“No mom, the stwawberries go in the middle,” my five-year-old instructs. He needs a hair cut and his grown-out buzz cut swirls in dirty blond tufts outward from the cowlick at the back of his head.
“The cheerios won’t stay around the edge of the bowl, Quinn, it works better if the strawberries are on top.”
A drab, cold first week of summer break kills us slowly with its steady drip, like water torture against our foreheads. I glance out the kitchen window and wince. No bike ride again today. No picnic. No escape from the house, each other, the constant whining for TV, the fighting.
Yesterday, in despair of being a mom who can handle a few days of enforced togetherness, I vowed to engage–build a marble run, read in a blanket fort–and rashly promised to let them each pick something to make with a meal. Quinn picked a surprise breakfast. Cheerios and strawberries with whip cream topping arranged just so in the warped plastic bowls I should really stop putting in the dishwasher.
“Go and tell the other kids it’s time to eat,” I say over my shoulder, grabbing the whip cream can from the fridge. I shake the can and frown. There would not be enough for my second cup of coffee if I wasn’t careful. I put a miserly squirt in the center of each cheerio/strawberry tower.
My first of many sins. Quinn returns and throws himself on the ground in anguish. “I WANTED TO SQUIRT IT,” he wails. And just like that, as with so many moments in motherhood, a good intention becomes a tantrum, fun dissolves into a messy disaster like the soggy cardboard box sitting in the driveway, pelted by rain.
His foul mood lingers through the morning, knocking down marble runs and kicking puzzles until I snap, wild with boredom and a stay-at-home-mom’s thwarted frustration of having so much empty time to fill and so many things to do that can’t be used to fill it.
“Knock it off! Get off the puzzle! You’re not going to make a special breakfast again if you act like this,” I roar, queen of the household jungle.
“I didn’t get to do the whip cream,” he snarls back at me.
“I’m done! Go and play in the basement.” He hesitates, prodding me with an imaginary paw, testing the strength of my ire. “GO!”
He goes, stomping and wailing to the top of the basement stairs, where he pitches hot wheel cars to the bottom, spoiling for a fight. I taste blood and am in no mood to back down. I stalk up behind him and pounce, purring dangerously. “Pick them up or go to bed.”
He sees the flint in my eyes and the bristle of the fur on my back and knows it is not an idle threat. At the bottom of the dark stairwell, he crouches, fangs bared, a frightened, feral little-boy thing, and screeches at me as he works. It strikes me dumb, his fury and his primitive howl.
We are of one blood, he and I.
I sit on the top step, my inner mother rediscovered, and gaze at him. I know something about beastly little-boy things. “Did I hurt your feelings?” He turns his shoulder to me and makes a noise of protest and assent. “I’m sorry. You were not being very nice. You’re still sad about the whip cream? Pick up the cars and you can put whip cream on dessert tonight.”
Which means we’ll have to go to the store because I need the remaining whip cream for my coffee. I sip the hot liquid, reveling in the cream on my lips and nose, and listen to cars hitting the toy box. It quiets and I feel his prickly head against my arm. Beast tamed, he nuzzles against me, temporarily a kitten once again.