My son wakes me with a homemade card. A triptych of him and his kid brother, with the senior poodle in between.
“It’s beautiful Theodore…”
Then comes: “Can I play a game on your phone?”
The day plan is this:
We’ll enjoy a slow start. I’ll get in a long, scalding shower... The kind that dries the skin but feels so good... It will include shaving, shampooing and deep hair conditioning. The boys will scooter to MacDonald Avenue for an 11am birthday party at Kids ‘n’ Action (Chucky Cheese minus minimum wage earners in mouse suits). I will get to sit on my arse, drink coffee, eat powdered donuts and catch up with the mamas, while our kids scramble through tunnels like gerbils. Later, my parents will treat us all to a fancy French meal in Carroll Gardens.
Awesome sauce right?
Here’s how it plays out:
After 2 bites of bacon, Theodore returns to bed with an upset stomach. The moans of a ten year old, deeply resentful of personal discomfort, reach every corner of the small rowhouse. I dread stomach aches, my own and those of others. There is nothing to be done about belly pain: no analgesics, no balms, no band-aides. Even kisses cannot relieve nausea.
“Here,” I say, handing him his wastepaper basket in bed. “Throw up in here.”
He glowers, turns his backside towards me and sticks his butt up in the air, same as he did a decade earlier, swaddled in his crib. As soon as I leave his room the groans resume and I return, helpless to offer relief, but I return anyway, again and again.
Unwashed and without make-up, I leave the house phone on Theodore’s bedside table and head out to the party with William alone.
Push buttons are problematic. The scooter handle refuses to slide down, so instead of resting comfortably at chest level, the handle nestles under Will’s chin where he grips it,
like a squirrel,
whose just scored a piece of pita,
dumped by a cabbie,
into the gutter,
at the end of his shift.
We set off.
We reach Ocean Parkway—halfway there—I walk the scooter across while gripping William’s hand. Razor scooters are meant to be ridden, not walked. As I reach the curb it swings around and nails me in the ankle. “Dammit!” Pain and anger radiate to my extremities.
I have a choice.
I make the wrong one, though I know the right one: to pause, breathe deeply of the exhaust generated by 4 lanes of traffic, and to carry on. Instead, I take my ankle agony out on my child. No holding back:
“That hurts! That really hurts!! William!!! Why did we bother taking the scooter? You don’t even like to scooter much DO you?? You’d rather bike! Can we sell the scooter???”
His response is justified:
“MOMMY! You are sooooo mean!! You ruined my day!!! I’m not even going to the party now!!!!”
I deserve that.
“I’m sorry William."
“What does sorry mean??? I’m sorry. That’s just words mommy!!!”
Wow. Is this a six-year-old speaking?
He throws the scooter to the ground and plants his short legs on the peninsula jutting between Ocean Parkway South and its service road.
The metaphor is obvious: Ocean Parkway and an ocean between us. Choppy. Vast. Unfathomable. I don’t know how to help my child, or help myself, when he gets like this.
I have a chance to redeem myself.
I don’t take it. Instead, I PUSH.
“We’re going to the party William. Don’t you like birthday parties??”
“No. They give you very unhealthy food... like cake.”
“Didn’t you like Molly's party in Prospect Park? Rolling around the grass with Sam?”
“No, I hated it. He almost gave me lice.”
My phone rings. I fish around the bottom of my purse and catch the call just before it swims to voicemail.
“Speak up Theodore. I can’t hear you. You’re brother is having a fit.”
“I’m feeling really sick.”
“Go to the toilet and throw up. You’ll feel a lot better.”
“Really, it’s the only thing that helps.”
“Okay, I’m just gonna drop William off and run home to you baby. Sit tight.”
No time for bridging symbolic bodies of water with skillful words and hugs; I pull the scooter—and William—the rest of the way.
Homeward bound to Theodore. I stop at the Uzbeki fruit stand to pick through the “dead produce” bin. I fill a bag with squishy tomatoes at 19 cents/lb. I fill another with limp celery and sprouted onions.
Things are better at home. Theodore has thrown up.
“Mom! Come clean up my vomit!”
“Did you rinse out your mouth?”
“Yes. Can I go on your phone?”
One child sick in bed, another at a party, what next? I pull on debutante-length rubber gloves and clean the fridge—the right way—not my usual smear job. Hot soapsuds and scouring pads. I troll the depths for packets in tin foil, sniff and discard them all.
Still scouring the Amana, I eat lunch from the fridge door: an open kiddie yogurt and a boiled egg from Easter, rolling around the butter compartment.
I dump the Uzbeki tomatoes into a pot, get out the potato masher and make fresh tomato & basil sauce.
This is not the Mother’s Day I envisioned, but my mood is improving. Mash, mash, mash.
I move on to making broth. I throw the sad onions and celery in the stock pot with water, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf.
I remember to call Nana.
“Happy Mother’s Day mom! Sorry, we can’t join you at the restaurant. Theodore is honking like a goose and hacking up oysters on the rug now. He’s too consumptive to travel.”
My parents had really wanted to treat me to lamb sausage and French lentils at Provence en Boite on Smith Street. Instead, they treat a childless friend to my lentils, or maybe she dines on Theodore’s steak frites. Or croque-monsieur. Dammit.
But wait, it’s cool that my parents pivot and salvage an unconventional Mother’s Day for themselves by sharing a meal in sparkling conversation that does not revolve around a ten-year-old’s lackluster piano practice nor his prospects for orthodonture.
William returns home with three goody bags and proceeds to open and sort them on the dining room table. I watch him peel the wrapper off a Hershey Kiss.
A wave of gratitude rolls over me. The first of the day.
I cave to gaming. Wii Mario something or other. I go upstairs to pack away winter sweaters in mothballs.
I hang tuff about not cooking on Mother’s Day (tomato sauce and veggie broth notwithstanding). The Good Taste delivers chicken and broccoli, long-live vegetarian, pork dumplings, fortune cookies, and 2 free sodas: Hawaiian Punch and Diet Coke. I demonstrate how to use chopsticks and the boys stab away at their wontons like ice anglers after Yellow Perch.
The evening winds down with an episode of River Monsters on Animal Planet:
‘It’s scary Mommy.”
“Can I hold your hand William?"
“No Mommy, it’s annoying.”
We sit on the sofa, the boys and me, hands to ourselves, googling ghost sharks on my laptop between commercials.
William looks thoughtfully at the TV screen:
“I want to go to the Amazon cause there are lots of mangoes there.”
One more wave.
It’s an atypical Mother’s Day. No pink carnations and no dinners in restaurants with real napkins. It’s a day of stalemates with a six-year-old, sickness and sacrifice with a ten-year-old. A day of small mouths with loud voices making remarkable observations. A day of take-out Chinese, and a day of vomit.
Actually, it’s a pretty typical day in the life of a Mother.
One week later:
We are walking that same route down Foster. We leave the scooters at home. William holds my hand and I notice he is tugging erratically. I look down and see he’s not walking. He’s skipping. Yes, gamboling like a lambkin in a field of buttercups. Straight out of a nursery rhyme. Theodore starts to snicker and I shoot him a look which says:
Don’t ruin this for us. Give me this mommy moment.
Soon enough the skipping will stop; about the same time Mr. Bear will no longer be needed to nod off to dreamland.
We turn onto MacDonald Avenue and sidestep a forklift, parked on the sidewalk, moving monuments from a truck bed through the open doors of a warehouse. The warehouse: a graveyard of helter-skelter tombstones piled high; all with photorealistic renderings of loved ones etched into the granite. Creepy.
“What are those mommy?”
Explaining mortality to a six-year-old, under the shadow of the el, is pointless.
“Let’s just enjoy this day boys. The next one isn’t promised to any of us.”
A woman, walking briskly ahead, overhears me and nods in agreement. Without slackening her pace, she ascends the staircase to meet the approaching F.