Picnic Shelter, Museum of Life and Science (Or, How to Be a Halfway Decent Mother)
If you have children, think for a good long minute about why you had them. Really think about it. I defy you to come up with even one sensible answer.
No one is saying you don’t love your kids. Everyone loves their kids, even the moms who abandon them and the dads who burn them with the ends of their cigarettes. Think that sounds crazy? It’s not. The love is a biological necessity. Knowing how to not fuck up your kid is another thing entirely. And if your own parents abandoned you or burnt you with the ends of their cigarettes, well, you’re that much further behind the learning curve when you get started. See, no one asks you to think about why you want kids before you have them. And no one will ever, ever tell you what it’s really like, how hard it is, or that you will sometimes wish you had never had them at all.
Most nights, I fall asleep in my son’s bed. This is because he refuses to fall asleep alone and this is not one of the particular battles I wish to fight, especially when his sleepy limbs are so loose and his body is so warm and his eyes turn all blue and liquid just before they close. And then the other night, I dreamt that I’d rowed my blue-eyed son to school in a rowboat just big enough for the two of us. We floated along down some dark and muddy stretch of the Eno, and when we capsized – because, of course we capsized - I just pulled him out of the water and sent him to school like that, soaking wet and streaked in river mud. I woke up groggy and got him dressed and to school still in the haze of dreams. And then all day I had this uneasy feeling that I’d done something horrible. It wasn’t until later that afternoon when he walked out of school in his completely dry, bright yellow sweatshirt , orange sneakers flashing, like a little sun around which everything else was orbiting, that I was completely convinced the entire thing had been a dream. That’s how disorienting being a mother can be, I’m telling you. So damn confusing you hardly know which way is up.
You are sometimes, no doubt, convinced that no child is as inflexible as your own. Or as brilliant. Or as difficult. Always, it will be your child who is the most shy, the most anxious, the most creative, the most troubled. It is impossible, of course, that this is true, with all the other millions of children in the world, but you are his own personal planet, and in your world, this will always be the truth. Which is why, when mine gets to be just too much, I tell him get your bike and we ride together to the picnic shelter up the road, the huge silver dome of a picnic shelter tucked inside a towering stand of pines and I tell him, just yell. And he does, he yells at the top of his lungs, screams. Echo!, he yells and echo, echo, echo, the dome calls back. Sometimes I yell with him. And sometimes when we’re all yelled out, I get him to whisper so that he can hear what it sounds like when the whispers echo too.
All of this yelling and whispering gives me a headache that lasts into next week. But then he comes home on a Friday with a vase he made in art class, the whole thing plastered in a mosaic of pennies – one hundred and six pennies, to be exact, which, he reminds me, is ninety-four cents less than his lunch, which makes its value more than half of a school meal. But it also feels like an answer to the question I never have words for, which is really more of a feeling than an idea anyways, and I put the vase on the windowsill and it shines in the morning sun and most days, the vase feels like reason enough.