Life At 110 Degrees
At five am I woke to the sounds of Maggie crying. She’d had a bad dream. I went to her room, held her tight and whispered a prayer in her ear. Seconds later she was sound asleep, clutching her white kitten “stuffy,” the Frozen blanket pulled up to her waist. I retreated to my bed where I laid back down and watched the ceiling fan revolve along with my thoughts. I mapped out the sequence of my day, what I would do first, then next, then after that.
I didn’t have long to think because I had to get Micah to Cross-Country practice by 6 am. When we left the house it was still dark, the hint of sun on the mountains. We drove in silence and I left him with a goodbye and an… I love you. He was tired, but determined.
I drove straightway home. It was time to pack lunches and get Jonah off to the bus. The bus comes everyday at 7:02. It’s never late. He has to hurry. Jonah comes into the kitchen slowly. His back hurts. He can’t manage to sit properly at the breakfast table. I set an ibuprofen next to his omelet and orange juice, “You’ll feel better soon,” I say and it goes like this…
Him: We’re not doing anything important today; I should stay home and rest.
Me: It’s school picture day.
Him: Like I said, were not doing anything important.
My mother intuition tells me this isn’t just about his back, his symptoms include the pain of fitting into a new school, making friends and doing the tough work of adjusting. (It’s awkward no matter who you are in 7th grade.) I give him my best “buck up” speech and leave him to his breakfast. I have to wake Maggie and get Micah from track.
Reluctantly, Maggie climbs into the car wearing pajamas and a single sock, her kitten still in her arms. “I’m hungry,” she says. “We’ll get breakfast as soon as we get home,” I say.
I drive down our hill, the sun painting a rosy-purple ombre above the mountains. We arrive at Micah’s track and with windows rolled down, watch him jog into view. “Come on Micah! I’ve been waiting for you and I’m hungry!” Maggie shouts. It’s what every teen needs, a precocious little sister.
He gets in the front seat, sweaty but energized, “Great job Micah!” I say, just before my cellphone rings.
It’s Jonah. “I missed the bus.” I drive home, calculating how I can get everyone to school on time, my morning sequence unraveling. I walk in the door and Jonah is laid out on the floor, “My back hurts.” This instead of ‘I’m sorry.’
I look at my six-year-old, her hair pancaked to one side, her glasses slightly askew. “Can you get your own breakfast and dress and comb your hair and brush your teeth so I can get your brother to school on time?”
She stares at me.
“You can put your own whip cream on the peaches.” (She loves to pile the Redi-whip in giant swirls.)
It’s a deal.
I drive out of the garage with Jonah, the third trip this morning. The light of day is a piercing glare. I drive him as close as I can to the front door of the school and watch him exit. “Do you have your lunch box?” I ask.
“I think so,” he says.
“It’s not a subjective question. Either you have it or you don’t. Can you check?”
He looks at me with a grin, “I’ve got it.”
He’s also got a lot of nerve and tenacity and someday it will serve him well but today it’s about all I can take.
I drive home, pull into the garage and look at the time. Ten minutes. It’s all we have before we need to be out the door again. Maggie is upstairs in her room, thankfully dressed. “Did you eat?” I ask her.
“Yes,” she beams, whip cream still at the corners of her mouth.
We brush teeth. Comb hair. Check the time. We have to go. We HAVE TO GO right now or the drop off lane to her school will be packed with stressed out parents who hate drop off as much as I do. “Micah,” I call, “we’ve got to go!”
It’s my fourth trip out of the garage and it’s not even 8 am. We drop Micah off first then flip a U-ie past the same mud encrusted Jeep I see every morning at his school, red dirt so thick I can’t tell the actual color of the car. Seniors.
I continue west, the sun illuminating the landscape of palms, desert plants and red mountains. I’m driving through what feels like Jurassic Park and for a second I forget I have to be anywhere at all. It’s beautiful and mesmerizing and then I arrive at the elementary and am jolted back into reality. Kids and cars are in commotion, the elderly crossing guard is telling everyone to have a great day as a child bolts from the front doors of the school crying—he doesn’t want to go. I hold Maggie’s hand and navigate the chaos.
We walk down the hall to math class and before she even hangs her backpack on the hook, a chorus of kids at her table shout, “Maggie!!” They’re so happy to see her and I’ve never been so glad for 1st grade enthusiasm. God bless, she has friends! She’s smiles and waves goodbye, but before I go I remind, “Don’t forget, you’re a ‘walker. Meet me at the flag pole.’” Over her spectacles she gives me a disappointed glance.
The thing is, she wants to stay in ‘Blue Zone’ with the kids that get picked up via car. It’s complete pandemonium, (read: extreme fun for kids). In the Blue Zone teachers spray you with water to stay cool (since afternoon temperatures range from 95-115 degrees). However, the Blue Zone is in the center of the rear parking lot, and the process of picking her up requires me to wait in a long line trailing down the street, edging up as slow as snails on parade. It takes about twenty minutes and when one does miraculously reach the zone, the teachers have to find your child while everyone waits. It’s one of those terrible plans that someone thought of and no one wanted to say, “That’s a terrible plan!”
As a ‘walker’ I can park at the nearby church and meet Maggie out front. It’s almost stress free and one less anxiety-provoking episode to deplete my very short-on-funds-bank-account-of-sanity.
With drop off complete, I head home. I have to meet a repairman then pick up salt for the water softener, pay fees for Micah’s Driver’s Ed, and if I’m lucky, wash the breakfast dishes. I turn on the radio. It’s the news. I quickly change the station. I listened to the news the day before and was in tears by the time I pulled into the garage…sea lions having seizures from eating shellfish, birds and other mammals suffering amnesia, flying into walls…what does it mean for humans? the broadcaster wanted to know. I turn to The Pulse on XM radio. Imagine Dragons is playing “I Bet My Life.”
I know I took the path that you would never want for me.
My thoughts drift to Cooper in Iraq. It’s not the path I wanted, me here, him there, me taking care of the kids, him thousands of miles and a world away, but I bet my life on him and on us. I bet my life. That’s pretty much everything. I look out at the blazing sun climbing into the haze, the ever-present mountains ahead. I have sun; I have another day to possibly nurture something better in this world. I have frustration and joy. I have sadness and humor and the sound of Cooper’s laughter in my head, telling me…you got this. Living is sacred work…school pick ups, making omelets, brushing teeth, knowing when to offer silence and when to give words, saying…I love you. We are the mystery unfolding. I don’t know how any of this will end, but I’m grateful to be here and part of this story where each day is…to be continued.