The good thing about the time change is that it’s no longer pitch black at 7 in the morning when I get up. The bad thing is how unbelievably long the evenings seem now — they start around 4:30 and they just go on and on and on, don’t they? But in the morning I’m happy for the grey light filling the bedroom. JB comes in to kiss me goodbye, and he heads out to tackle his 90-minute commute. Dylan’s been awake since JB first stirred, and he’s usually vibrating with excitement in the hallway, waiting for someone else to join him. Riley comes bumbling out of his room, yawning hugely and clutching his ratty blue blanket. The cat leaps from her favorite sleeping spot next to my pillow and rushes to her food dish. Everyone’s up.
Riley props his head with one hand as he annihilates a giant bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats, talking through mouthfuls about his two favorite subjects, Calvin & Hobbes and Pacific Rim. Dylan periodically interrupts to ask things like, If Gipsy Danger fighted Optimus Prime, who would win? (Me: Um. Well it would probably depend on … hang on, let me get some coffee.) I clear dishes and assemble Riley’s lunch: peanut butter and jelly sandwich, almonds and pretzels, grapes. At 8:15, we pile in the car and head to school. I ask the same thing every day: “Do you have your coat and your lunch?” Riley also asks the same thing every day: “Are we going to be late?”
“Have we EVER been late, Riley?” I say. “Well, have I ever forgotten my lunch?” he counters.
We snake our way through the dropoff line and shout goodbyes to Riley as he joins the throngs of kids waiting for the bell. “Love you!” he yells back, and vigorously hitches his backpack onto his shoulders. It’s such a big-kid move.
Dylan and I drive home, as he points out the various landmarks we pass: the Dari Mart cow head. The tree with the flaming autumn leaves, almost bare now. The giant weird Ducks football mascot statue that holds a Heisman stance in the back of an always-parked truck. We get home and he collapses with a happy sigh in front of the TV for his morning dose of Curious George. “Waffle?” he inquires sweetly. “Of course,” I say grandly, because in this house waffles will always be a snack, so say we all.
I sit at my “office” (AKA, the desk in the corner of our living room) and tackle my writing deadlines while Dylan watches a few cartoons, then moves on to drawing and playing. When I can come up for air, I make him an early lunch (usually a cheese quesadilla, which he eats carefully from triangle point to the last half-inch of tortilla space. “I don’t like the crusts,” he says. “But there are no crusts,” I say, pointing out that the wide edge of the tortilla is exactly like the rest: toasted and filled with delicious gooey cheese. “I guess I just don’t like the dilla part,” he tells me, shrugging) and we sit down to play Old Maid or surf cute animal photos on the iPad.
At 11:55, we wait outside for his bus. His driver always greets him with sincere enthusiasm — “Hi, Dylan!!” — and he climbs on with a huge smile. From our front walkway, I wave and wave, and he blows kisses through his window.
For the next few hours, my priorities are: lunch, exercise, errands, remaining writing deadlines. Two days a week I go to the gym and work out with a trainer, other days I plug in a DVD and hop around the living room. I try to book appointments during this window, or hit the grocery store. My favorite days are when I have nothing scheduled and I can just work in peace, because oh, the experience of writing in an empty house. Luxurious.
At 3:30 (2:30 on Wednesdays), I drive to their stop, where I sit in my car and idly poke at my phone until the forever-late bus arrives. Three kids tumble out and I stand watch in the road to make sure no one’s creamed by a distracted driver as they race to my car and beg to ride in the hatchback area. “Can we, can we?” they ask, and sometimes I say no of course not that’s not safe and sometimes I say what the hell, get in. Then I drive slowly but crazily, veering back and forth across our road as they roll around in the back and giggle. My tires brush the edges of the huge leaf piles that line our street waiting for pickup, like ever-growing slaloms made of wet Raisin Bran.
Mary’s mom picks her up, and my boys beg for afternoon cartoons. They watch old-school Looney Tunes and it never fails to make me feel a faint tugging across time. “La da di da da da di da hocus pocusssss,” Bugs Bunny sings, and I can do the next part by heart: “Abracadabra …”
If it’s Monday, I help Riley with his homework. Otherwise, they play until they inevitably get too obnoxious, at which point they’re told they can build, draw, read, or clean. (No one ever chooses clean.) They assemble robots with Legos and pester me to print things for them to color. Riley flops on the couch with a dog-eared Calvin & Hobbes book, Dylan secretly ferrets out the forbidden exercise ball and hurls it around quietly. They whisper-fight and snicker, they make increasingly loud pew pew pew sounds, they forget their keep-calm edict and run around shouting as I sigh and look at the clock and will the numbers to move forward just a tiny bit.
I bark “I WILL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO DO” and they scatter.
Between the kids’ pickiness and JB’s schedule I don’t typically aim for a sit-down family dinner. The boys eat on stools that are scootched up against the kitchen counter, and I chat with them while I cook the adults’ meal. After JB gets home, we settle in for the evening, and that can drag on this time of year. What to do when it’s wet and dark outside and everyone’s feeling restless? We play Connect Four, we watch GoPro videos, we play animal charades, we bake cookies. JB and I try not to look at our phones.
8 PM finally rolls into view, and the boys are sent off to put on their pajamas and brush their teeth. Afterwards, I grumpily wipe spilled fluoride rinse off half the surfaces in the bathroom and if anyone’s peed on the toilet base they’re sent in with a bottle of Method (because seriously, so fucking over that). We split up to read books: something like Magic Treehouse for Riley, and Bob Staake for Dylan.
Hugs and goodnights go like this with Riley:
“I love you times a thousand,” I say. “I love you times a million,” he says. “I love you times a billion jillion,” I say. “I love you times infinity so I WIN!!!” he crows.
“Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” I tell him. “And if they do ….” “HIT ‘EM WITH A SHOE!” he yells. As I close the door, his tiny voice: “I love you so much I win!”
JB and I collapse on the couches and find a show to watch together. I make my current favorite late-night treat: a mug of warmed-up almond milk with one Splenda, a ton of cinnamon, and a splash of vanilla creamer. (It tastes like hot tapioca pudding. I know, that sounds disgusting, but it’s so good.) We chat and relax and the house is quiet and warm, the boys tucked into their blankets with their eyelashes curling perfectly over their cheeks.
Like a deep contented exhale, the night winds to an end.