Kate raised the hammer, hands shaking, eyes blurring.
She heard David shouting at her to stop. He sounded so far away.
With a ragged shout of fury, she brought the hammer down.
Tears spilled down her cheeks as she dragged the hammer back up above her head.
And brought it down again.
Bits of glass flew everywhere.
David again. So far away. “Kate! What are you doing?”
What r u doing Thurs? Kate tapped into her phone as she handed Harrison more carrot puffs. “We don’t bang our sippy cups on the highchair, buddy.”
She sent the text to Michelle and checked her email. Just two, a shipping confirmation for some clothes she’d ordered for the kids and another mommy blog newsletter. Frowning, she closed out her email and tapped open Facebook.
“I want to play ‘In the Barn,’ Mommy.”
“Not now,” said Kate, sliding her phone out of Helena’s reach. “Finish your applesauce.”
“No.” Helena pushed her plate away and pouted.
“Finish you applesauce, then you can play ‘In the Barn.’”
Helena, still pouting, picked up her spoon and started smacking her applesauce with it.
Kate scrolled through her news feed. The usual stuff. Michelle’s kids posing at the apple orchard. Pam’s son Curtis’s latest adorable statement. A recipe for pumpkin spice bread.
A picture jumped out of the feed. It was Lisa, her old producing partner, standing on a busy street in front of a building covered with red Chinese lettering. Next to her stood Eric with his camera and Ben with his audio boom mic. “Another great shoot in Beijng!” she’d posted.
Kate sucked in her breath. Beijing. She tapped on the comments. All her old colleagues from the Travel TV series “Street Eats From Around the World” popped up.
She started to leave a comment, then erased it. Her finger hovered above the Like button. But it had been so long since she’d seen them …
“I’m done, Mommy.”
Helena had not eaten her applesauce, just splashed it all off her plate.
“‘In the Barn,’” she demanded.
Sighing, Kate handed over her phone. She watched her four-year-old expertly scroll to her favorite app, and zoned out to the sounds of barnyard animals, her chin in her hand.
“How was your day?”
“Busy.” David tapped out an email on his phone. “I left work an hour ago and I already have seven emails.”
Kate spooned peas onto Harrison’s dinosaur plate, smiling as he worked his chubby little fingers to grasp one. “Keep trying, buddy. You’ll get one.”
She dropped a spoonful of peas on Helena’s princess plate.
“I don’t like green things, Mommy.”
“Just try a pea, Helena. Maybe your tummy will like them today.”
“No,” screamed Helena.
Kate looked to David for backup. He was still tapping.
“Just let them sit on your plate for tonight, okay?”
Helena relented, and grabbed a dinner roll. Kate let out a sigh of relief and sat down.
David huffed. “You can’t overhaul an entire payroll system in two months.” He dropped his phone on the table. “I work with idiots.”
“Don’t say ‘idiot’ Daddy,” corrected Helena.
David ruffled Helena’s brown curls. “Sorry, bug. So how was your day?”
“Tell Daddy what we did at the park today,” said Kate.
Helena bounced in her chair. “I made a fairy fort.”
David’s eyebrows rose. “Really?”
Helena’s hazel eyes lit up. “For fairies to sleep in at night. With leaves for blankies, ‘cause fairies get cold.”
“They do?” said David, forking a piece of chicken. “How do you know that?”
“Everybody knows that, Daddy!” laughed Helena.
David’s phone buzzed, sending a shiver through the dinner table. Groaning, he picked it up.
Kate speared a chunk of roast potato. “Can’t you just deal with it in the morning?”
David scowled at his phone. “If I don’t answer now, no one will do anything. And I’ll have an even bigger mess to deal with in the morning. I can’t afford to have anything go wrong before my meeting with the CEO.”
Kate put her fork down.
Helena sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” off-key and Harrison pounded a bongo drum with his chubby hands while three little girls marched around the backyard with glitter wands, fall leaves crunching under their feet.
“Harrison’s getting sooo big!” said Michelle. “He’s really starting to look like David.”
“I know,” said Kate, zipping her sweatshirt up against the fall chill.
“Is he walking yet?” asked Jill.
Kate swallowed the edge in her voice. “Almost.” She’d been looking forward to this playdate, eager to hang out with her best college friend, someone who knew her when she was just Kate. No husband, no kids.
But she’d arrived to find Michelle had also invited Jill, a mom from Michelle’s early childhood education class. Now they all had to keep the conversation to what they all had in common.
Kate nodded at Jill’s daughter. “Jessa’s tall. It’s hard to believe she’s only two.”
“Her dad’s tall,” said Jill. “Isn’t it fun to see which traits they get from each parent?”
Jill and Michelle prattled on about parental traits and trying to get their kids to eat their broccoli. Kate threw in the occasional appropriate comment. “Helena won’t eat anything green.” “Oh, I know. It’s amazing how loud a three year old can scream.”
“We got a great tip for handling tantrums in class last week,” said Jill. She turned to Michelle. “I tried it with Jessa, and it totally worked. I just got down on my knees and said, ‘You’re mad. You want that toy.’ She calmed right down and gave me a hug.”
Jill turned to Kate. “What you do is get down to their level and name their emotion for them. It defuses the tantrum, and teaches them emotional intelligence.”
“Hmmm.” Kate took a big swig of coffee.
“I can forward the teacher’s handouts to you,” said Jill.
Kate gripped her coffee cup. “Thanks.”
“I love Jessa’s cute little sandals,” said Michelle. “I can’t get my girls to wear sandals. They complain about the straps.”
“You definitely need to find the right brand,” said Jill.
Kate chugged her coffee as Michelle and Jill discussed the ins and outs of kids footwear. Michelle, former head of media development at the largest ad agency in town.
Former. Kate’s chest tightened.
David dropped into bed next to Kate. He turned his phone on and started scrolling.
Kate laid her book down on her lap and took a breath. “I think it might be time for me to go back to work.”
David furrowed his brow at her. “Okay,” he said slowly. “But not to what you were doing before, right? Remember how hard it was, you traveling all over the world when Helena was a baby?”
Yes, she remembered. She still felt the tug in her chest, skyping home after a long shoot day in Rome or Istanbul or Caracas, seeing Helena’s sweet baby face, wanting to reach through her computer screen to hold her. Seeing the stress on David’s face.
“It’s just … Harrison’ll be one soon. It just seems like a good time …” she trailed off.
“I make enough money for both of us, K,” said David. “You should just enjoy this time.”
His words choked her into silence. She should be grateful. She had two beautiful, healthy kids. A comfortable life. She didn’t need to work. Working made life complicated. Everything was so much easier with her at home.
She’d made her choice.
David pecked her on her cheek. “You know I appreciate everything you do. I wouldn’t be presenting to the CEO tomorrow if it wasn’t for you handling everything here. It’s such a relief to not worry about sick kids or doctor appointments. It seems like there’s always someone on my team having to take time off for that stuff.” He went back to scrolling.
Kate put her book on her nightstand and turned off her light. She lay on her side, her back to David, eyes screwed shut against the blue glow of his phone’s screen.
David was right. No use stirring up calm waters.
Kate sat in the middle of the playground. “Let’s bury Harrison’s feet!” She scooped up a handful of pea gravel and let it spill onto Harrison’s socked feet. He laughed, a big belly laugh of pure baby joy that wrapped around her heart.
Helena, her cheeks still wet with the tears she’d shed when they’d arrived at the park and found the fairy house in ruins, now stood triumphantly over a small pyramid of sticks.
“Looks good, honey!”
“Boys, stop fighting.” A woman and her two sons arrived. In a spray of pea gravel, the boys chased each other up a slide.
Kate smiled hello. Playground etiquette. Then she turned back to Harrison.
The other mother came over and dropped her hands to her knees. “Ohhh, how old is your little guy?”
“Eleven months,” said Kate.
The woman sighed. “I remember when my boys were this age. So sweet! Now all they do is pommel each other.” The woman laughed, then straightened up. “It’s so weird to be outside on a Friday morning. I’m playing hooky from work. Got to take advantage of those days when the boss is out. Spend some quality time with the kids. Right?”
Kate nodded as she brushed gravel off Harrison’s pants.
“Do you work?”
Kate cringed. “No.”
“Good for you,” said the woman. “I tried to stay home with my boys. It just wasn’t for me. So I’m the bad mom, packing my kids off to daycare everyday.” She laughed again.
Kate opened her mouth, then closed it.
“Well, enjoy this baby time. It goes so fast!” The woman waved to Harrison, and settled down on a park bench.
Kate’s throat knotted. She was trying.
Out of nowhere, Helena jumped on Kate’s back.
Kate swallowed the knots. “Arghh, you got me!” She pulled Helena off her back and tickled her, sending her into hysterics, her hazel eyes bright. And her smile. The smile that made Kate want to reach through her computer screen.
Kate hugged her close and smothered her cheeks with kisses.
Kate’s phone dinged. She paused the TV — yesterday’s nightly news, naptime volume level — and checked her phone. A new text, from David. His presentation had gone well. He was heading out to lunch with the CEO.
Kate half-smiled. He had to be on cloud nine right now. Big things were happening for him.
She also had one new email. From Jill, with the promised information on emotional intelligence. Kate groaned. Michelle must have given her Kate’s email. She turned her phone off, but it hummed in her hands.
Just a quick Facebook check.
More cute kids, recipes, and parenting articles. And another photo from Lisa and her crew.
Kate tapped out a comment this time. “OMG! So awesome! Miss you! Let’s get coffee soon!” Her eyes stung. The letters blurred.
She returned to yesterday’s news.
At snack time, she pulled out her phone. Just a quick check.
No response from Lisa. Well, she was busy. Or sleeping. What time was it in Shanghai?
At TV time.
No emails. No texts. No calls.
“Mommy, I want cinnamon toast,” whined Helena.
“I’m making dinner,” Kate snapped. She softened her tone. “Can you bring your brother his pacifier, honey?” She pointed to Harrison, fussing in his exersaucer.
“Daddy’s home!” David burst into the kitchen. Harrison stopped crying. Helena streaked across the kitchen. “Daddy!”
David ruffled her hair. “Hey, bug!”
Kate turned away. They were always so happy to see Daddy. Well, of course they were. He was gone all day. They missed him.
“Spaghetti again, huh,” said David as he unbuttoned his collar.
“You’re welcome to cook something else,” said Kate as she banged a pot on the stove.
“Nah, it’s fine.” David picked Harrison up. “Hey, buddy!”
She dumped the jar of spaghetti sauce into the pot, spilling some.
“So your meeting went well,” she said as she threw the pasta into the boiling water.
“It went great,” he said, tossing Harrison into the air. Harrison squealed.
“Throw me, Daddy!” begged Helena.
David’s phone chimed. “Hang on, bug. I’m getting a call.” He plopped Harrison back in his exersaucer and answered his phone. “Hey, Tom.”
Harrison started to cry.
The pasta water boiled over, sizzling and spiking the ring of flames below.
Kate turned the burner down.
Helena tugged at David’s shirt. “Daddy, throw me!”
David talked louder.
A rare sound cut through the kitchen. Kate’s phone, inexplicably, was ringing. She jammed frozen dinner rolls into the oven. Who could it be?
She grabbed it. “Hello?”
She threw the phone across the room.
“I’ll check it out after dinner, Tom.” David lowered his phone and frowned at Kate. “Hey, that’s a seven hundred dollar phone.”
“Good thing you make enough money for both of us,” spat Kate.
The spaghetti sauce bubbled, spraying red dots across the stove.
“What the hell, Kate?”
“Don’t swear in front of the kids.”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m mad,” screamed Kate.
David rolled his eyes. “Yea, I can see that.”
“I’m naming my emotions,” she shouted at him. “It’s called emotional intelligence.”
She stormed out of the kitchen, slamming the back door behind her. In the garage, she yanked open the gleaming red tool chest, full of gleaming new tools David never used because he was busy.
Yes, great things were happening for him.
She made spaghetti. Again.
She grabbed the shiny silver hammer and walked back into the house.
“What’s going on Kate?”
She dropped to her knees, raised her shaking hand.
With a ragged shout of fury, she brought the hammer down.
The phone’s glass face shattered like a spider’s web.
Tears spilled down Kate’s cheeks.
She dragged the hammer back up above her head.
David stepped in front of Helena as Kate brought the hammer down again.
The web gave way. Bits of glass flew everywhere.
She brought the hammer down again, the blow ringing through her arms, rattling her teeth. Electronic insides launched into the air.
“Kate! What are you doing?”
She peppered the carcass with rapid succession blows as her chest heaved with sobs. She’s lucky. She doesn’t have to work. The kids were all she needed.
The good moms stay at home.
David’s phone chimed. Kate froze in midswing and looked up at him, his bewildered face infuriating her further.
“Go ahead, answer it.”
“It can wait,” said David, wary.
His phone chimed again. Kate eyed it, gripped her hammer.
David backed up. “Kate …”
Harrison wailed. The sound pierced Kate’s fury.
Took a breath.
Put the hammer down.
Calm the waters.
“It’s okay, buddy.” She lifted Harrison up, wiped the tears off his cheeks.
Shards of glass stabbed at her bare feet.
She swallowed again. Took a breath again. “You ready for some spaghetti, buddy?”