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He crawled through a hole in our fence; the one created by our former dog. The one we thought we had fixed.

The irony was not that Paco escaped using Andie’s old escape route, rather, it was that he bothered to use the hole at all. You see, the fence around our rectangular yard has been three-sided ever since we purposefully felled the two enormous pine trees that threatened to accidentally blow over onto our house.

Paco made his move when Liam took him out for a Q.P. (quick pee)–without the leash. Like the Pied Piper, he led Liam and Henry on a merry dance across our neighbors’ lawns, down the street and into the woods, while I washed dishes, blissfully unaware that half of my family had run off.

I rinsed the last plate, felt that small sense of accomplishment from completing a task, and opened the back door. My stomach lurched as the silence gripped me. I scanned the empty yard. Nora was standing on top of the bulkhead, next to the open gate. “Where are your brothers?”

She paused and let her arms relax from their ballet pose. “They’re off chasing the dog,” she said using the aggrieved tone she uses when one of us interrupts, plagues or otherwise annoys her.

I sprinted around the corner of the house. “Stay put!” I called to her over my shoulder. At the end of our driveway, I spotted Henry two houses away, his hands jammed in his pockets, trudging along the side of the road. I breathed a sigh of relief. In my mind, a loose four-year-old is a more combustible situation than a loose nine-year-old. I put Henry and Nora inside the house and went back out, armed with a leash and a bad temper.

I spotted Liam half a block later. I could not make out his face, as he was lit from behind by the late afternoon sun, but his small shoulders were slumped in self-castigation and defeat. He had chased the dog in his bare feet and when I got closer, I saw that tears were leaving tracks on his dirty face. My heart ached and my anger dissipated.

“He’s gone,” Liam hiccuped. “He ran away and now he’s lost in the woods and he won’t know his way home. It’s not fair! We’ve only had him a month! And he’s only five and he’s too young to survive on his own and it’s all my fault! I almost caught up with him but I’m not wearing shoes ’cause I didn’t know he’d run away from me and then he saw me and I was like, five yards away and he took off again and I couldn’t catch him and I was yelling ‘Paco! Paco!’ and then he went into the woods and when I got there, I didn’t know which way he went! It’s all my fault…” His words gave way to wrenching sobs. Gathering his slight little string bean body in my arms, I held him.

The pain a mother feels when her child is in pain is elemental. You become a sponge; you try and absorb the hurt the same way you wipe away their tears. You become a supporting beam; you attempt to transfer the weight of their burdens onto you. You become love itself and wrap them in it, hoping they will remember happiness. You are whatever your child needs, in that moment, to make the pain go away.

Gradually, he stopped crying, started hoping and making plans. We would find Paco or someone else would. We’d put up posters. We’d do that thing I learned to do when I was young and hardly ever do now: we’d pray.

We were talking with a neighbor who witnessed the whole scene when Paco came trotting towards us, tongue lolling, a sheepish look on his face. “See, he knows where he lives,” the neighbor consoled Liam.

The three of us turned and went to that place we call home. Together.

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We spent the weekend in Boston with the kids—packing in the memories like sardines in a can. The Children’s Museum. The Barking Crab. Nantasket Beach. The Red Parrot. U2 at Gillette Stadium (this last was only for Liam and Brendan). We stopped fifty miles from home to return the borrowed stroller to my in-laws and to pick up our other car. I offered to drive the sedan in a selfish ploy for an hour of peace and quiet.

“Anyone coming with?” I called, hurling myself from the still moving vehicle. “No? See you at home!”

I was opening the car’s door when I heard the van pull in behind me. It had been too good to be true.

“Medium and Large are coming with you,” my husband announced, gripping the steering wheel with one hand and his Blackberry with the other. He continued perusing his email inbox and didn’t notice the glare I gave him.

“Are you kidding?”

“Nope. They want to be with you.”

I am almost never alone. This is one of the hard truths I have faced while morphing from Woman-With-A-Career to OINK. I am constantly accompanied by, or in the company of, others. Usually very small others. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a people person. I like people and I like to believe that they like me. But there are times when I pause to think longingly about closing the door to my office and sending the calls to voicemail; about the rental cars where I listened to whatever caught my fancy on the radio; about the airports where I sat blanketed in anonymity—just a speck in the endlessly amusing spectacle of humanity.

In those spaces, no little voices were ordering me to turn up the volume on “Crazy Frog,” whining about needing a snack ten minutes after we finished breakfast, sobbing that someone had poked them. And while I had other voices in my head—the ones reminding me to finish this proposal or that brief, nagging me to return phone calls and emails, chastising me for being the parent who was always late picking up her kids from daycare—they were all my own.

I miss my own company.

My husband interrupted my reverie. “Liam didn’t want you to be lonely.” The side of the van slid open and Liam jumped out, followed closely by his sister. In spite of myself, I was touched by my son’s thoughtfulness. He gave me an awkward, one-armed hug and ducked his head. He and Nora scurried off.

“Well, that was sweet of them.” I tried to sound positive.

My husband chuckled. “Nora is only coming with you because she wants to be with Liam. When Liam worried you’d be lonely, she told us, ‘Mommy’s not lonely–she’s fine! Liam, you stay with me!’”

Either she knows me better than I realize or she is more like me than I know.

I love my kids, but what I need is a Fortress of Solitude.

I dislike being asked questions with obvious answers. It makes me incredulous and cross. In an effort to hold onto my sanity, I often cloak my irritation with sarcastic humor.

It must be said that I am not always troll-like. I do try to modulate my exasperation levels and I will make allowances for persons in my company who have just begun using full sentences.

But when my patience evaporates, and it inevitably does, these are the kinds of exchanges my kids and I have:

“Why do you have to get out of the tub? Because if you don’t, you’ll get sucked down the drain.”

“Are we leaving now? No. We’ll wait until you scrub the floor on your hands and knees with toothbrushes and your brother licks the toilet clean.”

Recently, the kids were dancing on my last nerve. It was bath night and things weren’t going well. Multiple objections, unresponsive zombie stares, and various forms of dilly-dallying had me at wits’ end.billygoat

“Liam!” I hissed through clenched teeth. “For the last time, stop reading and go take your shower! Do you want to keep smelling like a goat?”

Unperturbed, he placed a bookmark between the pages of his book and casually closed its cover. Looking me straight in the eye, he shot me a wicked smile. “Ma-aa-aaa,” he bleated.

I started laughing. The kind of laugh that makes your belly hurt. He got me. He gets me. And with that, my goat-boy ambled off to bathe.

We were dropping off Liam and a friend at Day 2 of Drama Camp. In the elevator, Liam began directing Henry.

“Do cute. [Pause] No, like this…Smile more. And move Piggy away from your face. [Pause] That’s better.”

I became suspicious. “What are you doing, Liam?”

“I want Henry to look cute!” Both boys grinned at me.

“Why?”

“So that the Girls will think he looks cute. They’ll come over and say, ‘Ohhh, how cute! Is that your brother?’”

I rolled my eyes. Honestly, where does he learn this stuff? He’s got better moves at age nine than his father had at 25. I scolded him. “And when the Girls come over, YOU get to talk with them. Are you telling me that you’re setting your brother up as bait?”

He shrugged, unapologetic. “Yeah.”

I can’t decide what I think is worse: His instincts or his savvy.

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