It is almost 6:30 pm. Congestion on 66 West backs it up all the way to Falls Church. After a grind of a day, a co-worker saves me a metro trip by letting me hitch a ride back towards home. My car waits near the station, a stack of overdue library books in the trunk alongside a bag of clothes destined for Goodwill. Somehow I will have to make room for the giant sack of special Active Maturity dog food I hope Target has on the shelf because PetSmart is in the wrong direction. The dog’s bowl has been empty for nearly two days.
In an hour, friends will be gathering for Team Trivia at the bar. As for dinner? The leftover apple banging around in my backpack will have to suffice. As we sit in stop-and-go traffic solving the problems of the world, my phone rings.
Noisy air when I pick it up. Then, “Mommy?”
“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”
“Can I stay with you tonight?” His sing-y, plead-y voice spills into the car. Sweetness bomb. My friend rocks from the blow.
“Oh, baby, I’m sorry. Tonight’s not such a good night. I have lots going on.”
“What are your plans?” he asks. Plans. This is his new catch-all for any activity that does not include him.
The string of red lights ahead, the growling in my belly, and the long slog from my car’s parking spot to the library-Target-Trivia bar clear on the other side of town conspire with my son’s desire. I almost give in. It would be so easy to pick him up and just go home. The dog could eat cheese toast for dinner like the rest of us.
I hold the line. Barely. “Errands and more errands so that when you’re with me tomorrow night, everything is all done. I just left work and I’m not at home yet.”
“Then can you come get me after your plans? I want to stay with you. Please? Can I?”
Tee is saying something in the background. Bug gives him a short “no.” Then, “Please? Mommy, I really, really want to be with you tonight.”
My two Bug-free nights each week are precious, though you wouldn’t know it by the quality of the activities. I cram these evenings with the dullest tasks to free up my attention for Bug on the squeezed-tight school nights he is with me. My me-nights are laundry nights. Gas-station nights. Clean-the-humidifier nights.
It is only recently that friends have begun punctuating the to-do list. Finally getting up and out, even if it’s just for a 45-minute gab over a drink after work, has been just as rejuvenating as you might imagine. Bug’s request is killing me. I can cope with the $2 library fine, but I draw the line at Trivia.
Still. The primal urge to give my kid the simple refuge of my love is potent stuff. I take a deep breath. “What’s going on, buddy? What special thing do you need from Mommy?”
His voice begins to quiver. The tears, right there, through the phone. “I just. . . I just really want to. Please?”
“Want to what?”
His voice is tiny now. “I want to come over and walk the doggie with you.”
“In the woods?”
“Uh huh.” And now he is crying. Tee’s voice again, something garbled.
“Baby, I’m not even home. Tell you what. I’ll leave work early tomorrow and come pick you up from school so we can have an extra long walk. We can even go to the bamboo forest.”
“But I want to be with you tonight.” No more “please,” just the futile fact of desire.
“Let me ask you and Daddy something.” I say this loud so Tee can hear. “Are you guys doing anything right now?”
“No,” Bug says. Tee, in the background, seems to indicate the all-clear. It’s hard to say, but he probably wouldn’t have let Bug call me with this request if something was on their schedule.
“Gramma may be home. Why don’t you just ask Daddy if he’ll take you over to my house? You two could walk the dog.”
“In the woods?” Miraculously recovered, Bug’s voice pings off the ceiling of the car.
“If Daddy says it’s okay –“
“Okay. Bye, Mom.”
“Oh, well, good –“
The phone is dead in my hand.