P.S., if it was you Ms. Pop Tart, you don’t have much to educate me on nutrition for children!

Today was an odd, ephemeral and lovely day for the most part, consisting of an enjoyable afternoon out first on the bike, then to lunch and grocery shopping with my parents and my children. I can usually only hope to steal my mother away for daily errands in between the events in her busy schedule (said “busyness” sometimes consisting of just being around the house for my dad – it’s very sweet, they like hanging out with each other and almost no one else). And of the four members of my FOO I’m the only one who likes going out to eat (not strictly true: my brother likes eating out but is so tight-fisted with cash he simultaneously judges others or feels guilty himself upon indulging), so it’s rare I have enthusiastic partners in this endeavor.

I may sound like I’m poking fun of my family but the truth is I enjoy spending time with them near as much as my own wee foursome. One of the chief good trappings of this day was that my father came along with us. He has been feeling better, despite new tumor growths in his lungs and bones. His good spirits seem largely due to the fact he’s had more than two months off chemo (his choice). It’s sad to see him off chemo because chemo keeps him alive (albeit tortured and sick). It’s almost, in its way, even sadder to see his hair thicken and his skintone liven and his skinny 6′ 3″ frame gain a few pounds. He starts to look startlingly good. I look at him and think to myself, imagine how healthy and hale he would be now without cancer treatment these last eight years. This is almost the worst kind of thought to think because it takes me back to What Could Have Been, a place I for the most part abandoned and don’t often glance at.

I feel oddly exhausted to recount a strange episode from this morning that almost ruined my day: we were visited by a gentleman from DSHS on an issue of child welfare – in fact my child, Nels. On Saturday afternoon my son had ventured out (in the nintey-plus degree heat making him restless, I suppose) two blocks afield and was asking neighbors for food and drink. A neighbor brought him back straight away (after feeding him bottled water and Pop Tart) and spoke to Ralph, who apologized for the trouble and thanked the neighbor for bringing our son home. My husband was pissed – cranky from the heat, angry at Nels for wandering off, irritated at me for – I’m not sure what. Because I know Nels and know there’s little we can do except to talk to him about what he shouldn’t do and why. But anyone suggesting we “make” him forgo venturing off on his own on some too-grown, precocious endeavor (harmless or otherwise)? Bitch, you don’t know my son!

So imagine my mild surprise, then shock, then bemusement, offense, and small dark cloud of rage forming between my eyes when a stranger showed up and wanted to look at the state of my housekeeping, the food in my fridge, and the nurturing conditions and mental stimulus afforded my children (all of which were running smoothly, of course). Here’s the weird thing: of course I support these programs and am glad to see what I saw operating in Grays Harbor County this morning. And in theory I tell myself I wouldn’t judge nor place myself above the parent who would benefit from these services. But I found out today it’s another thing entirely to have them at my own doorstep.

The gentleman interrupted the kids and I as we were studying world atlases and preparing dough for chocolate croissants (the food tying into the geography lessons: croissants from France, as pointed out on the map, and chocolate from – usually – South America). The social worker – who was completely professional, matter-of-fact, and friendly, none of which made the incident less unpleasant – told me the call was from someone (maybe the neighbors who’d returned Nels, maybe not – who knows?) who had reported this was a “drug-addled” neighborhood (WTF?). The sole purpose of his visit seemed to be – besides “checking us out”, which had included a call to law enforcement – informing us of services we could take advantage of. In fact at no point did I hear an admonishment or feel chastised in any way; rather, I’d seen a window into institutional procedure based around helping people help themselves. This was an odd relief and in accordance with what I would want from social work at large. Still, I couldn’t help wonder: what if my fridge had been empty? What if my house was a pit, or I had a sick kid, or what if Nels runs off again?

Before the social worker left I sat my son on my lap and explained briefly that it’s a lot of trouble (for me), drama (for me), and paperwork (for Mr. DSHS) brought down on us for a four-year old to venture off like that, even once. I don’t think we made it too heavy-handed.

I know Nels couldn’t have known that for me the incident sparked this terrifying, irrational, yet nevertheless thoroughly soul-sickening feeling of the loss of one’s child, a fear that lives in the bottom third of my heart no matter waking or sleeping and pumps a noxious cold blood-substitute whenever circumstances hint toward anything of the kind.

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