Max and I had an intense conversation one evening five years ago about creationism versus evolution. Max was concerned that there were children who were being taught that the world was created by magic space fairies (I didn’t even know that was a thing) and that science had no part in it. However, he also questioned whether existence was really based on matter or thought. Big stuff for a 12-year-old. As he left my room and headed to bed, he turned to me and said, “Mom, if I walk out of this room and you don’t see me anymore, does that mean I cease to exist?” “No, Max,” I said, “I know for a fact that you exist because I am very sure about where you came from and I am pretty sure it wasn’t magic space fairies.” “Okay,” he said. “Just checking.” Sometimes my kid thinks himself right into and out of a corner.
This past Monday at 6 a.m., I walked in to make sure Max was up and ready for school. His red hair was piled on top of his head, like mine. Both of us were wearing sweatpants and yesterday’s regrets. “C’mon, dude,” I said. “We can do this.” He lifted his head up and groaned. I flipped on his lights and said, “I’ll be back at 6:30 a.m. You HAVE to get up!” Again, he groaned and fell back onto his pillow. I had court and was pulling on my shoes. “MAX, get UP.” At 7:00 a.m., I went back in and said to him, in my best Mother of Doom voice, “MAX you have to get up NOW RIGHT NOW or you are going to be a TRUANT today!” He lifted his head up and opened one eye and said to me, “Mom, I don’t have school this week.” It took a moment to register. Oh, right. Thanksgiving was Thursday. No school. Shit. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll turn these lights off. Get some rest.”
I’ve had so many of those Bad Mom moments. I forgot snack day. I was late for pickups. I didn’t wash uniforms. I didn’t sign homework. I was late and missed the race, the award, the performance. I fought with their dad. I got a divorce. I didn’t save their pets from dying. I didn’t keep their hearts from breaking. I missed the memo and picture day. I begged the yearbook teacher for one more day to include photos. I didn’t check the school calendar and see that this week was a break.
Last night, my sons and my mother and I sat down for Thanksgiving dinner together. I told Max, “Do you remember when your dad used to take the whipped cream and squirt it right into your mouth?” Max said, “Is that what whippits are?” I said, “Close enough.” After about a half hour of eating and listening to classical music, Shane asked me, “Do you have anything more upbeat?” I put on another playlist. My playlist was a compilation of unexpected covers. When Joey Ramone began singing “What a Wonderful World,” I started dancing mosh-pit style behind Max. Shane said, “Mom, did you do whippits tonight?” I said, “NO, but my generation invented the Pogo, Shane. So I’m gonna dance” Then I was breathless from mosh-pit dancing in my kitchen Maybe I did need some shots of Reddi-Whip.
Later that evening, I went out for a walk in a chilly Northern California evening. I walked out the door that I honestly thought I walked out for the final time a month prior, when the Kincade Fire forced my entire town to evacuate. Some of the blocks I walked were so dark I couldn’t see the sidewalk in front of me but I’ve walked there so many times, I didn’t need light. I knew where they started and ended. I’d wondered when I returned from the evacuation. Should I leave? What if the next time fire takes my home? Do I want to risk that heartache? Am I a bad mom for staying – or will I be if I leave?
I returned to my house after my walk and it was warm and cozy. My house still smells like smoke. There may be more fires. And more rain. But this is the house my sons grew up in. Where leaving a room does not mean you disappear. Because you belong here. It’s messy, there’s a lot of pets and laundry and unfiled papers. This house is where my kids are, where there’s a kitchen with a mosh pit, and where you can hear Joey Ramone singing “It’s a Wonderful World.” Yes. This is home.