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Tag: emotional rescue

love at the grocery store

there were tears at the breakfast counter this morning. oh, not because the flakes got soggy. not because of bad news on the sports page.


it was the news that the big brother, the one who’s far away this week, won’t be home in time for tomorrow’s all-star game.

the little one, you see, is on the team. got voted there by the ones he slugs beside. the lineup of little stars who watch him leap and stretch and tumble, all in the name of making a TV-ready play.

the little one lives for games with balls. has far less patience when it comes to words and numbers. even less if there’s a pencil on the scene.

but give the boy a ball and he takes to it like he was born to make those muscles stretch, the synapses connect, the catching hand signaling the running leg at DSL speed.

i tell you, the kid is wired in ways that baffle me, his mother who could barely walk across a room without finding something there to trip on.

and the kid is utterly deflated that his all-star hero, his big towering eight-years-older brother, can’t be there in the bleachers.

he’d had hopes, he said, sniffling through his almost-tears, that his brother would be the one to call out his name, into the plug-in microphone, over the scratchy loudspeakers, as he approached the plate.

at the little ball park where the game is played, they go for schmaltz like that. good schmaltz, the best schmaltz; they play it up in pure old-fashioned ways.

glancing toward the breakfast bowl, once i saw the scrunched-up face, knew the tears were on the way, i did what any mama would: i dropped the spoon i’d just picked up, wrapped my arms around his shaky little shoulders, buried his soggy face into my fresh white t-shirt, gave no thought to the strawberry bits i would now be sporting in the bull’s eye of my belly.

i held him tight, and wished like anything i could rent a helicopter to get his brother home.

i tried talking so-called common sense, explained that no one knew, so long ago, that he’d be on the team, back when his brother made the summer plans, back when we penciled in the one short week away.

he blew his nose, the little one. slapped on sunscreen, shuffled off to camp. but as i drove him there i heard the sigh, asked, “what’s wrong?” he answered in two short syllables: his brother’s name.

i knew what that meant. i caught his face in the rear-view mirror. the boy was deeply sad, in one of those ways he’ll not soon forget. i can hear it now, 30 years away, the little one will rib his brother, remind him, how, when it mattered, he wasn’t there.

egad. dial ET, for emotional triage.

once i dropped him off at camp, i headed straight to the nearest first-aid station: the grocery store.

it’s often, at our house, the place to turn for makeshift reparations. end-of-a-long-week. half-birthday. any holiday from halloween to little easter. like a madwoman, i comb the shelves, find all sorts of bells and whistles to mark whatever is the moment. you’d be amazed what you find stocked at the all-purpose store. it’s where i spend my paycheck, with nary a second thought. long as it fits in a brown paper grocery bag, it’s hardly an indulgence. just a mama’s fix-it for whatever is the urgent need. and, besides, it’s open all night long, a convenience that’s downright essential when you’re someone who cooks up schemes at all hours of the night. and often on the fly.

i roamed the aisles, searched for all the balm and anti-sting cream that i could find. i started in the cereal aisle. found a limited-issue summer crunch, one with bats and balls to pour into your bowl. stumbled over to the streamer aisle, grabbed red and white and blue.

we’ll do it up, this all-star theme.

called the bread shop once back home (because i forgot to steer the car there), ordered up a loaf of cinnamon swirl, his breakfast favorite.

if i can’t bring on the brother, i can at least supply the band-aids.

it’s all we’re left with, sometimes.

too often.

and in the million other times a week when we flub it up, fall short, run out of steam, chase the little bugger back to bed (with nary a note of tenderness), well, we try and try again. most especially, when we think it counts.

we fill our grocery cart. we tuck away the treats. we scheme and hope.

we picture the little all-star, waking up to festooned room. sitting down to all-star slugger cereal, and swirls of cinnamon and sugar.

we’ll take pictures. tell stories. cheer our lungs out and our throats till they’re scratchy.

we’ll try to fill the stands with all the love we can muster.

and, yep, the seat beside me will be empty.

because sometimes all the wishing in the world won’t bring back the one you long to have there.

anyone else patch together a broken heart this week? what were the balms that worked for you?

heart to heart

the little red heart is the size of a button. so is its twin, the other half of its whole.

when the sun peeks in his room, when he bounds out of bed and into his school clothes, he’ll slip his into his pocket. so will his mama. i promised i would.

a heart in your pocket is a very good thing. especially on the very first day, the very first long day, when the time between saying goodbye at the school door, and climbing off at the bus stop, way past lunch in a lunchroom, and scrambling all over at recess, way past standing in lines and marching through halls, past sitting in chairs and reaching in desks. way past finding your name on all sorts of supplies, and even a locker you barely know how to use.

a heart in your pocket is a very good thing.

you give it a squeeze when you need to. you give it a squeeze when you’re sad. or you’re wobbly. or lonesome. you give it a squeeze when you’re certain its powers will work like a cell phone, connect you in magical ways, without even dialing. and the heart on the other end of the line will be there, will know that you’re calling, really she will.

because hearts in the pocket are like that.

they connect you.

and when you are six, and going off in the world, for the very first time really. for the very first time where the lumps in your tummy, and the ones in your throat are so big you think they might choke you. or send you flying to the boys’ room, way, way down the hall, before it’s too late.

the need for a heart, the need for a something, became wholly apparent last night in the dark.

that’s when your heart’s bared. that’s when all that is hiding comes out of the shadows. that’s when your room and your bed get overly crowded. that’s when the things that behave all through the day come haunting. they decide in the nighttime, they want some air time. they want to romp in your head.

that’s when the feet came. tiptoeing down the stairs, around the corner, right to my side, that’s when the words came too: “mama, i need to talk to you about something really serious about school.”

and so, of course, i stopped what i’d thought was important, scooped him onto my lap, and i listened.

“ i think i’ll be homesick.”

that was round one. before it was ended we’d talked, re-climbed the stairs, re-tucked into bed, re-kissed that soft head.

then came round two.

again, feet shuffling.

this time i was not far from his room. this time the words came in whispers, barely audible whispers there at the top of the stairs, where i promptly sat down.

“i’m nervous about tomorrow. i’m afraid i might vomit.”

the child goes straight for the heart. cuts no corners. softens no blows.

in a word, he took me right back. took me back to the weeks, there were two of them, one in kindergarten, one in first grade, where i too got so sick, so dehydrated, they twice tossed me in the hospital. i remember it vividly. remember the little pink puppet they sent me home with. but i remember other things, too, that weren’t quite so nice. things that still give me shudders.

i know what it is to be so afraid, so rumbly inside that you can’t hear a word, and the room feels like it’s swirling.

i took my boy by the hand. we had us some digging to do.

“we need a heart,” i informed him, as i led him. as if i knew just how to fix this. as if i was a sorcerer and i held the potion that would cure whatever ailed him. sometimes even parents play pretend. because they have to. because sitting there falling apart would not help. would not do a thing.

so we pretend that we’ve all sorts of lotions and potions and balms. we dab cream on a cut, make it feel better. whip up concoctions to take out the sting. we do voodoo and rain dances, for crying out loud. whatever it takes to get over the bumps.

the bump last night called for a little red heart. or a little wee something. something he could slip in his pocket, and know i was there. not down the street, around the corner, four more blocks south.

we dug through my top drawer, the one where i stash all my treasures. there was a rock shaped like a heart, a tarnished old ring, a bunny the size of a quarter. and the two red see-through hearts.

we sifted and sorted. i let him decide. i told him how his big brother, too, used to go off in the world with me in his pocket. explained how it worked. how you give it a squeeze and you know that i’m there. that i’m thinking. and loving. and waiting. for the end of the day when he’ll be home again.

i told him i, too, have him in my pocket. how i too would carry a heart. give it a squeeze. send a signal. all day, back and forth, little hearts would be flying. would be defying all logic and sense, and even some science.

but they’d not ever quit. would not break. not run out of batteries. they are forever.

good thing when you’re six, you know things by heart. and you believe, most of all, the things that your mama, she tells you.

especially at night, especially past bedtime, when all of your insides come tumbling right out. when the house has no noise, and the moon guides your way down the stairs.

that is the hour that’s blessed. that is the hour that mamas and papas and all the people who love you pull out their needles and thread, and even their little red buttons, whatever it takes to stitch you and your heart all back together.

now go to sleep, sweetheart, and when the day comes, just give me a squeeze. and i’ll do the same. we’re as close as two hearts in a pocket.

that’s a promise i’ll keep. i promise.

any butterflies and rumbly tummies at your house? what magic spells and secret potions do you have to chase them away? do you remember your first long day away from home, tucked in a school desk, when you thought your heart would pound right through your chest, and the flip-flops in your tummy nearly did you in? did someone you love soothe you? make you believe you could get over the hump? do you still get butterflies? i do…..