It's a sunny Thursday morning and I'm on a tear. An agent has expressed interest in a story I'm completing, and so I want to complete it. I want to complete it for the usual reasons—I'm a writer and want to publish as much as I can—and for an unusual one: We recently moved to Hong Kong at the behest of my husband and his bosses, and guess who spent the months packing, moving, and resettling everyone in Hong Kong? Not my husband or his bosses. The role fell to the person it has traditionally fallen to: the wife. This wife. And I didn't like it one bit. I didn't like how easily everyone assumed I would drop whatever I was doing to support this endeavor (which of course I did, but that's beside the point). I didn't like how after filling out inventory forms, insurance forms, new school applications, and customer-service questionnaires ("How can we make this easier for you in the future?" By not asking me to fill out these blasted questionnaires!), there was hardly time to write a word of my own. I hadn't gone to Barnard to end up as some global June Cleaver.
I turn on my computer with great exhilaration and sit down in its bluish gray glow. Someone will probably discover one day that this glow is toxic, but for now it feels awfully tonic. I sip my coffee. I read what I've written so far. I contemplate what might come next. It's hard to know with me what is inspiration and what is caffeine, but a sentence pops into my head. I write it down. I like it. I get very excited. A good sentence is like good foreplay to me, and all I can think of is more. I close my eyes. I take a deep breath. Aidan bursts through the door.
Here you need an explanation of why my 3-year-old isn't at school. Aidan isn't at school because part of the fun of moving to Hong Kong was discovering upon our arrival that every spot in every nursery school was filled until the following term. So he's at home. What I'd like to know is, where is the babysitter I hired to watch him so I can work?
I'm about to get very angry, but then I see my son. He's at the age when his eyes take up three quarters of his face, so when they're mournful it's pretty dramatic.
"Mummy...Mummy...it's terrible...Zebra...is sleeping. A lot."
Zebra is a turtle. When Aidan realized he was not going to break me down to the point of agreeing to get a real zebra in the house, he mercifully decided to name his turtle Zebra instead. Zebra lives with Grandma Sharon (my older son's turtle, named after my mother) in a round plastic turtle home, with little plastic palm trees and a red plastic bridge.
Aidan takes my hand and leads me to him now. "Look!" he cries pointing, knowing as well as I do that this isn't sleep. Never the most active pet to begin with, Zebra now feels like a gunky round rock.
I am triply sad. Sad for the turtle, who was a sweet turtle. Sad for Aidan, who loved him. And sad for me, who for the first time in these chaotic, selfless months showed hope of getting decent work done!
I take a moment to run the situation through in my head. This is no mere case of banged body part or spilled paint cup, where you can kiss it or clean it and get guiltlessly back to work. It's my 3-year-old's first encounter with death. Though the timing sucks, I must respond like a sympathetic parent. Five minutes—okay, ten—to acknowledge his pain, introduce the concept of death, plan to get another turtle. Yes! That's it! Plan to get another turtle. This afternoon around four, when my older son, Nico, is back from school and my brain cells are fried anyway, we will walk over to Mrs. Chang's Pet Shop on Repulse Bay Road and pick out another turtle. Perfect! A not utterly ruthless plan to get back to work in ten minutes.