I had the most unexpected weekend.
Our friends, Katy and Jamie, asked us to join them on a trip to Granville, OH, which isn’t far from here. Our plan was to book some space on a campground, let the kids wear each other out, roast hot dogs and talk about grown-up stuff. It sounded lovely—Ohio in October and the great outdoors—and it was, it was just different than we’d planned.
The weekend started well. And it ended well. And a whole lot happened in between. Today, you get a magic show, a hay ride, and a kindergarten love story. I’ll tell you the rest over the next few days.
I’ll start by stating flat out that Katy has sprained her ankle. Oh, an ugly sprain, too—the kind that immediately swells and turns purple and is agonizing. It happens as my good-hearted friend walks toward the creek to lure her kids (Madeline, age 5, and James, age 2) and my own precocious five-year-old H away from the water. She steps in a hole, twists her ankle, then falls in a pile of leaves.
I’m not there when Katy goes down. Instead, I’m in our cabin with O, trying to coax him out of his Halloween costume. When we arrive at Katy and Jamie’s camper, she is sitting with her foot wrapped in ice. Pain is etched all over her beautiful face, but when I sit down with her, she is nonchalant.
“Are you going to the ER?” I ask with a wince.
“What would they say. It’s a sprain. They’ll tell me to wear an air cast and use crutches. I have all of that at home.” And she does. She sprained this ankle five years ago when she was pregnant with Madeline.
In the end, she goes, because she cannot walk. GB helps Jamie settle her into the car, then the three head out toward the hospital.
I wave goodbye with the kids. When I look down at them, I see four worried faces, so I try to distract them. “Wanna go on a Spooky Hay Ride?” I ask.
What a silly question.
It’s dark, and we’re standing in line with 100 strangers. The guy behind us is making a lot of noise to get the kids’ attention. He’s trying magic trick after magic trick, including one that involves wearing fake thumbs that light up at the fingernails. Each thumb turns on or off when he squeezes his hands, making it look like a red ball is bouncing from one thumb to the other. “It’s going in your ear, it’s coming out! Now it’s in your pocket! Now it’s going in your mouth!”
He performs these tricks on my four charges, and I’m irritated, because who knows—this guy could be some kind of freak show. But we’re surrounded by other families who are cheering and laughing. And the kids? Utterly enchanted. So I put on my game face and joke around with the rest of the crowd.
Eventually, the guy gets tired of himself. “I’m going to switch to a new trick now,” he announces. “I’m going to open this beer and make it disappear. I’ll let you know when the trick is over.”
I sigh and scan the road, thinking, Come on hay ride tractor. Get us the hell out of Crazy Town.
The tractor halts in front of us. The crowd surges ahead like it has never been introduced to the concept of a line, or standing in one, or taking turns like a rational group. I tell all four kids to hold hands so we’re not separated by the mad rush. *Poof!* The Magician turns into a teddy bear, saying “Step aside for these little ones!” Then he nods to me with a drunken smile, and says, “Enjoy the ride, ma’am.”
When we settle on the hay bales, I notice Madeline and H are still holding hands. Madeline looks at me with wide, earnest eyes and says, “Miss Mawah, can you move down a little so H and I can have some alone time?”
I do my best not to laugh. Madeline and H were born three weeks apart. I held her when she was only hours old, I’ve watched her grow along side my H, and so I adore her. Katy and I have joked for years that our first-born children are destined to be sweethearts. And now this: Madeline’s imploring expression, plus an unfamiliar goofiness in H’s grin.
“Oh, there will be no aloooone time,” I say with a laugh, wishing Katy were here to see this. They blink back at me in disappointment.
This must be a glimpse into how the teen years will be: the giddy smiles, the handsy playfulness, the exasperation (theirs) and the banishment (mine). I decide on the spot to control this scene as long as I can, because kids grow up fast, and the next thing you know, they’re asking you to drop them off a block from the school dance, and it’s all downhill from there.
It’s years down the road. Still, I wonder how to prepare for it—the slow passing of the torch from me to whomever my boys choose. I’ve watched my mother do this for my brother and me, and my mother-in-law do the same for her children. I wonder where that sort of open-hearted graciousness comes from. Is it the passing of time that makes us able? Maybe it’s magic? Or is it like an ankle-twist in a hole—you just ice up, crutch up and get on with it?
Madeline stays with us that night to help Katy rest. In the morning over pancakes, I hear Madeline say, “We’ll go to college, and then we’ll move in together. And then we’ll get married, and you will be my husband.”
My sweet boy says, “And my mama will live next door, and she’ll make us breakfast every morning.” He does his funny five-year-old wink at me and laughs. I laugh, too.
And while I do, I make a silent promise not to hold him to it.
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