“And what do you do?”
What do I do? Well, this morning I made eggs for my 7-year old and added money to my 8th grader’s lunch account. I have no idea what he’s eating at school but it’s starting to add up so I should really check and see how many bagels he’s buying off the breakfast cart.
Then I took our dog Wolfie for a little walk down the street. He was a devil to house-train, but I find if I walk him once a day then he doesn’t go in the house.
I went to yoga.
I folded towels. I like to do one load of laundry every other day—that helps me stay ahead of things.
Then I ran to Kohls to buy socks for my boys.
And now I’m here, at the standing next to you at the salad bar in Whole Foods.
Your suit is nice. The pinstripes are very professional-looking. I used to work with men like you—men who wear suits to work and have meetings and write reports and drink coffee alone in their office.
I used to wear a suit and write reports and have meetings and drink coffee alone in my office.
Now, I do the laundry. I make beds. I shop for low-sugar granola bars and I plan pork chops for dinner and I buy books I think my children will like.
The other day I found one that has a quote for every day of the year. Last night at dinner, we took turns reading the ones for each of our birthdays.
“Jack, here’s the page for May 9th. Here’s yours, read it to us.”
“Emerson. It says Emerson. Emerson. Emers—“
“Jack, read the whole thing! I want to hear it,” I interrupted him.
“Emerson, Emerson, Emerson.”
Some days feel empty and long. Other days I feel very, very busy. It’s the dichotomy of a stay-at-home mom’s world, this alternating universe of tasks and time, longing and satisfaction.
I love being home for the first day of school, because I bake cookies and get them all of the bus and listen to their chatter about teachers and friends.
But I hate being home all day in March. Even though spring is around the corner, here in New Hampshire the cold and the grey and the slush linger.
Sometimes there’s a lot of noise in my head. I think about how I should maybe get a job now that all five of my kids are in school but how could I ever get a job when the elementary school bus pulls up at 2:40 not to mention when they’re sick or have a snow day.
Sure, my other four kids could easily go to after-school care or come home to a babysitter, but I don’t think it would be good for Jack.
Who’s Jack? Oh, he’s my son. He’s twelve. He has autism.
He also has anxiety—lots and lots of anxiety. It’s kind of hard to admit this, but there are days when I feel like no one else knows him, or understands him, the way I do.
I know if he needs a haircut by the way he starts to twist the hair near his temples between his fingers.
I know when he’s getting the stomach bug, because he always, always takes a hot shower if he feels nauseous—even if it’s 3:00 in the afternoon and he already took a shower that morning.
I know when he says, “What,” after I ask him something that it’s not because he didn’t hear me, but because he’s trying to collect his thoughts. He’s looking for his words the way you or I might look for a needle in a haystack.
He doesn’t say it with a lilt at the end, like a question. He says it like a sentence. What.
I know when his sneakers are starting to pinch his toes, because he’ll insist on wearing his big black snow boots to school, even if it’s only September. I learned this the hard way, after he spent three months clomping around in Bogs.
And I know that if he walks out of the room suddenly, goes upstairs, and climbs into his bed in the middle of the day, he has a headache. Sometimes I can tell because he starts to rub the side of his head absent-mindedly, the way you or I might worry at a button or a loose thread on our jacket.
He’s been getting headaches a lot lately.
They started early this summer. At first we told him to drink more water, that maybe he was dehydrated. It seemed to help for a little while, but then they came back.
They’re getting worse now. At least once a week he lies in his room with the blinds drawn. We have appointments with the pediatrician and the neurologist and his ophthalmologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
We have to drive to Children’s Hospital in Boston because, like everything else with this boy, even Jack’s eyes are unusual. He has one good, strong eye, and another sit-on-the-couch-and-eat-potato-chips lazy eye. This is called amblyopia.
Yesterday was his eye exam. Jack was very happy about it because it meant he could stay home from school for the day and pick where we eat lunch.
He is, however, a pain to take to the actual exam. He touches everything. He needs about a million prompts to sit still and read the letters and listen to directions.
“You see,” the doctor said kindly while she tried to get him to look forward, “His left eye. It’s wandering.”
“Wandering? What do you mean, wandering?”
“His brain has no use for it anymore because the vision is so poor. So it stops controlling the muscles. And the eye wanders. It’s called strabismus.”
It’s called strabismus.
My son has autism and anxiety and amblyopia and strabismus. And now, headaches.
Except for the autism part, none of these are really a big deal. But when you add up A + A + A + S + H for headaches, it equals a boy who has a very hard time seeing and hearing and knowing the world around us.
I am so sad about this, Mr. Pinstripe Man.
“Here, watch. I can show you.”
From somewhere under a long countertop, the doctor pushed a button that made a small stuffed dog bolted to a shelf across the room move and bounce. I could hear it dancing frantically as I watched my son’s left eye move to the outside corner.
“Jack, do you see the dog? Jack, look at the dog.”
The dog was white.
Jack’s eyes are blue.
“He’s probably trying to self-correct it, which is why he’s getting headaches.”
“We’ll need to consider surgery in the next year or so to tighten the muscles,” she said, reaching back underneath the counter to quiet the stuffed dog.
This was yesterday. And today, you and I are standing at the salad bar, trading tongs for tomatoes and cubes of tofu, and you just asked me what I do.
I fail every single day. That’s what I do.
I don’t have performance reviews at my job. But if I did, I would probably go ahead and just give myself a D+.
I think that’s pretty fair, because everyone is fed and reasonably clean—except for 7-year old Henry, who takes a bath for about five seconds and lies when I ask him if he’s brushed his teeth. They all have good backpacks and pencils for school. I kiss them goodnight before bed, and in the morning I wave when they get on the bus.
I love them. I love them so much my heart squeezes like a fist that is trying desperately to hold onto five shiny copper pennies.
And yet, I didn’t notice the way my son’s eyeball floats to the side of his head because his brain has no use for it anymore and the muscles are weakening and now his head hurts all the time.
After dinner last night, I was wiping down the table and shaking the crumbs off the place mats, and I noticed the new book I bought facedown on one of the chairs. I opened it to May 9th, and in the quiet of my kitchen, I read the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
This, Man Wearing a Pinstripe Suit, is also what I do. I am here for the beauty. I look for it every day to carry around and keep, like the tender green shoots of grass buried underneath March’s slushy snow.
“Mom. I am happy. For lunch with you today.”
“Me too, buddy. Me too.”