The day he was born

I was running back upstairs for something – well, “running” is probably a generous term, let’s go with “waddling quickly.” I was waddling quickly back upstairs for something when my water broke. I had heard that sometimes women can’t tell for sure if their water has broken, but this was unmistakable. Andre was about to leave for work, but instead we called the midwife. “Well,” she shrugged, “statistics tell us that you’ll have a baby in the next 24 hours. Let me know when you’re in labour.” Before she hung up she suggested keeping busy. We decided Andre might as well go to work and get things organized before the baby came. I had a coffee date planned with a pregnant friend – they’re the most forgiving when it comes to last-minute “I can’t come; I’m in labour” cancellations – and she had invited her friend Kate – also pregnant – who she wanted me to meet. I told them my water had broken but that I was still up for meeting if they were. “We can always leave if my contractions start,” I said. They were both game.

I waddled the four blocks down to the coffee shop to meet the girls. Before we went in, we decided to walk a few more blocks to the grocery store to buy a pack of Depends. I immediately put on a pair, then gave the package to Lindsay, who was due in a few weeks. She put two in her bag and gave the rest to Kate, who had a few months to go. That taken care of, we went to Bridgehead. 

We laughed and talked. Kate, my new friend, was delightful. (Our two babies, who met before they were born, are now in the same class at school.) We gloried in the last hot days of August, knowing that none of us would be teaching this semester, that our commitments lay elsewhere. I relaxed into the moment before the beginning, before everything changed, before this new life entered our world. For a few hours, I lived fully in liminal space.

Then the occasional twinge of something that I had been feeling became more clearly a twinge of… maybe a contraction? It was time to go. As we left, I tried to hug Lindsay – whose baby would arrive a few weeks later, bigger at birth than my baby who’d had time to grow outside of the womb. Our giant bellies made the hug impossible and we laughed again. Someone passing by wanted a picture. “When are you due?” he asked as he snapped the shot. I replied casually, “Oh, I’m actually in labour now.”

How I wish I had a picture of his face. How I wish I had the picture he took of us, laughing, our bellies so big we couldn’t wrap our arms around each other. Still, I doubt a picture would have captured the joy of that moment; probably better to hold the image in my mind.

A few hours later, the liminal space was gone, and our second child arrived.

Happy birthday, Mr. 11. You make our world better.

Thanks to the generous hosting of Two Writing Teachers, I write a slice of life every Tuesday. You’re invited, too.

Ambulance

We spend most of our time in the back part of our house in the kitchen, but this morning, something made me glance out the front door. Across the street – right in front of Pina & Mario’s place – was an ambulance. 

I didn’t really think much of it at first; my in-laws are visiting for the first time since the pandemic began and I had other things on my mind. And yet… Pina and Mario aren’t young. I checked again. The ambulance was still there.

What is the difference between nosy and concerned? On our street, I honestly don’t always know. Mike, who lives next door and keeps treats in his pockets for everyone’s dogs, knows everything and often keeps us all abreast of what’s happening. The house on our other side, split into three apartments, has housed a series of delightful young couples – one by one they’ve left to get married and have children, leaving me happy that at least my kids haven’t made them rethink their plans. Two real estate agents live on the block – in different houses – and each of them is enthusiastically nosy in her own way. Across the street, baby V and their parents and grandparents occupy one house. I’ve been trying to teach V to say “truck” whenever we cross paths. So far, all we’ve got is enthusiastic raspberries and grins, but we’re getting there. Alex and Tessa used to babysit for our kids before they went to university, so we keep up with them via their mom. The couple next to Mario & Pina share gardening tips, and this year they gave me four hot pepper plants; the couple next to them has a very energetic dog, which means that they often pause in front of Mike’s. Two doors down from us is a family with two girls, both one year younger than my two boys; three doors beyond that, the corner house includes two boys who are nearly the same ages as my two: our families tumble over each other quite regularly. We live in a neighborhood where I feel comfortable running out to borrow an egg or a half cup of sugar. We don’t necessarily hang out together, but we know each other.

That ambulance had me worried. I decided to knit on the front porch. I settled in, trying not to imagine myself as a nosy middle-aged lady. The baby sweater was mostly finished, so I patiently wove in the ends and pretended not to watch Mario & Pina’s house. Eventually, Pina came out, well-dressed, fumbling with her purse. She passed behind the ambulance and disappeared. My heart dropped: Mario. It was Mario. 

I waited. The ambulance didn’t move and I tried not to wonder too hard if that meant that they were treating him or if that meant something much worse. No way to know. I concentrated on my sweater.

Mario and Pina have lived on our block for 52 years, longer than anyone else. They bought their house for $34,000 when she was 22 and he was 25. They can tell you how much most of the houses on the block have sold for over the years, and Mario shakes his head when he recounts various neighbours’ renovation antics or inappropriate landscaping choices. He may never forgive the couple that turned their front yard into a driveway to a garage under the house. “Under!” He shakes his head with disgust. Mario himself is always on the go and prides himself on his yard. He mows and sweeps incessantly all summer, then comes out with a snow blower and cleans his sidewalk and driveway, day in and day out, all winter. And yet, Pina is the gardener. Last year she insisted on giving me some of her Rose of Sharon; the year before she took me on a tour of her (immense) backyard vegetable garden. They raised their children here; now their granddaughter – one year older than my oldest – visits every Saturday.

The minutes passed quietly. Pina pulled out in her car and drove off. Moments later, the ambulance followed, no siren. I finished weaving in the ends, then went inside to wet and block the sweater. 

After that, my day filled up: there were children to feed and errands to run. I checked things off my to-do list and immediately added others. The baby sweater dried; I spoke with friends.

After dinner, my partner gently said that it was ok to go over and see if they needed anything. I didn’t want to intrude, but I was worried. I decided he was right. We rang the bell and waited, not sure what to expect. After a few moments, Pina’s face appeared at the door. Through my mask, I asked if Mario was ok. “I saw the ambulance this morning,” I babbled, “and then I saw you.” She stared. “I can bring food,” I offered. 

Food. They are Italian. Their family is in town. I suspect that they never, ever lack for food.

Pina’s eyes darted left, right and then opened wide with understanding. The ambulance! She had left! No, no, Mario was fine. She, too, had wondered and worried about the ambulance. She watched it out her living room window: what was it doing in front of her house? Perhaps it was there for neighbours? Maybe the driver needed a rest? She didn’t want to be nosy, so she had waited inside, but eventually she had to leave the house. Flustered, she had fumbled for her keys as she made her way down the front walk. She did not know that the ambulance had followed after her. Mario, whose knee was bothering him, had uncharacteristically spent most of the day inside. 

They are both fine. 

We looked at each other, and our eyes filled with tears. “Come in! Come in!” Pina insisted. I did. We sat at her kitchen table and talked about our neighbors: is Mike well? Isn’t it a shame that the neighbours don’t sit on the porch anymore? Have I seen how her granddaughter has grown? My son is so tall! I declined the offer of coffee. Mario insisted on showing me around the house because he was fine – fine, except for his knee, but what can you expect? This is what it means to get old. There was their wedding picture, Pina’s train spread out forever and ever. They were so young. “Do you know when we bought this house?” asks Mario, full of good spirits, laughing because I thought he was sick (or worse) and he is not. “We were so 22 and 25! Let me tell you about the neighbourhood…”

And I listen to his stories again. Nosy? Maybe. But at least for tonight, everyone on our street is ok. 

Confessions of a former mermaid

Getting this cottage for the week was pure luck, a bonus in a summer that we’ve otherwise spent far too close to home. It’s rustic (read: bring your own drinking water; wood stove for heat; don’t even think about a dishwasher or laundry), but the screened in back porch might be the most perfect place in the world: We’re practically inside the trees, their branches swaying and soughing around us, the lake glimmering up through their trunks. I could stay here forever.

View from the porch

I won’t of course, because my children choose a different definition of perfection: the dock and anchored floating platform mere metres below this porch. I could sit here, away from the sun and the bugs, all day, but their bliss is the water. 

I, too, love the water. We lived in Panama when I was a toddler, so I grew up swimming in the ocean. In early elementary school in Texas, after I passed the deep water swim test, I decided to walk to the pool by myself. After all, I reasoned, I was now allowed to swim alone and the pool was just down this street…somewhere. I made it to the pool, but the lifeguards, unimpressed by my bravado, called my mother to come get me before I got to swim. Years later, as we drove from Texas to California, our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean filled me with glee. Our parents, probably tired of driving with three little girls and a dog, stopped the car almost immediately, and I stripped down to my underwear and ran into the ocean. 

Soon enough I joined a swim team and, when we moved again, another. Summertime saw me in the water for hours every day, often heading home only long enough to eat lunch and go back. I swam so much that one summer my blond hair turned chlorine-green. For a while, I even swam on a year-round team, waking in the wee hours of winter to dive into a pool and swim before school. By the end of high school I was a lifeguard and a swim coach, a job I continued into college. I scuba-dived on vacations and snorkeled while pregnant with my eldest. I once joked that I was half-mermaid, as at home in the water as I was on land.

These days, I’m no mermaid. We’ve been at this cottage for three days, and I have yet to go in the water. Oh, I’ve let my feet hang over the edge of the dock and wiggled my toes as fish swim by, wondering if they should risk a nibble. I’ve kayaked the entire perimeter of this small lake. I even tried stand-up paddle boarding. But actual swimming? Nope.

Yesterday our friends came for a visit and, as the fathers splashed and swam with the kids, my fellow mom and I sat and watched. I was wearing my bathing suit, but I declined even a direct invitation to join them in the water. I was completely content on land.

When did this happen? When did I become one of the moms who sits and chats instead of playing? Was there a day? A month? If I looked back carefully, could I pinpoint the last summer that I went into the water willingly? When did going into the water turn from joy to job? It’s not like I’m worried about my hair (it air-dries just fine) or my makeup (I stopped wearing it during covid, in part to encourage my students to turn on their cameras regardless of their concerns about appearance). I tease my family that I cannot trust Canadian-born people to accurately assess water temperature – their warm is not the same as mine – and it’s true that Canadian lakes, even small ones, are not as warm as South Carolina lakes, but I can tell that this one is not especially cold. So why don’t I go in? I honestly don’t know, but even thinking about it, recognizing the change, I’m not tempted. To be fair to myself, I’ve already swum across one lake this summer, and I have every intention of swimming across this one before we leave. Maybe tomorrow, I think, maybe then I’ll go in.

I might, but I’m not sure. Even as I sit here, remembering my former mermaid self, I feel no sense of loss. I’m happy on this perfect porch, letting the wind caress me, feet up, hair down, appreciating the smooth silver surface of the lake from a place of quiet.

With gratitude to Two Writing Teachers for creating this place where teachers can practice the craft of writing.

Advice when I can’t quite write

“You should write about writer’s block,” says Mr. 13 as he shoves more popcorn into his mouth.

“Nobody wants to read about that,” I reply.

“I don’t know,” he says, “I mean, you’ve been trying to write for a long time today. Aren’t you supposed to write about your life?”

In the not-at-all distant background, Mr. 10 is experimenting on the piano that hasn’t been tuned since before Covid. He has not yet found his way to a tune; I’m not convinced that’s his goal. The random notes are not helping me concentrate.

“You could just publish what you already wrote.” Mr. 13 is still trying to help.

I make a face. “It’s not good enough.”

“Mom,” he is exasperated, “you wouldn’t let me say that. Maybe you need to just publish it and be done.”

But I can’t. The funny story about how today I left the pan of oil on a warm element and set off the fire alarm just isn’t that funny. The Golden Shovel poem about being lonely isn’t that poem-y. The lines I’ve captured in my notebook have potential, but they seem intent on remaining kernels of ideas rather than full-fledged pieces.

The piano continues in the background, discordant, unpredictable, distracting.

Shall I write about being 13? Missing my family? Waiting and waiting for the Canada-US border to open? I could write a memory. I want to be funny, but I’m not feeling funny. I’m just feeling off and this house is full of noise.

Maybe today I can give myself grace. It’s summer. I am taking things in, noticing, walking, being. Maybe today I can accept that what I’m writing is what I’m writing which is this. This is what I’m writing. And it is enough.

“I think you were right,” I say to my son as he heads to bed. “I wrote about writer’s block. It was good enough.”

He smiles. “Good night. Love you, Mom.”

How to make banana bread

It’s a lovely quiet summer morning. The kids are still asleep and your partner is somewhere in the house. You shuffle into the kitchen, put some water in the tea kettle and turn it on. While you wait for the water to boil, realize that you could might as well mash the four overripe bananas on the kitchen counter. Find a bowl (just under the cupboard with the mugs) and mash. 

Mashing bananas only takes a minute, so the water is still not ready. Turn the oven to 350 and add an egg to the bananas. Decide to replace the sugar with honey because you have an awful lot of honey right now. Check quickly to make sure that honey is a one-to-one substitute for sugar. It is! Add ½ cup of honey and – because the water is almost ready – use ⅓ cup canola oil instead of butter today. 

The water has boiled. Spoon out the tea leaves and set the tea to steeping.

Put a dash of vanilla in the mix. Oh, and maybe a dash of salt. Add 1½ cups of flour right on top of the wet mixture. Sub in some whole grain flour for some of that because it’s healthier, right? Um… double-check the recipe on the post-it on the fridge. Where is it? There! Behind a receipt. Receipt… recipe… receipt… recipe…

Our time-tested banana bread recipe – more or less

Yes: 1 tsp baking soda. Dump it on top of the flour. Go ahead and add 1 tsp of baking powder, too. Gently stir those two into the flour so they don’t clump, then give thes whole mixture just a few strokes so it’s moist

The tea has steeped plenty long enough. Take out the tea leaves and set them aside.

Check the cupboards for extras. Today you will throw in some unsweetened coconut, a generous handful of walnuts and another of chocolate chips. Grease a loaf pan, pour the batter in, and pop it in the oven.

Add some milk to your tea. Start to sit down and realize that if you don’t set a timer, the bread will burn. The recipe says 50 min but the honey is sticky… Go for an hour.

Pour a cup of tea, sit down and read.

When the next person comes into the kitchen, agree that the bread does, indeed, smell wonderful.

(I love this banana bread recipe. I’ve made it a million times and it’s both easy and flexible. It makes great muffins, too – though do NOT cook those for an hour! The honey in today’s bread made for a really sticky loaf, so I can’t call it a resounding success, but it still tastes pretty good.)

Something stinks

Pause for a minute and take stock: we’re 14 months into a global pandemic. While my birth country, the US, has decided the pandemic is largely over, my current home, Canada, has taken a more cautious approach: here in Ontario we are under “stay at home” orders. After weeks of socializing almost exclusively with our immediate family, we have all become slightly feral. The stay at home orders end on June 2, and while many are rejoicing at the small freedoms we will begin to re-experience, teachers, students and parents are still biting our nails. In its infinite wisdom, the provincial government has neglected to decide if the re-opening of the province also means the re-opening of schools. They are, apparently, thinking about it. Nevermind that the re-opening is happening on Thursday. They will come to a decision when they are good and ready.

At any rate, it’s not like they can make this school year any more convoluted than it already has been. Not only have we been teaching in hybrid “quadmesters” (the word “quarters” just doesn’t capture the essence of this school year – and some schools have “octomesters”), but also no two quadmesters have unfolded in the same way: we’ve had fully hybrid, hybrid until the last month, fully virtual…. Quad 4 has been entirely virtual up until now, but with three weeks left in the year we may be randomly shifted back to in-person hybrid. Or maybe not. No one knows. It’s a mystery.

All of this may explain Saturday morning. I was sitting in the kitchen playing a word game when something outside caught my eye. There, just beyond the sliding glass door, a skunk was destroying my hostas.

I. was. livid.

I didn’t even pause. I jumped up, ran to the door, and flung it open. I tore onto the back porch, clad in my fuzzy pink bathrobe and old sneakers, unwashed, hair unkempt, and cried out with all the fury of a teacher nearly at the end of a school year, nearly at the end of a pandemic, nearly at the end of her rope: “DON’T YOU DARE!” I shook my fist. “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!”

The shocked skunk looked up from its meal.

“YOU LEAVE THOSE HOSTAS ALONE! THAT’S ENOUGH!”

She stared at me. I stared at her. I gradually began to realize that my actions might have been, well, rash. There I stood, a slightly crazed, decidedly disheveled, middle-aged school teacher in a pink bathrobe yelling across the lawn at a rodent on a Saturday morning. Still, we stared. Then she turned around.

Well, let me tell you, I took one look at that skunk’s butt and ran back inside. Behind the safety of the sliding glass door, I seethed. Our cat, Hera, joined me. Together, we glared.

The skunk, clearly worried that the humans of *this* house might be rabid, delicately picked her way out of the yard and left.

The lesson? Do not mess with a tired teacher at the end of an exhausting school year during a global pandemic. The teacher will win.

a trail of half-eaten hostas

Picture this

Mr. 10 had to write a quatrain for school. Not just any quatrain, mind you, this quatrain had to be focused on one topic, have a distinctive rhyme scheme, at least 12 lines and alliteration. Reasonable enough, I suppose, but he was having trouble keeping all those things in his mind at the same time. The task seemed impossible, so he had put it off for several days. Now it was late.

Last night, he reluctantly agreed to let me help him. We looked at the list of potential topics and he chose ocean. “Great!” I tried for enthusiasm. “Let’s brainstorm a list of words that you think of when you hear the word ocean.”

He glared.
“Oh, the ocean,” I sighed. “What does that make you think of?”
Nothing.
“Why did you choose the ocean as your topic?”

By now his arms were folded across his chest and his leg was jumping. He has big emotions, this kid, and when they swell, they can quickly drown his rational brain. I tried to calm him, but the undertow was almost inescapable. When I thought we were on firmer footing, we started again: what are some synonyms for ocean? His eyes shifted; his brow lowered; his mouth pressed shut. He wasn’t really ready to talk, but it was already 8pm; he’d put this off as long as possible. Bedtime loomed and he didn’t want synonyms. He wanted something else, but I had no idea what. Finally he spit out, “shark.” Delighted, I slid into my spiel, “ooh, ‘shark’! What a good choice! Let’s see… sharks are gray…”

“Shark, bird, ocean,” he interrupted, then clamped his mouth shut again.

He is not stupid, my boy; he is, in fact, loquacious. When school is open, he regularly gets in trouble for talking. He reads, tells stories, is enthusiastically goofy. But not now. “Sharks eat birds from the sky?” I guessed. This, of course, made no sense. “Sharks eat birds on the ocean? Like seagulls?” He shook his head. I was really trying , but I had no idea what he was thinking. He stamped his foot and I saw tears brimming in his eyes. As gently as I could, I said, “Lovey, I don’t know how to help you write poetry if you don’t use words.” I lowered my eyelids towards my cheeks. Breathed deeply. Prayed for patience.

On Saturday, Chris Cluff had asked, “What stops you from writing?” My answer came quickly: “No space of my own; Virginia Woolf nailed it. I’m ready for our family to go back into the world! Also: fatigue, fear (of failure, of success, that my ideas aren’t good/original/interesting enough); too much time thinking about commitments to others rather than to myself.” Chris’s response was, as always, interesting: “i love what uwrite with flowers. its a very cool fluency”.

I was taken aback. I mean, I walk every day, and take pictures of flowers, but I had never thought of this photography as writing. Barring a photo essay, what would it mean to write with flowers? Flowers as fluency? I needed time to mull this over, to consider, but it was a long weekend and my brain was full of teaching and covid and family and life, so I hit “like”, put the comment in the back of my mind, and imagined I would come back to it later.

It turned out that later was now. Mr. 10 was still not ready to speak. “I don’t know to help you write poetry if you don’t use words” and as the phrase flitted between us, Chris’s comment came back… what u write with flowers.

“Want to draw a picture?”
No.
“Want to look at pictures?”
No.
“Want to tell me a picture?”
He said, “sharks are birds of the ocean. They fly through the water. Their fins are wings.” And I was momentarily speechless.

I wish I could say that was the breakthrough, but it wasn’t. No line of this poem came easily. Often his rhymes were internal, not at the end of lines. He would get caught up in his pictures and lose his words. He fell in love with ideas that didn’t work. He struggled through synonyms and rhyming dictionaries. At one point, both of us nearly cried as we looked for a rhyme for “depths”, a word he was unwilling to let go of or even move. It would be “depths” and it would be at the end of the line. No discussion. I tried not to lose my cool, not to write it for him, not to let him off this hook.

We finally finished, exhausted. He had used almost no alliteration, but he’d written 12 lines with a clear rhyme scheme and a focus. And honestly, I don’t know what we learned, but we did it, and some day – maybe when this school year ends – I’m going to figure out what it means to be fluent in flowers.

[the poem – the flying, the strings, the hemming – that’s all him. I *did* teach him a little about enjambment, but just to tell him that it was ok.]

Sharks of the Sky

I dream of the deep dark sea
The best place in the world to be
The water around me is the sky
Sharks, like birds of the ocean, fly

By me. They glide with fins like wings
The trails they leave in the water are strings
Hemming patterns in the depths
Accepting creatures’ last breaths

Striking fast and leaving no trace
The shark must race,
A streak of grey
Hunting for its prey.

Cookies!

I went for a walk and came home to find them both in the kitchen. They can cook, but they have rarely baked entirely on their own. As I took off my shoes, I heard raised voices and then laughter. Andre walked into the front hall and stage whispered to me, “They’re making chocolate chip cookies. They don’t know that we don’t have chocolate chips.” He cleverly retreated upstairs while I tentatively approached the cooking zone. 

“We’re baking!” Their enthusiasm almost bowled me over. My eyes roved over the counter, floor, children.

“Don’t worry!” said my more cautious elder child, “We started with a bowl that was too small and the butter and sugar kind of went everywhere…”

“It made a HUGE mess,” added his brother, gleefully.

“But we’ve mostly cleaned it up. And now we’re using a bigger bowl. But the brown sugar has lumps so we’re smashing them with our fingers.”

“It’s harder than it looks.”

I offered to help and was invited to finish the creaming. “You’re so good at that,” my eldest said wistfully. 

“You’ll get it,” I reassured. Hoping that my help would soften the inevitable blow, I broke the news that there were no chocolate chips.

They hesitated, then rallied. “We can add Nutella!” said the 10-year-old. “That’ll taste great!”

“And the Dutch sprinkles!” added the 12-year-old, “We still haven’t used them.”

Disaster averted, they pushed forward. “Wait!” Mr. 10 is suddenly nervous, “is it ok that we’ve had the oven on for a kind of a long time? It’s empty! It’s not like the microwave, right?” I nodded and moved away from them. They were on their own.

His brother started to raz him about the time he turned the microwave on instead of using the timer. As they cracked the eggs, they discussed something that had billions of something. They were laughing again. One of them added a healthy dollop of Nutella. The other suggested more. The open laptop was immediately next to the bowl where they were mixing the batter. They tried, unsuccessfully, to use the beaters to mix in the flour. 

I stayed near enough to watch without interfering, keeping my mouth shut and my eyes open.

When the beaters got stuck in the batter, they both left the kitchen in favour of the backyard and the hammock. The batter waited. They returned.

In went the sprinkles. They mixed with their hands because the dough was “too hard”. More laughter. They dragged out the cookie sheets & argued about how big to make the cookies. Then they talked about how much they might spread and how many could go in each row. I managed to say nothing and laugh inwardly.

And now the cookies are baking. They look pretty darn good – and I have a suspicion that the boys might declare them the best cookies ever. They’ll probably be right.

Update #2: 36 hours later, I found some creamed butter and sugar nestled in the leaves of a plant that lives several feet from where the original creaming took place. Luckily, it’s easy to clean

Update #1: The cookies were, in fact, delicious.

Something nice #SOL21 26/31

“I want to write something nice,” I say. “I’ve written so many negative things lately.”

My husband nods. He suggests a haiku. I reject this. I declare it “not good enough.” He gives me a knowing look, “Not hard enough?”

I protest: “Good haikus *are* hard.”

“Not long enough?”

Harumph. He knows me too well. “Let’s just watch tv with the kids and I’ll write later.”

Now it’s later. I need to write. “Something nice,” I mutter again. My darling husband says, “Here, I’ll help” and he begins to dictate a poem.

“It’s an acrostic,” he tells me.

Hunk
Unbearable
Salacious
Bodacious
Astringent
Nefarious
Devious

I try to convince him to change some of the words. Astringent? I suggest admirable instead. He tells me that it doesn’t “fit with the tone.”

By now I am laughing and, for no discernible reason, he has begun to sing “Domo arigato Mr. Roboto…” I have no idea when I last heard this song. One child has come back downstairs and asks what domo means. Now they are discussing Japanese. And I’m writing and laughing and it’s Friday night and even though I’m tired this is better, this is good.

Tomorrow is his birthday. When I don’t know what to write, he gives me ideas. He has both an excellent vocabulary and a good sense of humour. And at the end of a long week, he makes me laugh. My son, who is sitting next to me, says I should add “he’s really good with the kids” – high praise. I don’t write about him enough because his stories are not my stories, but he’s the best partner I can imagine.

And here: I’ve written my Friday slice – and it’s something nice.

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org/ who welcome writing whether or not it’s nice.

Dr. Grandpa #SOL21 23/31

His first foray into the kitchen that is currently my classroom is around lunchtime. “Mom, can you bruise a bone?” He stands just out of the camera’s line of sight, poking at his ribcage. “Yes,” I nod and he heads back to the living room, ostensibly to do more school work.

He returns around 2. I’m still online – now in a meeting. “Can you mute yourself?” he mouths. I do. He pushes at his ribs. “What do bone bruises feel like?”

Oh! I briefly ask about his concern and learn that he has a sore bump near the bottom of his right ribs. If the light hits him just right, I can see the bump. I remind him that he spent much of the weekend practicing flips on a neighbour’s trampoline and then went to his parkour class where he hurled himself up and over things. Repeatedly. I suggest that the bump/bruise is probably from that. He nods and wanders off again.

He lasts about 5 minutes. When he comes back this time, he’s obviously in distress. Tears threaten to fall over his bottom lashes, and the bump is a little red, probably from being pushed repeatedly since he’s doing that right now. I leave my meeting.

“Does it hurt?”
“No,” he shakes his head. “Well, only when I really press on it.”
“Do you want a Tylenol?”
His head shakes again.

“I’m sure it will go away if you stop pressing on it, love,” I soothe. At that, the tears spill out and run down his cheeks. He’s not sobbing, just silently crying in front of me. Then I know. I scoop him up in my arms – thank goodness he’s still small enough! – and whisper in his ear, “Are you afraid it’s cancer?”

He nods and begins to cry into my shoulder. Oh, my sweet. Oh, my love. I hold him and rock him and wipe away his tears. He has every reason to be afraid, though we haven’t shared all the details of our friend’s diagnosis. Still, he’s been to the hospital; he’s seen what chemo does; he knows that the grown ups are sad and upset.

“Do you want me to call the doctor?” A quick shake of the head. “Are you afraid of what the doctor might say?” He nods tentatively. “What if we call Grandma Donna or Grandpa Dave?”

He’s unsure of what, exactly, his doctor grandparents can do from a distance, but I have an inkling. We make the call. Grandpa Dave listens very seriously and asks us to send pictures. We hang up, and I sneak onto the back porch to call again and explain what’s happening. I hang up again. Back inside, we wait for Grandpa to call back. This time, he speaks directly with Eric. I’m not exactly sure what he says, but I know it involves Tylenol and ice and follow-up phone calls from Grandpa at least once a day for a few days, maybe the whole week.

That seems to do the trick. By dinnertime, the bump – now largely left alone – is smaller and less red. At bedtime, I remember a technique that Grandpa used on me back when he was just my dad: I draw a circle around the bump with a ballpoint pen so we can see if it grows smaller overnight. Eric seems content, and he reminds me that Grandpa will call tomorrow, just to double check.

Oh, my love, how I wish more things could be fixed with a photograph, a ball point pen, and a few calls from Dr. Grandpa.