When my son, Joel, was in elementary school, I was a working mom. That meant caretaking, meal making, housekeeping, homework battles, and bedtime stories after work. That meant shuttling the kids to choir, karate, gymnastics, or band after work. When permitted, I’d watch their activities—while paying the bills kept in my handbag. When not permitted, say by the director preparing choir for concert, I’d pop a wheelie out of the parking lot and squeeze in an hour’s worth of grocery shopping. Weekends and holidays were the same, except Columbus Day, my one day without work or activities.
Every year, I looked forward to Columbus Day when I had off while my husband worked and my kids went to school. For weeks, I’d plan the favorite thing I’d do that day, maybe book browse at Borders or shop at Pier I.
One Columbus Day I was home—feet up, sipping hot Lipton, laughing with I Love Lucy—when my second-grader’s school nurse called: “Your son has a fever and is complaining of a sore throat. Can you get him?” I rushed over. We went to the doctor, who prescribed Amoxicillin. After filling the prescription, we stopped for Slurpees. At home, he put on pajamas, and I read to him on the den couch until he fell asleep.
The next Columbus Day, I was on my way to Annapolis to visit the Main Street Gallery and sit on the pier to read a novel, when I got a phone call: “This is the school nurse. Your son has an upset stomach.” To my exasperated “are you sure?” she handed the phone to Joel, who begged, “Please come get me; I feel really sick.”
When I picked him up, he said “Can I get a movie from Blockbuster’s?” We rented the movie and bought ginger ale for his upset stomach. At home, after he put on pajamas, we watched the movie from the den couch, my arm wrapped around him.
The next Columbus Day, I didn't even remind my husband that I had off. Wanting to not jinx anything, I dressed in business clothes to drop the kids off at morning care. Later, I got the inevitable phone call.
Every year, the phone calls from the nurse got earlier and earlier. Eventually, I gave up making plans for myself and started looking forward to spending the day with my son. By the time he was in high school, all pretense was out the door and when I’d pick him up he’d say, “Mom, it’s a miracle—I feel better already!” At home we’d have naps, watch movies, and enjoy hot tea while reading novels on the den couch.
It’s Columbus Day. I rarely hear from him unless he’s read my cryptic text message: You still alive? Then, he’ll call and tell me the latest about sessions he’s teaching at Penn State.