Elias asked a girl named A to the Homecoming dance but she hasn’t said yes yet. Every day, he and Philip update me on the dance situation during the drive home from school: both boys want to go, because they’ve never been to a dance before, they’ve only seen them on television and movies. It’s probably going to be really cool, announced Philip, who was also excited about the FREE FOOD that’s included with a ten dollar ticket. Once Philip was going, Eli was going. Then they had to Get Girls. I’m going to ask A, Elias told Philip, and Philip said, I’m going to ask M. Then it was like, well, are you just going to ASK her? How do you ask a girl to a dance? Philip said you have to stick a note in their locker. That’s basically why lockers were invented, Philip added. Elias said he might just ask A. Like to her face. You can get someone else to ask her for you, Philip said. You can do that, too.
Elias got quiet, mulling it over. Then I said who’s supposed to pay for these tickets? Are you guys paying for the girls? If you ask, you pay! Philip announced. Elias lamented, Man, it’s expensive to take girls out.
It’s expensive for who? I teased them. Expensive for us moms. You two don’t have jobs– where are you getting that money?
They laughed. I need to get a job! Philip sighed. Then I need to buy a car. I’m going to get a Camaro. You can get a lot of girls with a Camaro.
The coolest thing about having a preteen boy (or boys, for at least thirty minutes a day) is listening to them figure life out because it’s both totally the same as what growing up was like as a girl, and yet, totally different and flipped. Sometimes they say things or worry about things that are, like, arrow-to-the-heart, perfectly bittersweet in how much they align with my memories of being almost-twelve. Then there are other things. Like their projects. They have this math video they want to make to enter a contest. They got two other boys to join their project group, and they were all supposed to meet at our house to work on it last Saturday.
Which sounds like an okay plan, right? Because that part: yes, that was how it was for young girls too. You got your friends in a project group, you decided on a time and place to get it done. BUT. This is how girls are:
You get the video assignment. You decide on a topic as a group, then you delegate tasks (Laura, YOU need to write the script, Britney, YOU are in charge of costumes, Jessica, YOU bring your camera, Anna, YOU should bring snacks) and then you all pick a time and exchange numbers and get your moms to call their moms and then you all show up and work and all vote on whether the project actually looks done and is good enough, and if it is, you eat all the snacks and do makeovers with the costume supplies.
This is what happens with boys.
First, they decide they’re doing a video. When you ask what it’s about, they say, Um. Zombies? Math zombies? With time travel? We like all those things, they tell you. We’ll figure it out. It’s going to be really funny.
When you’re like, oh, who’s filming it?, they say they don’t know but they’ll figure that out later. They think someone has a camera. When you ask if the other kids have our address, they’re like, Well, the other moms will call you and get it. I’m like, I don’t know all these kids’ moms. They’re surprised. All the moms know each other, right?
They’re still super confident everything will all work out, so the time and day shows up that they picked, and only one kid shows up (the only kid, ironically, whose mom DID have my number and texted to get my address). Elias and the kid, R, go upstairs and all I hear is Mario on the Wii U for an hour. Then R goes home. The end.
All of this has kind of made me love Jason more because it’s totally Tiny Him; it’s exactly the way he and his guy friends still make plans: only vaguely formed, and always ending in video games. It’s like being able to experience a little of his boyhood through his son.
So. Anyway. Eli asked A to the dance. He didn’t leave a note in her locker: he walked up to her and just asked, point blank. He said she looked surprised, then happy. She hasn’t given him an answer yet. We’ll see.
Hearing about the kids has been a highlight to my days lately, which have been rough, and sad, and consisted primarily of laying on the couch in a sweatshirt and watching reruns of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The weather’s been awful. Buckets of rain, gray skies. I was worried about my mom. I am worried about my mom. The news is never good. I mean, sometimes it’s veering toward Almost Encouraging, but it never makes it to Good, and then usually there’s at least one Bad update thrown in. She’s allergic to her current chemo. They need to stop. This is the second treatment that they’ve had to end, likely without success. They’ll look for something else but it’s, you know– it’s always a coin toss, and it sucks that we’ve already lost these months with the other treatments.
I talked to my Mom and Dad over Facetime earlier this week. My dad told me to go outside. I told him I couldn’t, because it was raining. That was true. Then my mom and I said some things about how this was so unfair and I cried, a lot, and she cried too, and it was nice, actually, just to cry together and grieve this together and mourn things. It felt like a relief. I keep things close to my chest. I either don’t talk, or I talk flippantly: just offhand, nobigdeal, it’s cancer but it will be fine, it’s fine, I’m fine. Which I’m not.
I’m better, today. I’m a lot better than I was this entire week. But I’m not fine yet.
Erin got me out of the house yesterday. The sun finally came out and she said she had to go to Benson, so why didn’t I come? I needed to rejoin the living. We drove south in her minivan, through small towns and sprawling farms, the road sun-dappled and the crops bowing in the wind. We shared stories about growing up. We shared stories about our kids growing up.
She was going to Benson to pick up a new vacuum cleaner, which she got, and we were excited over that because we are housewives and vacuum cleaners are incredible. On the way home, we stopped for lunch with Michelle. We ate at McDonald’s, which is where we eat a lot as a group. It has a playplace. We had four kids. It made sense.
I don’t eat meat so I just had two apple pies and a large Diet Coke and it was pretty okay; not great, but okay, just a solid Okay. But Erin was right. I needed to get out of the house. Even having apple pies in the kids playplace on a highwayside McDonald’s felt better than being isolated on a couch.
We’re getting together again tomorrow: all of us, and all the kids, all three adults and nine children. Erin is hosting a Cousin Halloween Party at her house. I’m supposed to buy frosting and craft supplies tonight. It’s going to be great. Everyone is looking forward to it.
Halloween is coming up, too, and the kids have decided to dress up as Team Fortress 2 characters for the big night. Addie is going as the Scout, Elias is going as the Medic. Their friendship is really just so special. Eli only wanted to do a costume with Addie, and vice versa, and they both picked their favorite game to play together. I thought it was pretty cute that of all the things in the world, they wanted to be people on the same team.
Of course they picked two costumes which don’t exist, though, so we have to build them from scratch. Of course. The upside is that Jason loves making fake weapons, and I love watching him work. He’s ridiculously gifted when it comes to both creative and mechanical things, so he can just sketch a concept on paper, work out its dimensions and whip up a prototype in the garage. Within hours. WOAH, Elias gasped when J showed him the first paper mockup of the Medi Gun. WOAH.
We asked Addie if she wanted a big gun, too, but she said no, just the baseball bat. It does the job! she announced like Ben Affleck, ‘Goodwill Hunting’ era. She’s trying to get into the character by practicing the Scout’s Boston accent. “Way to go, pally!” I’ll hear her telling Eli upstairs. And Elias, in his perfect German Medic accent, replies: “Danke, Kamerad!”
It’s my birthday soon. Couple weeks. I’m going to be thirty-two. It’s strange because every year people guess my age lower, Benjamin Button style, and lately one out of every five times I’m with the kids, someone will mention how nice it is for me to spend time with my baby brother and sister. Which is crazy. Oh ho, no, these are MINE, I’ll tell them in the voice like Oh you’re so sweet! but also: I PAY FOR THESE KIDS. When I was twenty-two, everyone assumed the kids were mine but I was a teenager on welfare. Now I’ve graduated to being a college student or something and I’m just babysitting a lot.
I feel old, though. I can’t believe I’m only early thirties. All I do is boring adult ish, like retirement funds and stocks and long-term planning. And laundry. I do a lot of laundry. And CROSSWORDS. That’s like, I should be eighty by now.
My mom asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, because I’m driving up to see her that weekend, and I said I don’t know, what can you do? Because she can’t do much. It’s hard to walk. It’s hard to sit. Everything hurts. She gets sick easily, too, so not too much motion. Can you cook? I asked her, which probably sounded weird, and made her surprise-laugh. Yeah, she agreed slowly. I can cook.
Do you think you could teach me how to make things? I asked her. Can you make me my childhood favorite foods?
I could do that, my mom answered. She smiled on the iPad screen. She’s still so beautiful.
Deviled eggs, I told her. Because you make them the best.
And that apple pie crumble thing you fix for the holidays? With the butter and the cinnamon? Can we make that too?
We can make that, she said.
That would mean a lot to me, I told her.
Okay, she said again.
There was a silence where we both understood everything.
We’ll have a picnic, I told her after. I’ll find a place that’s not too far and has wheelchair access, so we can sit outside and eat, and she said, That’d be nice. Then she said she should go and I should go, because Jason called during our Facetime session and I answered the phone on camera and said HOLD ON, I’LL CALL YOU BACK, and Mom was like, Did you need to take that? and I was like, I’m going to see him in like an hour. It can keep.
But she said I should call Jason, so I said okay okay, and I said I’ll call you again soon? And she said yes. Do.
We both blew kisses at the screen. She hung up on her end. I sat there a minute, by myself, watching the rain outside the window.
Sometimes when I talk about my mom I want to tell people everything amazing she did, like be in the first women’s class at West Point, and get her degrees with three kids under five, and play hockey and ride motorcycles, because she was a badass. She is a badass. But the other things, the important things, are things she was to just me: it’s little things about her, like her hand on my forehead when I was sick or her handwriting on my excuse notes to school or even the way she sang in church, which was loud and high-pitched and embarrassed Ben to no end. I think of her like a flickering reel of film, paused in one of our childhood summers: when we were young and she was a tall, blond, leggy goddess who liked to sunbathe in a tube top while we splashed in our kiddie pool. I remember lying on my belly in the water, pretending to be a mermaid, and looking up at her. She looked like Aurora from my Disney movie. She was stretched out with a computer networking book balanced on her lap, studying. She was going to graduate, and then become a tenured professor. She didn’t know that yet. She didn’t even know I was watching. I just laid there, quietly worshipping, feeling the sun spread across my small shoulders.
She was thirty-three years old that year. I asked. It’s surreal, to be catching up with that memory. So much of everything is surreal lately.