Today marks night three of Ralph’s job-related visit to Boise, Idaho. This is the longest in our twelve years of marriage we have been apart. I predicted that I would be fine, but who knows with me. I can get frightened at night – anxious, or depressed. And given that I have a chronic, progressive disease that has everything to do with my mental and emotional states, this is no throwaway matter.
But, as it turns out, we have a lovely time together. Family life changes swiftly, and subtly. The kids and I develop touchingly modest habits, spending more time in bed and on household chores. I make up simple dinners, according to the personal preferences of each member. I don’t set the table, instead letting my sewing project lay out a bit longer. Rather than our customary baths, the three of us shower together.
Without adult assistance, however, the sheer volume of effort required to feed and care for the members of the family is thrown into sharp relief. By way of illustration: Nels informs me that he is eating more, to prepare for the summer “and all that slip-n-slide work.” Now, emerging from his shower, naked and brown like a little tree frog, he chats me up about this. He lists the following foods, all consumed today and most handmade by yours truly:
Fruity Cheerios cereal
2 tomago hand rolls
A PB & honey sandwich on home-baked farmhouse bread
Cheesy broccoli collard soup
Pasta, chicken, and cauliflower (at his grandmother’s house)
Homemade whole wheat pita with spiced tofu
A serving of Top Ramen
A slice of raspberry rhubarb pie
He tells me: this summer is going to be wonderful. “I can tell,” he chirps, “by the way Spring is working out.” A minute later he is planning to turn into a Venus flytrap, three times as big as me. But he can’t touch me, or he might smash me. “Maybe I’ll touch you a little,” he reconsiders. “With my lips.” A kiss – and the sweet scent of raspberries, the flash off his braces within his grin. I am in a heaven I get to live daily.
My son is his typical, mercurial self. One minute sweet – the next, raising the devil. He seems to have no sympathy for how much work it is for me to keep the home without his father’s help. Around the house he leaves his cereal bowl, a bandaid wrapper, pages of notes from today’s Dungeons and Dragons game, several jackets in little heaps. I am driven mad by his carelessness. And yet, even so, later in the warm and rainy recesses of the afternoon I find him assiduously cleaning up the grass cuttings he had tracked in after walking the dog.
Phoenix is a marvel. She has been performing about twice the housework typically to her day. Tonight she glides into the living room and throws herself on the shabby green living room chair. Her body is long and willowy, clad in a floor length skirt and a small cotton bralette, barefoot. I tell her, now, “I am proud of you. You have been working hard.”
She sighs, ” – and I am exhausted!”
“Yeah,” I say. “Me too.”
“This is what it would be like, if Daddy suddenly left.” And with that, she stands up and pads into the kitchen. Her brows beetled less in irritation than in her rapier-like acuity. But her tone has a bit of severity: You’d better watch it, mama.