I awoke early, my mind restless from a weird dream I was in that involved the world of the book I’m reading. I tried to go back to sleep but tossed and turned, thinking of people I miss, the state of my life, how quickly things are changing, what’s next on life’s road for me. People are moving in and out so fast I almost can’t keep up with the current or figure out where my place is in the stream. I’ve anchored myself to a clump of grass and am making that riverbank my home base, for now. Visitors swim by, maybe visit, and are gone as soon as the wind changes.
My son hit the ground running, coming in not long after I woke up insisting he was “starving.” I quickly put together a breakfast that he mostly ignored – parenting.
We didn’t waste any time, as MLK Day also means free day for many museums here, and we headed over to the East side of town to go to the Museum of Natural History. We got there about 25 minutes before the museum was scheduled to open, cars – including mine – pop-pop-popping quickly into the open meters in front of the building. We were the third family (are two people a family? I guess so.) in line. A woman ahead of me had three kids and one that was an exchange student. She was explaining what was in the museum and told the kid that she would make sure he didn’t get lost, that she would treat him better than her own kids while he was staying with them. I thought that was really sweet, and for the first time thought of how I might some day host an exchange student myself. It won’t happen in this cracker box of an apartment, I suppose. I did conceive that an overnight might be possible some day though, with D sleeping on the floor and giving up his bed to his guest. Back of the mind contemplations, filed away for later.
At the museum, he did a little better than the last time we were there, when we had free passes. It’s pretty expensive to do something like this, with $10 for parking and $14 a head for admission, so after the disaster that was the last visit, I was willing to risk it on free day, even though I knew it would be packed. They had put out a bunch of special exhibit tables in each room and had experts in different fields answering questions, showing off artifacts or ancient activities. There was the bug guy who had a glass cage full of bugs devouring the carcasses of birds and tiny animals, which was cool but didn’t hold D’s attention. He was interested in the Native American corn thing, where they were showing how you grind dried corn into dust. He was interested in what you would cook with the dust and I talked about cooking applications with him; this is his language, through food and the kitchen, and he thought freshly made tortillas sounded pretty good.
He really sat down and was enraptured not by the guys and stories they told at the table about rocks, but about the books that were there. He told me that he would never go to Hawaii because it’s nothing but volcanoes and quicksand, and he would either burn to death from the lava or be swallowed in quicksand. “How do they even get to work!” he proclaimed, in that funny way kids have of tying adult things they have a tertiary knowledge about to the world they are learning about.
In the little kids’ play area in the basement, he was playing and playing with some rubber animals. A little black kid came up and he threw some of the animals at him so he could start playing, and they started making the animals fight and make noises, like little boys often do. They were playing together for quite awhile, and his mother was standing some distance away. She finally grabbed a tiny chair and said she was sitting down, and I said yeah, I hear you, and she offered me the chair next to her so I sat down with her. I felt, probably wrongly but who gives a fuck if I’m right about anything anymore, that I should say something, given why we were both here, on free day, the reason behind the day off. “50 years ago,” I said, “Our boys wouldn’t have even been allowed to play together at the same place.” She nodded, “I know it,” she said, “And yet we have so much more work to do.” We then had a very, very serious conversation for such a happy room, the words between two mothers and the different challenges they face, one raising a white boy and one raising a black boy. Before we knew it, we were both wiping away a tear. I don’t give a fuck how it looked, it was poignant and, I felt, important, and I was glad I had said something. Then D was off to the next play area like a shot. “Mom, come on!” he shouted. She and I exchanged a weird half-hug like you would with a stranger you barely know but with whom you have connected, and I said I had really enjoyed talking to her and she said she really enjoyed it too. Then the blur of the overpopulated room overtook us and they were gone, and D was on to playing with an Asian boy and a little blonde girl and I was glad I had brought him, even if it was just for this time we had in the basement playroom.
He insisted on me taking him to “the place with the fireplace” for lunch, even though I had hoped we could go home for lunch and save the money. That would be Sokolowski’s, and I have created the Cleveland monster. I took him, even though I don’t think much of their food and knew we would have to wait 40 minutes in line. He never complained, and I let him ride piggyback for awhile while I talked about the crawler cranes we could see outside the big windows, and what they were doing and why. Sometimes having the job I do comes in the tiniest bit handy. The guys behind me seemed really surprised that a chick would know so much about multimillion dollar crane technology and bridge construction. Ha.
Then we went to Target to get a birthday present for his Dad and for his teacher. We shopped for valentines for his class, and he carefully selected a tiny, heart-shaped box of chocolates that he said he’s going to sneak into his girlfriend’s desk. I told him he has to at least identify in some way that it’s from him, and he agreed I could write a very generic note on a small piece of paper and tape it to the box, but that’s it, Mom, nothing else. He was so shy and cute when I was suggesting the little Snoopy and Woodstock hugging thing, “No way Mom, I’m too embarrassed for that.” Ah my son. Apple, tree, etc.
It was too late for a nap, but we came back here to lay around a bit and he suddenly asked about a haircut, which I’ve been haranguing him about. So we popped back out to the cheap haircutting place in the strip mall, where he likes going because they give you a lolly when you’re done. Then we went to a hippie store I like as I needed some incense and a couple of other things.
On the way home, completely out of the blue, he asked the WHY question, which he has not asked up until now. I danced around it and gave adult answers. He pressed for specifics, when I said his Dad and I agreed this would be best for our family, for us to separate and have two residences, and to trade off weeks. It’s here that my (unfinished but for a single class) psych minor came in handy, especially the child psych stuff I had studied, and I drew it out of the cobwebs and tried to discern why he was asking what he was. He misses parent B when he is with parent A, which is to be expected. He is more aware than ever of how many kids in his class have a similar deal. But with some gentle probing, I found that what he was really asking was if he was the cause, because he argues with me, or because he argues with Dad. I was all over that, and set things straight there, without giving him too much adult information that he does not need and cannot process anyway. He’s a smart kid, and I’m sure this won’t be the last conversation. And frankly, I’m glad he finally asked, because up until now, he’s just gone along with everything and has been excited about the changes in a way. I thought it was a little weird he didn’t wonder why, as he’s old enough to wonder. We did call his Dad and talked to him about our day, and had an amicable conversation. He’s picking him up tomorrow after school and keeping him for the night as I have a THREE-HOUR PTA meeting after work.
“All I can do is the best I can do,” is something I tell myself sometimes when I’m dealing with something challenging, personally or professionally, and that’s what I tell myself tonight.