Bob the Plumber and his side-kick Dylan arrive early today to do as much work as they can for our renovation. They can’t install the sink or dishwasher, because the counters aren’t in yet (why? why??). But there’s plenty else to do, and Bob swears that the horrendous nerve pain in his cracked molar isn’t going to stop him.
Nick, who hasn’t left for school yet, greets Bob cheerfully. As Bob gives our dog Madeline a scratch on the ear, Nick announces loudly and helpfully, “SHE’S A GIRL.” Thanks to Nick’s cute underdeveloped palate, it actually sounds like “she’s a go-wool.”
Bob takes note of this news politely. “Oh, is she?”
“Yeah,” answers Nick. He starts up a game on his iPad and his thumbs get busy as he stares unblinking at the screen. “Mommy doesn’t like to have boy dogs because you can always see their penises.”
I try not to be too embarrassed by this disclosure. Bob handles it diplomatically.
(It’s not the visual, by the way. It’s the dry humping I can’t tolerate.)
* * * * * *
I was planning to install the last sheets of a waterproof membrane in the future parents’ bathroom while the kids are at school, but Bob has to turn the water off for a while. What a shame that I can’t do this particularly grueling task today. The blisters and scrapes on my hands will have to wait a day.
All I can do is sit and plan the tile layout in said bathroom. This is brutal and brain-twisting work, I tell you. Bob pops down an hour into my mental contortions, looking somewhat happy. He talks with his jaw clenched, like he’s Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter. “Ah j’st hud the t’uth pulled.”
Unbeknownst to me, for the past half hour Bob’s been at the dentist having his tooth pulled out. He’s back to work now, numb jaw and all. Meanwhile, I’ve accomplished nothing. I feel terribly inadequate.
* * * * * *
I drive over to Glen Hills middle school to pick Jesse up. She’s currently on a shortened schedule to help manage her anxiety and OCD. She can’t make it through a full day yet without unraveling. No no no, that’s not the right metaphor. Not yarn. That’s too soft. She’s more of a shrapnel bomb. She can’t make it through full school days without shrapneling.
Most days when I get Jesse, we head straight home and she finishes her schoolwork here. We cover whatever material she’s missing in the afternoon, she does her reading and math and homework. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s bitter. But before we get started, Jesse usually comes in for a long embrace. Sometimes it’s before we even make it out of the school house. She sits on my lap or stands next to me as I kneel or sit. She wraps her scrawny and strong arms around my neck and leans in. We hold each other tight for long minutes. She’s still so little that when my arms wrap her body, my hands reach around as far as my opposite shoulders. I could just as well be hugging myself. I don’t know what Jesse’s thinking, and I don’t ask. I know she’s still and silent; this is a rare and precious state for her, so I don’t like to interrupt it. I don’t know what I’m thinking either, as I bury my face in her hair and kiss her. Sometimes I’m filled with simple love (whatever that four-letter word means to me today), and sometimes with a longing for an easier path through life for her, and sometimes with a simple sadness that her school hours are so hard for her.
Anyway, I pick her up today as usual. I beat Jesse to the exit area, so I slump in a chair and wait. My eyes happen to land on a large sign welcoming visitors to the middle school. But my sight is blurry and tired, and my contact lenses are dirty, and what I read is “WELCOME TO GENITALS!”
Ew. Jesse’s penis obsession is definitely rubbing off on me. The good news is, I read the sign wrong.
* * * * * *
I take Jesse to Starbucks for a vanilla bean cream frappucino, her favorite treat obsession these days. I’ve tasted it and I’m totally repelled. It’s sugar, with sugar added, and then topped with sugar and whipped cream.
But it’s what she loves, and she came out of school with a smile and a pretty good attitude, so I think she deserves it on a Monday. She settles down into a bar chair and slurps away. I stand next to her leaning on the bar, waiting patiently for her to enjoy her treat. I realize suddenly that her face is weirdly close to mine and she’s inspecting the bottom half of my face.
“Why are you looking at me like that? Are you looking at the scratch?” (Jesse gave me a wicked scratch on my jaw a couple days ago while she was jumping on me from behind.)
“No. I’m looking at your face. You look like a nice grandma.”
Nice. “Why? Because I’m old?”
“No!” Jesse exclaims cheerfully. She pulls her chin back to make a double chin and talks with narrow pursed lips in a low tone, as if she’s imitating… me. “It’s because you’re all blubby.”
I hug Jesse from behind and squeeze, and also I burp directly in her ear. “Do I burp like a grandma?”
“Yes, like a strong grandma!”
At least I have that.
* * * * * *
Jesse and I head over to pick up Nick from elementary school. He comes out smothered in his own cheerful smile. You would never, ever guess that at last week’s school conference, his teacher told me he cries a lot in class. He seems to have a lot of anxiety and has very little self-confidence, especially about learning letters and sounds. He gets hung up and really worried about tests. He gets down on himself about doing badly. He’s being placed in a reading intervention group.
Nick is in kindergarten so I’m not too worried about the reading thing yet. I’m more worried about his mood, given our family histories. I need to get on that and pay some serious attention to him, help him get over his fear of learning to read, do some extra tutoring with him. But with what spare time?? I’m spending every free moment trying to finish up my part on this fucking renovation. In 4 to 6 weeks, I keep telling myself, in 4 to 6 weeks.
Until then, I keep mulling over a sweet moment Nick and I shared a couple days ago, as we sat on the stairs to the basement. He straddled my lap and held my cheeks gently with his not-tiny-for-much-longer hands. I said I was sorry for being so busy and not being able to do as much stuff with him as I should. He replied, “You’re right mommy. You do a lot, but you don’t do enough for me lately.”
But those worries are blown straight out of my mind when Nick walks out of school. He is pure sunshine. He loudly and methodically hands me all his crap the second he steps out the school doors. “THIS is my school work. You have to bring it back tomorrow. THIS is something else I have to bring back. THIS is my lunch box.” He smiles at me disarmingly and decides to keep his backpack on. I don’t even get a hug as he races off to the playground.
A good-sized handful of kids and their parents, a combination of moms and dads, tend to stay after school to play on good-weather days. The kids get along well, and it’s an easy chance to socialize and get some fresh air after being cooped up in classrooms all day. Nick has so much fun. He makes friends easily; he’s kind and inclusive. He’s just a cool little guy. Jesse struggles this year with playground time. She’s either going hog-wild OCD on penis talk or sitting somewhere by herself being morose. Today, she sees a classmate from middle school who’s come with an older family member to shoot hoops. They greet each other shyly, and then Jesse promptly starts to lift her shirt in one of her OCD maneuvers. At least she doesn’t ask to have sex with him. But other than this blip, she seems to have fun. She plays with several kids and runs around. She’s pretty normal today. It’s kind of weird, I think to myself.
* * * * * *
After dinner, Nick fires up a Power Rangers episode on his iPad mini. I hate all 400 Power Ranger series equally. They are the stupidest shows ever made. They suck so bad, and the plots are even worse than the acting.
But I don’t do anything about it. I should be playing alphabet games with Nick. I should be playing board games with Jesse. We should be doing jumping jacks and interactive play, followed by sun salutations and meditation moments, and then gratitude sharing. Instead my kids are watching Power-Bad TV on the iPad and sharing rainbow sherbet straight out of the tub.
At least they’re using spoons. And they’re getting along in close quarters. Nick isn’t screaming at Jesse, and Jesse isn’t kicking, clawing, or choking Nick. No one is putting anyone down. In fact, they’re being downright delightful together. I’ve been waiting for days like these for a long time.
Jesse strolls over to me. She sits in my lap and I hold her like a toddler I’m nursing to sleep, her legs slung to one side of me and her neck in the crook of my arm. I love these sweet moments with my children. She leans in and looks lovingly into my eyes as she squeezes my meaty upper arm. “I need your warm blub to warm me up.”
* * * * * *
After warming up on my blub, Jesse segues smoothly into the title of her new “personal narrative,” which is a thing they do at school. Her latest is called “The One and Only Free Heart,” she tells me.
“That sounds really neat. What’s it about?”
Jesse giggles. “I don’t know yet. I only wrote the title.” I can practically see her brain whirring as she spins out a tale between her ears. I realize suddenly that I haven’t heard Jesse mention penises but twice this entire afternoon. Penises are nowhere to be seen as she dreams about the story she’ll tell.
I think that’s worth being grateful for, even if I am a sorry, disgruntled excuse for a mom these days.