now, sifting for diamonds in the sand, and as I stand in the shower, hot water washing away the excess, my word hunt gives way to larger pursuits.

Visions of a master’s degree in creative writing and hard-sought national publication light up my brain like fireworks in a darkened July sky, and I smile, because these are my dreams – the small, silent gusts that propel my daily steps. I anticipate their possibility like my children anticipate Christmas, with the steady assurance that this is a magical world and that I hold no less fairy dust than the rest.

“I wuv you.”

It’s Molly’s voice, precious and unexpected, from the other side of the curtain, and as I peer out at her perfect two-year-old self – cheeks blushed with sincerity, knees scraped with spring – I feel guilt.

Why isn’t this – this precocious pigtailed toddler – enough to set my soul on fire? Why, during these rare moments of seclusion, does my mind drift to words instead of her and her sister? Is there something wrong with me that I’m always looking beyond these portrait-adorned walls for fulfillment? What if she finds out there’s more to me than her? What if everyone finds out?

Because in a world that glorifies maternal sacrifice, anything less than martyrdom is downright deplorable. Only when I’ve been completely stripped of my former identity will I have loved my children adequately. Until then, I must dream in silence so that no one knows I love myself more than goldfish-encrusted floor mats.

Heaven forbid.

Her eyes are brown like our garden, her smile wide like the moon, and as she scrunches her lips into an earnest “kiss me” pout, I curse my hidden ambitions – because fairy dust or not, I’m still only human.

“I love you too,” I reply, leaning forward for the sweetest of slobbery pecks.

And my dreams of literary stardom?

I love those too, because no one should have to apologize for feeling alive.

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