Getting to School on Time and Other Disasters

Here’s what I remember from today:

My daughter crying for me at 3:34am.

The clink of my husband’s belt buckle as he gets dressed for work in the dark so he won’t wake me.

My daughter poking me in the shoulder before dawn. “Time to wake up!” and “cock-a-doodle-doo!”

My children sitting on the stairs in their jammies watching a video on my phone of my son and husband crazy-goofball-dancing last night. The laughter – taped and real.

Boiling water for French press coffee and making ham and swiss sandwiches and not cutting off the crusts because my daughter hasn’t started asking for that and my son, for some reason, I think one day will eat them.

Sectioning grapefruit. Thinking grapefruit smells happy, like possibility.

The kids going upstairs to get dressed. My son crying because the knee he hurt two days ago falling on the concrete is hurting again. He can’t walk. He can’t climb the stairs. He’s crying. He wants me to carry him up the stairs.

My daughter running to hide in my room because she hates the sound of people crying. She covers her ears with her hands. She cannot get dressed until the crying stops.

Holding my son’s hand as he hops to his dresser. Wondering why I let him go on the class field trip yesterday when he was already limping. Wondering if every parent there could see that obviously he shouldn’t be there.

Glad at least in a small way that he didn’t miss the class field trip to Mount Tabor to build little houses in the woods for fairies.

Kindergarten is half over. Next year: Portland Public.

He can’t pick up his leg to get out of his pajamas. He grabs my head and it pushes my hair in my face and I can’t see and I say, you’re okay, you’re okay and he sobs that he is not okay.

The child cries once every six weeks. I know that when he cries something is hurting for real. Still I’m so used to him being happy that it annoys me when he isn’t. It is completely unfair.

I tell him if it hurts like this he shouldn’t go to school.

He says okay.

Uh-oh.

I say that if it hurts that badly we will go to the doctor.

He says okay.

Shit.

I was an idiot to send him on the field trip.

I carry him down the stairs for breakfast. I set him in a chair. It has been so long since I carried him. I used to hold him all the time. I craved holding him. I go back upstairs to find my daughter. She is listening to the Muppet Movie soundtrack. She cannot get dressed because she is listening to music. She is singing and dancing right now.

I airlift her to her dresser, making a buzzing airplane noise to fool us both into thinking we are having a fun moment.

I open the underwear drawer.

She says no. She needs to go to the bathroom.

Then go, I say. Go, go, hurry.

She goes into the bathroom but not before launching a parting No Mommy.

I make her bed, I open the blinds, I turn off the space heater, The timer beeps and I race back downstairs. It feels very important that I plunge the French press at the right time. It feels very important this morning that something I want not be ruined.

There are people without food. There are people without water. There are people without safety.

Get a grip.

My son wants me to stay downstairs. He’s still sad. I hold up a finger and say I’ll be right back.

My daughter is naked at the top of the stairs. I tell her it’s time to get dressed. She says no. She can’t. I ask why she can’t. She says because her brother is still sad.

I say it will make him feel better if she gets dressed. No one believes this. I airlift again, forgetting everything about promoting self-competence, individualism, respecting boundaries, etc.

Do you like the red striped pants?

No.

How about the blue stripes?

No.

Wanna wear a skirt?

No.

Not even the kitty skirt? How about the kitty skirt? (Mommy loves the kitty skirt.)

No.

She grabs red and navy striped pants.

How about a shirt? This one?

No. I will choose.

She chooses a blue short sleeved.

You need a long sleeve layer underneath. It’s cold.

Okay.

Miracle.

She and I get to the breakfast table. Eggs fried in olive oil. Sprouted wheat toast with organic cherry jam. We have five minutes to eat. I am also on hold with the pediatrician’s office. I put the hold music on speaker so I can eat and my kids will see their mother taking care of herself.

The answering service answers. They tell me to call at nine. I ask them if they can make appointments. They say no. I ask them why people call the answering service. They tell me why.

My son asks for another piece of toast with jam. I say we ate all the toast. He asks why we can’t make more. I say we don’t have time to make more. I say we took a long time getting ready for school and there isn’t time to make more toast. I wonder if he’s had enough calories. He hasn’t been growing much lately. I wonder if I’ve been systematically denying him of calories and that’s why he’s a little small. I wonder if I was producing enough milk when I was breastfeeding. I never loved it like women do. I resented being eaten. I wonder if he knew that. My sweet baby boy. I wonder if my milk was bitter.

I give him my egg.

We eat. Brush teeth. Brush hair. My daughter wants two ponytails even though one is faster. She wants the orange ponytail holders. She looks for them. She finds purple. Nope. She doesn’t want purple. She finds green. Nope not green. She finds black. I breathe and breathe and breathe and breathe. She finds orange! “See what I got!” She holds up the prize. We finish the ponies. I flick off the three bathroom light switches, bim, bam, boom. NOOOOOOO. She wanted to do it. I say next time. NOOOOOOO. I say we have to go.

I fly back downstairs and tell my son to get his shoes on. He says it hurts when he wiggles his foot into his shoe. I try to help him wiggle it. We should be in the car by now. I never drank my coffee. I’m wiggling too hard. I’m doing everything too hard. Too fast. My voice is too clipped. Too crabby. Too much not what I want to be. Too much like my father, tense, red-faced, jaw clenched. My father who used to be a rich bachelor. Who used to have a fancy apartment. Who used to have a great life, long ago, he told me as a child. Told me, told me, told me. I think I’m such a better parent. I have to be a better parent. But what’s the difference, really, between saying you want your life back and thinking it to yourself – the truth seeps out one way or another.

Let’s go, I say. My children will engrave “Let’s go” on my tombstone. We should be in the car, arriving at our first time checkpoint where Fulton Park meets Corbett. We should be to Barbur by quarter till, the Hawthorne Bridge by ten till, to Salmon Street and the hallway to the kindergarten room at three minutes to nine.

I unbolt the front door and open it wide. The fresh air feels hopeful. “It’s raining,” my daughter says. It’s not raining, I say. “It’s wet,” she says. “Just a little,” I say. “No, it’s wet,” she says. “The ground’s just wet,” I say. It makes no sense.

The kids are in coats, but I forgot my own. I already have my boots on. We don’t wear shoes in the house. I tiptoe across the house to the coat hooks and grab my coat, saying, under my breath, “fucking shit”. I tell myself my children don’t know that I swear or that I ever experience a state of mind where I would want to.

I tiptoe back to the door, feeling myself deposit germ clusters on the floor with each step.

I stride out the door. “Let’s go.” I turn around. No one is behind me. They stay standing in the door. I am too crazed, too unfamiliar, to be followed.

My daughter steps out first, now more suspicious of me than the rain. My son comes to the threshold. He says he can’t step down. I wonder if he really can’t or if he needs extra attention, assurance that it’s still me under all this grouchiness, if he is gauging how much I love him versus how hard I, apparently, find it to be his parent. It’s the same question I had about my father.

I pick him up. I carry him to the car. He feels ridiculously big. His ski jacket is like a spacesuit. Sweat breaks out in my armpits. I don’t know what I find so hard about mothering. People do this all the time. Why is it so hard for me? These poor babes. Exceptional children. Why? Why? Why?

I remember getting everyone in the car finally and buckling myself and starting to back out of the driveway and my son saying his strap came undone and putting the car back in park and unbuckling my seatbelt and scooting the seat back and twisting backward to fix his buckle and twisting back around and bumping my knee on the steering wheel then scooting the seat back forward and putting the car into reverse and my daughter asking for Raffi can we listen to Raffi I want Raffi and my son saying Mom I have something really important to tell you and going up the hill and turning on Raffi and it’s the wrong Raffi it’s Raffi Radio and she wants Raffi Rise and Shine and halfway up the hill to Corbett the car beeps because I don’t have my seatbelt on and my son wants to know why I didn’t have my seatbelt on and could we listen to Raffi Radio and my daughter says NOOOOOO and he says Raffi Radio is better it’s SOOOOOO much better.

People want this. People wait for this. People cry for lack of this. Insert here (what an amazing joyous heart-opening experience it is.) It’s all true. The deepest most mind-altering truth. But this is not about the joy-parts. This is about the sorry, empty, hag-parts. I get bitter and resentful for the endless demands. I get scared that this is the best it’s ever going to be. I get impatient and snap and see by their confused little faces that I have, all by myself, made them less than they were when they woke up this morning. And that feeling, sinks me even more.

The parking spots are all taken. It’s five after nine. We park a block away. I open the back door for the kids. My son wants to wait in the car. I tell him it’s illegal. I tell my daughter to come on. She says she’s singing right now. I say she can sing and get out. Both! My fake enthusiasm tricks even me! We get to her classroom, me holding my son’s arm as he hops a block down the sidewalk, all while I call the pediatrician’s office and say we’re on our way. I don’t even wait for an appointment. I’m sure the doctor’s office loves being turned into Supercuts. But we have two hours before we have to be back for my daughter’s classroom presentation where parents are not required to come but if you want your child to be the only one without a parent there, go ahead.

We say goodbye to my daughter. I carry my son back to the car. He is so heavy. He’s forgotten how to be carried, how to wrap his legs around my waist- he’s all deadweight. I say, do you remember that thing you can do with your legs? He wraps them around my waist. Oh yeah, he says, like he’s remembering something from a long time ago, like I’ve said, remember your Fisher Price popcorn popper? I wonder what all he can remember. He tells me I’m the best mommy in the universe. “I love you so much it makes the ocean look like a drop of water,” he says. Unbelievable.

I wonder what he does, what she does – what they will – remember.