Battle of a Lifetime
by Jennifer Hale
It is a sweltering Saturday afternoon in September and I'm frazzled. It's one of those days, packed with more activities and places to go than physically possible. The boys' games are on opposite sides of town and only an hour apart and somehow, I volunteered to be snack mom for both games. Really?
As usual, my husband and I are forced to divide and conquer. That means we have to locate two coolers in the mess we call a garage, sparingly spread the ice from the freezer between those coolers, and cut and package obscene amounts of oranges and cookies. Add to that my daughter's dance class and a birthday party she is due to attend, for which there is no present yet, and my stress levels are maxed out. I'll admit, almost all of my anxiety is my own fault. I should be more organized, but that fact doesn't help me at the moment. The heaps of mommy-guilt and mommy-insufficiency will just have to wait.
"Honey, I'll take Noah now and you take Logan to his game in half an hour. He has to be there 45 minutes early, although I think the kids are going to be exhausted before the game even starts, warming up in this heat," I grumble, annoyed by the stifling weather and our competitive coach.
"Just drop him off and swing by the store to pick up a gift card for the party. Bella, do you think Lexie would like a gift card for Target?"
At that moment, I look at my thirteen-year-old. Her eyes are wide and her nose is all wrinkled up. She looks just like she did when she was a toddler and she got hold of a lemon wedge. Disgusted.
"No, mom, gross! That's so lame! You like Target. Teenagers don't like Target! I can't bring a Target gift card to the party! God!" She hisses.
"Ok then. Michael, you're taking Bella with you so she can pick out a gift card that won't be offensive. And then, she can go to her brother's game and help pass out the snacks."
I turn to her again. "That should cheer you up," I smile, a little too sweetly.
"And I'll get you after Noah's game and drop you off at dance. Bring clothes to change because Tatum's mom is going to pick you up and take you to the party. Ok?"
"Good luck at the game, Logan! See you in a bit."
And we're off...
We don't stop running until four hours later when we finally land at our air-conditioned home base. I ignore the sink full of dishes and the counters piled with paperwork from school, and head for the couch. No sooner have I collapsed, a leftover Gatorade and a Real Simple magazine in hand, when my youngest, Noah, comes a-calling.
"Hi, my lovely mommy," he sweetly sings. I can tell he wants something.
"Hi Noah. What's up?" I reply, taming my terseness.
"Well, mommy, I wanted to know if you would like to have a Lego battle with me?"
Yep, there it is. My adorable eight-year-old wants to play with me. And as much as I completely love him to bits, at that moment, I would pay large sums of money to NOT play with him. I am done. All. Done. But I can't say that. It would ruin his day. So I stall.
"Oh, babe, I would love to have a Lego battle with you, but can I just rest for a little bit? Mommy is tired. I just need a few minutes to relax. Is that ok? Can I have fifteen minutes?"
He kisses me on the cheek and promises to wait. I secretly hope he'll ask his brother to take my place, but, as he leaves me to my magazine, I hear the "beep, beep" of his watch. He is timing me.
Flipping through ads and articles of various appeal, I find my favorite section, the advice columns. They always provide good perspective. The second article catches my eye: "How to Handle an Empty Nest." I laugh at the irony. At that exact moment, all I long for is an empty nest, and here this woman, Rebecca from Colorado, is simply yearning for a few more minutes of chaos.
"I'm not sure where the time went..." she is saying as I drift off.
I'm startled by a beeping noise. Silence surrounds me except for the timer sounding from the microwave. I groggily drag myself from couch to counter. The slow cooker is steaming. It smells delicious but I don't feel hungry. Actually, I feel a little nauseous. My head aches and my chest feels heavy. I survey the kitchen - tidy and organized surfaces, neat pile of bills, everything in its proper place - but it all feels wrong. Desperately, terribly wrong.
Michael comes in from the garage and turns off the timer. Standing alone at the sink, he washes his hands.
"Is dinner almost ready?" He asks.
I nod and watch him as he grabs two plates from the cabinet, two forks from the silverware drawer, and two napkins from the pantry.
"What would you like to drink?" he asks as he pulls two clean glasses from the un-emptied dishwasher.
"It sure was nice when the kids were around to help with the dishes. Remember when they used to fight over who did it last?" he reminisces.
"I do remember," I reply, "and I remember the countless dishes they chipped trying to hurry through it. They were always in such a hurry..."
My voice trails off as the tears begin to fall. Michael has me in his arms before the sobs are unleashed, holding me upright until they pass.
"It was over too fast," I cry. "I wasn't ready for them to grow up. One minute, we're stocking band aids and kissing boo-boos and the next, we're buying sheets and towels for the dorms."
The hole in my heart seems to expand out through my ribcage and into the pit of my stomach. It physically hurts me. "I know," he says, rubbing my back gently.
We hold each other in the heavy silence. The crock pot sputters, ready to boil over. That's how I feel, like an ache from my core is seeking a place to escape, a way to find solace. But there isn't any. Not there in that quiet kitchen. My husband, certainly hurting in his own way, missing our gone-too-soon children, willingly absorbs some of my pain.
Broken-hearted and drowning in our depressingly empty nest, I sob and mutter:
"Can they really be gone? It just feels so empty..."
"It's just so empty..."
From a distance, another beeping sound slowly penetrates the confusion and sorrow-filled space around me. I hear a little whisper and feel an ever so gentle tap, tap, on my shoulder.
"Mommy...mom...it's been fifteen minutes. Are you ready for our battle now?"
I open my eyes and the leftover tears from my dream trickle away as my blessed present returns. I still have time.
"Absolutely, Noah. Let's go play."