This is at least the third Wednesday in a row that it has been a struggle.
Three Wednesdays ago Scott was sick and my babysitter didn't come because he "didn't want to take a chance on missing any school". This resulted in my having to impose on Connor's friend's dad, with no notice at all, to come and take the boys to football practice, on his birthday. I felt so badly about that that I promised to take the boys for the next 2 weeks in a row. Yesterday was to be the final day of my atonement.
Last week I had to impose on the kindness of a neighbor at the last minute to get Scott's care covered when the babysitter in effect canceled again. That time I fired him.
I found a replacement, a girl who lives a couple miles from us to the west. She's also a junior in high school but doesn't have her driver's license yet. So the afternoon looked like this: I'd pick up Scott at 3:15, drive up our hill, home about 3:40, collect my stuff, feed the boys snacks, get Connor and his buddy started getting ready for football, drive over to pick up Jackie at around 4:15, bring her back to the house, show her where all the phone numbers and food and stuff was, leave by 4:30. Tight.
Connor wasn't upstairs when I came in with Scott (his bus drops him about 10 minutes before we arrive from Scott's school). I called out, and heard him say, "Hi, Mom" in a very quiet voice. I went downstairs immediately to see what was wrong. He said they had seen something awful. The bus had been stopped outside of one child's house, a friend of theirs, and the boy was getting off. Their driveway is across the street and his overjoyed yellow lab bounded up to greet him. Around a corner a truck sped and plowed into the dog, before the horrified eyes of all the children on the bus. Connor said, "She was killed instantly. That was good. But it split open her stomach..."
It struck me that it could have been Garrett hit. I absorbed the impact of that thought while tuning back in to Connor:
"I don't feel like going to football."
At first I protested, unsure if this justified missing a practice, thinking it might help clear their minds of that image. And I'm ashamed to say my strategic mind kicked in:
They don't go--I don't have to take them, drive out of the way to that school field and then across town at the heaviest traffic time of the day. That's Good.
That's two more kids for the babysitter. That's Bad.
They'd be amusement for themselves and not be any extra work for the babysitter. That's Good.
I told them I'd think about it while I went upstairs to call Maria, Garrett's mom and tell her how sorry I was. It was 10 minutes until 4. I wanted to leave to get the sitter about 4. First I called Gary, to see what he thought about the boys missing practice, and/or to notify him that he wouldn't need to pick them up from the field. Voice mail on the office phone. I left a message, coded "urgent." Called the cell. Left message with voice mail, coded "urgent." Called Maria.
She was shaken, yet strong. Had already moved the badly damaged dog off the road and was preparing to take a bucket down to sluice off the blood "so Garrett doesn't have to look at it as we drive off to football (his dad is one of the coaches)." (They're going anyway. Maybe I should make my two go.)
An image flashed for a moment of having to experience pulling your dead and maimed dog off the road, cover her up, to prepare to bury her later. I said, "I'm so sorry you had to do that."
To my dismay, I felt myself getting anxious. I'd caught the time out of the corner of my eye and realized mine was getting short. Yet, I could feel that this was not the moment to pull away from this conversation. It would be premature and just wrong. Then Scott started pestering me for a toy he was looking for. It even felt wrong to disengage from Maria long enough to tell him it was in the car. Then I glanced out the window and was reminded I'd left the van up on the road at the foot of our driveway in preparation for going to get Jackie. I also noticed a very unusual amount of traffic, so I wasn't comfortable about letting him to up to get it. He's getting impatient and louder, wanting an answer and I'm trying to be as present as possible for Maria and feeling more and more off balance: I wasn't doing anything well. I felt compelled to offer my services, even though I felt terribly hypocritical because I hoped the answer was "no". It was, in fact she offered to help me, by taking Connor to football!
We said goodbye, and I was free to go get Jackie. I asked Scott if he wanted to go. He did not. Since I only anticipated being gone about 10 minutes (queue up the "jaws" theme song) I let him stay.
My route to Jackie's takes me past Maria's house. The road was indeed wet. She must have taken the bucket of water down immediately after we talked. She would have had to carry it down a steep drive. To me there seemed to be plenty of visibility for a car coming around the curve just east of her house, the direction from which the truck had come. He must have been going really fast if he had been unable to stop.
Jackie's house is about another mile further, down one of the few side roads that goes down to a highway by the river. I'd expected her to be waiting in the driveway, but no one was there. I waited a moment, thinking she might be watching for me from the house, and then parked when she didn't come. Her house is up a drive that has an electronic gate across and there was no passage for a walker. So I called up the drive and was answered by two huge dogs, barking furiously. "Where are your people?" I knew they couldn't be there because those dogs could be heard for some distance. My head was ringing. It's 4:20. I decided to give her a little longer, just in case she'd thought I was picking her up at 4:30. I tried the cell, but there was no reception. I tried getting out of the car ("BARK BARK BARK") to find a pocket of connection and there was none. Turned on the news. Waited. Traffic problems all over town. A paving project on the highway below us. The latest emergency measure for the economy. Anticipation of the Debate. 4:27. I found a scrap of paper and wrote a note. Kept it neutral: "Hi, Jackie. It looks like I missed you. I waited a while, but then had to go." Name and phone number. Found a slot next to the number pad by the gate and put it there to be found. Sighing, back in car. Up pulls the school bus.
She got in and told me she was so sorry. Ordinarily the bus drops her at 3:50, but today they'd had to sit for 20 minutes down on the highway: big traffic jam. I remembered the repaving project, and then it made sense why all the traffic was on our road: frustrated drivers trying to bypass the clot. Maybe the man who had hit Garret's dog was one of those drivers, going too fast to make up the time.
Well, I had a babysitter again. But I wasn't out of it yet. When we got home I realized just how unrealistic it would have been to do what I had considered doing. I'd decided to not do the football run and I'd been thinking that maybe I could leave Connor and his friend with Scott for the interval before Gary could get home. Scott greeted me crying and furious. "They're being mean to me." What was I thinking? Two older boys and a younger brother? Conflagrations spring up between them with no notice. It happens so fast; a roll of an older kid's eyes, a disparaging tone, an insult slipped in sideways and they're off. Or, Scott deliberately pesters them to get a rise and it escalates. Each boy's own role in the conflict is invisible to him. It was a big mistake to have left the three of them together. This meant playing more catch-up, because within seconds of Scott embracing me for comfort he's kicked Connor as he was telling me about Scott's sins. So I had to send Scott to my bedroom to cool off. There was a time when Connor would have been driven, driven to retaliate. I'm glad to see he's at least grown past that. Now if he could just keep his tone respectful to Scott. I went in the room to talk with and comfort Scott, brought him out to tell the older kids in his presence that I expected them to treat Scott with respect and I expected Scott to do the same toward them.
Only then could I leave.
Sometimes it takes extraordinary energy to escape the gravitational field of home and kids. I wonder what next Wednesday will be like.
I did get there on time.
Photo of Scott posted below