We are driving home in the almost dark and Bug drifts off to sleep. He stretches awake when I pull into the driveway, and I ask him again whether he wants pizza toast or eggs for dinner. He does not answer. When I gave him the same choices at Chicken School, he’d answered, “Lasagne and Thai food.”
“What’s it going to be, Buddy?” I ask as he slouches out of the car and yawns his way into the house.
“Mom, can’t we just sit on the couch and talk about it?”
This decision is clearly too much to tackle. I drop our bags in the doorway and follow him into the piano room. Granddaddy is in the den eating a sandwich and watching a show, no doubt gearing up for the vice presidential debates. I fold myself around Bug and he presses into me, resting his head against my chest. We do not talk for a while. I kiss his forehead over and over, just because it is so close. Finally, I ask again about dinner.
“Okay,” he sighs. “Eggs, I guess.”
Bug’s grandma is in Germany, so she is not here to help me figure this out. Also, I did not have the foresight to prep a meal. Such flashes of organization never strike twice in one week. I rise to go into the kitchen.
“Mommy, can you play something with me?”
“Can’t, Buddy. It’s time to make dinner.”
I start washing out the containers from Bug’s lunch. He follows me in, bringing the new science kit his aunt sent from Germany as a birthday gift. He opens it and digs through all the tubing and rubber gloves and strange pictures.
“What do I do with it, Mommy?”
I dry my hands and come over. The instruction booklet is long, and I tell him I cannot help him with it. “This weekend, baby. We’ll have lots of time.”
He sighs again and puts everything away. I have him set the table and wash his hands. He is still exhausted, still wandering around and looking for something to do. I remind him of his “H” collage for school. I set a magazine and some scissors on the table, but he can barely hold his head up.
Finally, dinner. We eat our spinach eggs, share the bacon, nibble at the cinnamon toast. We look together through the Kid’s Post and Highlights for words with “H” in them. Hockey, High Five, Third, Hidden. We find a picture of a hug. I help him cut and he glues the scraps into his journal.
Then it is time to clean up and get ready for bath. Bug finds a book sitting on the kitchen table. It is one of his new favorites, The Witch’s Supermarket.
“Mommy, can we read this book?”
I look at the pile of dishes, the unfinished laundry, the snacks still needing to be packed for tomorrow. I haven’t started the bath. If I don’t iron something tonight, I’ll be wearing yoga pants to work in the morning. Even with Giovanni watching the dog for the week, even with someone else paying the mortgage, all I can manage is another “no.”
And so I finally know this: loneliness is nowhere near the worst part of being alone.
“I really need to clean up. You could help me, and we would be done faster so I could read to you.”
I see my boy deflate. Even the book seems to droop in his hands.
“I really like this story,” he says. He is so tired.
“Sorry, baby, I can’t read it right now. I’ll read it to you at bedtime. If you are done helping, you can go look at it by yourself until I’m finished here.”
“Okay.” He trudges away.
Some days, I would give anything not to be a single mom. Okay, maybe not anything, but in certain low moments, the devil could show up with a contract and a fountain pen, and he’d walk away a soul richer.
I start the dishes. Then I stop.
How stuck in our ways are we? Really, how blind do patterns make us to their existence?
And how willing are we to come un-stuck?
We are not alone in this house. Yet somehow, we keep giving that truth so wide a berth, we can’t even discern its edges.
“Hey, kiddo. Let’s go ask your granddaddy. Remember that guy?”
We walk into the living room. Bug pauses, transfixed by Gary Oldman’s giant face on the screen. We chat for a moment with my father about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and then we ask if he would be willing to read Bug this book while I finish preparing for bath and bedtime.
“Why, sure!” He turns off the TV. “Get on up here, big boy!”
Piece of cake.
Bug ooches up onto the couch, pressing his insatiable body into his granddaddy’s frame. The old man takes the book. “Let’s see what we have here. Uh oh. Witches!”
And they begin.
As I putter and pack and start the washing machine, I overhear my father taking his sweet time. He puts on a cackling voice and even reads through all the disgusting signs at the Witch’s meat counter. “Eyes of newt, lizard’s gizzards. . . ” This catalog of dark magic gives me a few extra breaths which I offer up to Carolyn Hax and the other guilty pleasures of the Style section. This is my moment of nothing. A booming racket and a fit of giggles burst from the living room, and I hitch a ride on it, free and easy.