It was 6 o’clock. Ben sat at the kitchen table in his pajamas. As punishment for throwing rocks and biting another kid, he had spread mulch outside and then received an early bath. I glanced at my husband and said, “I am going for a run. You got the phone? Dr. Myers should call on my cell phone.” My almost bald, still-handsome, barrel-chested man nodded at me and asked, “You told her it’s time? Are you okay?” I shook my head and leaned in for a hug and he held me tight.
I pulled on my white Brooks running shoes with the green stripes and thought about running and about what one of my friends had just said to me. She had said, “I love you,” and I couldn’t respond. I felt like I couldn’t say “I love you” back because I was not worthy of loving anyone. I was a failure as a mom. When I didn’t respond, she added, “I know you can’t digest this right now but you will sort it out while you’re running.” I felt too cruddy even to run so at first I walked and I missed my family so I opened the laundry room door and called, “Anyone want to walk with me?”
My daughter ran outside and pulled on her white running shoes with the pink stripes. She walked by my side on this sunny, spring evening and she talked. Like any 8-year old, she has a lot to talk about and I am accustomed to listening but last night, I could not process her words. She stopped talking and asked me, “Mom, are you distracted?” I smiled. In that moment I heard a cardinal sing and saw the pink and yellow and green blossoms and I realized that everything outside my own mind just looked and sounded like so much static.
“Yes, sweetie, I am sorry. I have a lot on my mind.” Madeline rubbed my back with her reassuring little hand that no longer bears a cyst. “You’re upset about Ben, aren’t you?” I nodded and gritted my teeth so that I would not lose my composure. She continued, “Don’t worry Mom, it’s going to be okay.” I smiled and wrapped my arm around her shoulders. “Thank you sweetie. And please do not worry about me. I will be okay.” I never got to be a child so I try very hard not to lean on my own children. We finished our walk and then I went on a run and as I ran I tried to assemble and digest the thoughts swirling in my mind.
It had been a good morning but it fell apart at noon. The phone rang and I hung up on the other line and picked it up because the caller ID announced Terra Centre Elementary School. I cringe when the school calls. It is never good news.
The secretary patched me through to the Vice Principal while I squirmed. The VP is a man who has a gentle voice and kids of his own and one of my friends nicknamed him PBJ because that’s what his name sounds like if you say it fast. “Your son is here with me, Ms. Farris.” I held my breath and tried to ask why. “Well, he has calmed down some now, but for a while,” and PBJ paused to wipe his eyes, or so I imagined, “He was climbing all over the chairs. I think maybe he was nervous? It was strange. Now he is sitting here beside me eating his lunch and he is helping me count the minutes he’s behaved. Anyway, he and another boy pushed one another and apparently, Ben then proceeded to bite the boy in the finger.”
My world and his words faded as if the phone receiver had turned into a kaleidoscope of confusing noises. I screamed one of Munch’s silent screams and I whispered, “He did what?” And PBJ’s voice rolled and swelled and beat along and then he asked me if I wanted to speak to my son and I saw Ben’s little body and his dimples and his crazy-sweet, out-of-control smile and it was more than I could bear, this mashed-up mix of maternal love and fear and anger so I said, No,” and hit the red button on the phone and waited for PBJ’s voice to stop repeating himself in my head. It’s time.
I called my friend back and she said a lot of sage and kind things to me but all I really heard her say was the same thing I was saying to myself: “It’s time, El.” I thanked her and then I called my pediatrician’s office and left them a message and waited for the minutes to drift past but I kept getting lost in between the past and the future and I couldn’t figure out where I needed to be. All I knew is that I wanted to hold my son and yell at him and hug him and promise him, if only someone would promise me, that he was going to be okay.
Then the phone rang. It was the school again and it was three minutes past three and dutifully I picked up the damn phone. The secretary patched me through to the Principal. She is a woman with a voice as deep as her girth is wide, and she speaks really slow, which was good in this case, because she had Ben beside her and they were talking about the Golden Gate Bridge but that wasn’t really what they were talking about. “I don’t understand what you are saying!” My voice fractured and erupted and finally broke. And I stopped trying to speak because I was weeping too damn hard. “He threw rocks at a safety patrol,” Ms. Sims explained in her steady voice, “And you need to pick him up.”
Ten minutes later, I wore my aviator sunglasses and hoped that no one would glimpse my tear-stained face. I have not cried in front my closest friends. I don’t cry. Except I was crying.
A teacher whom I like very much stopped me in the hallway and she couldn’t see that I was crying so she asked me, with great cheer, how I was doing, and I tried to tell her that Ben had thrown rocks at the safety patrol, and Ms. T. laughed.
Then my son and his brother and sister spotted me and they sprinted toward me and slammed into me in one big heap of elbows and knees and messy hair and lopsided smiles. Behind them emerged the principal and she said nothing. She walked directly at me and then she enveloped me in this hug that makes me wanna cry all over again because her huge arms swallowed my smaller body like a whale eating Jonah and she held onto me for a long time. Just long enough, if ever is long enough when you’re a mother at her wit’s end. And I said to her “It’s time,” and she understood.
Five minutes later, I walked aside my 8-year-old going on 28 and then I heard the noise of pebbles pelting steel. Jim jumped up and down and then, I swear to you I what I am about to say is true, I saw Ben take a handful of gravel rocks and heave them at the gray SUV parked next to my black crossover. I laughed and cried and friends, I screamed, I did, at this man-child of mine, and I picked him up and swatted him and he looked sad and then he smiled at me and said he was sorry. And he kissed me and sucked his thumb and leaned in against me until I hugged him and told him I loved him. It’s time.