Watering geraniums in my garden one September afternoon, tiger mosquitoes delving deep into exposed flesh, I look up to notice my two sons, through windows, sitting at their desks, doing homework. The younger is writing out his weekly spelling words, in the dining room, on a school desk with iron legs I’d found in the cellar upon moving in. The older one is on the second floor, in his room, working at a rock maple desk from the ‘50s. I had taken care to face both desks outwards, overlooking the garden, with its hanging geraniums, potted thyme, and pigeons, like feathered Rockettes, lined up on the rooftop of the apartment building behind our small yard.
Bent over their desks in concentration, eager to finish up and earn time on the Kindle Fire, I turn the nozzle to jet and aim. First the little one, straight on. Startled, he opens his mouth in outrage as water hits glass, and taps his pencil forcefully to meet my stream. Then I angle it upward and get the big one, then down again, then up. All three of us connect through this action, the surprise attack of mommy, the giggles of the younger, the smirk of the older. The water, an extension of my outstretched arm, hits the pane and splashes back at me. The boys, compartmentalized into two rooms separated by floorboards, and me outside, my sundress soaked and getting eating alive, we make three points of a triangle, held at a safe distance by glass, bricks and parquet.
It is a small, end-of-summer moment, but one in which I realize my connections and their limitations. The water cascades luxuriantly across the window. My six-year-old delights in his drowning, just as he does on trips to the drive-through car wash. I angle the hose upwards once more. At this moment, the nine-year-old—safe, cozy and dry—taunts me and I respond by opening the faucet full force to scare that tongue back in his mouth. I recognize the expression overtaking his face; I’ve seen it in the bathroom mirror. It’s the joy of bathing in Mom’s expansive love and the reassurance of a barrier to deflect some of the full-on female force of motherhood.