A new routine is emerging, however small.
I walk in the door, hushing the dogs sternly because it's only me. I drop my purse and other extraneous items there at the door, or sometimes on the dining room table as I also remove my shoes. Slide off my coat, hang it up, put my keys on their hook, and head directly upstairs.
Most nights, one or both of the kids are still awake and in that nanosecond or two between when I open the door and they register who I am, those are the most precious moments I have ever known as a mother.
They gasp. They smile and jump up from their beds. They laugh joyously.
"It's Mommy! Mommy you came back! Hugs, Mommy!"
Sometimes they run over to me and hug me, and I shoo them back to bed as I follow behind their gleeful trots, ever the pillar of responsibility and parameters, ever the parent. It is still bedtime, after all, and the last thing they need is to get wound up again at nearly 10PM.
But this is the moment I live for as I return from work each night.
I beam as I ask them about their evenings, if they were good, did they read a book, what they ate for dinner. I listen as Tova tattles on her brother and Kiedis reenacts a scene from a movie -- lately, it's mostly Frozen, but sometimes something from The Croods sneaks in, just to keep me on my toes.
I tuck them back in, restart their lullaby CD, give them hugs-kisses-nosies-bonk per each request, and I tell them of course I came back, I will always come back. I tell them I love them and to sleep well and that I'll see them in the morning, have a good rest, I love you, goodnight.
And sometimes, they even say it right back.
The adjustment has been harder on Kiedis than I anticipated, so I am trying to make sure to connect with him in these moments, to perhaps ignore his initial put-offs and show him affection regardless of his protestations.
The other night, as I brushed his hair from his face as he whined at me to leave him alone, he suddenly turned and put his hand on my cheek tenderly.
His eyes met mine as he whispered "Mommy, you're beautiful. The purple hair is gorgeous."
Everything in my line of vision blurred as I fought to keep the tears from falling onto his petite face.
Aside from the usual requests for water in the heart cup or blue fish on a blue plate, these were the first non-movie-line words he'd spoken to me in three days.
My heart exploded as he withdrew his hand and rolled back over, whispering I love you right after I said it, making it unclear if he was returning the sentiment or if it was just another case of echolalia. I kissed his head and tucked him in tightly, whispering good night as I backed out of their room.
I held my breath as I returned downstairs to properly organize my return from work and change clothes. I worry about missing these moments with them while I'm working nights, of them forgetting about me and seeing me as only the daytime disciplinarian.
But in these brief moments upon my return, I realize that I do a whole lot of worrying about nothing.