My daughter’s digital watch lives on her crafts table in the dining room, surrounded by jars of slime, broken markers and gluesticks. The plastic purple watch beeps at 6:08 every night. The alarm is stuck. I half-tried to fix it but eventually became accustomed to the sound. As far as alarms go, this one is pretty mild. The tone sounds like a toy truck backing up. Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep. The whole production lasts about ten seconds.
These days we read during dinner. With my husband across the world, by the time we scoop pasta into bowls, my kids and I have already caught up on the day’s events. There’s no need to talk about a hard test or a mean kid. We’ve done this already. We just want to eat and read. I’m usually scrolling through the news, which means I occasionally groan and say something about the state of the world. One daughter is currently reading Beverly Cleary and the other, something about a soul collector. Sometimes one of us will ask the meaning of a word or if anyone needs a salad plate, but in general we keep to ourselves.
The broken watch often goes off just as we are getting started on dinner. Between bites of bean stew topped with avocado, we look up from our reading. Happy 6:08, we say, and smile. It is a smile of relief. The alarm is a tiny beeping call to prayer, our collective exhale after an emotional day.
We have a lot on our minds. Very soon, after three and a half years in Perth, we will move back to San Francisco. Every day someone asks how we feel about this, and every day our feelings are different. Some days I am excited about Ocean Beach and burritos, and other times the grief sits heavy on my shoulders like a toddler. Being available for my children’s varied emotions, acknowledging my own, plus handling ten thousand logistics is exhausting.
Books are in piles all over the house because we gave away our bookcases. The big gray couch is gone, as is the rug. Artwork is propped up against the wall and large plastic bins are labeled Go Through and Donate? Some evenings, a neighbor will pop by to pick up a side table or a lamp. Recently, a painter was here to repair holes in the wall. He was originally from North Carolina and said Trump is the greatest president we’ve ever had.
The best days are the ones where I forget. But it is getting harder to forget we’re moving when the bedroom dresser is gone and my underwear is in a basket on the floor.
I stare at the birds. The sighing ravens, the kookaburras, cockatoos, the adorable willy wagtails, and of course, the black and white magpies. Some magpies can remember faces for up to twenty years. Hey there, I said to one perched on my car’s side mirror. Remember me.
Last night, after the alarm went off, my older daughter looked up from her book and asked if we can keep the watch for San Francisco. It’ll be fun to hear it beeping there, she said. Of course, I told her. I didn’t add that 6:08 p.m. is the middle of the night in California.
This is the hardest part, I tell my children. The time right before we leave. The goodbyes.
The hardest part for me is wondering if I did the right thing by bringing them here, and if I’m doing the right thing by leaving. Of course there are no answers to impossible questions, so I will cross my fingers and break their hearts to make them stronger.