growing pains / by Christina Rosalie

One Scooby Doo bandaid and a glass of wine later, this is what heartache feels like. He comes home from the day with his Gram and Gramps who indulge his every wish: playground visits, popsicles, escaping from naps, trips to the hardware store, the library, the moon… When he gets here, he’s asleep and the rain has rinsed the heat out of the day. He’s in his car seat when they bring him, in his underpants, hair curling with sweat.

We carry him inside where he sleeps on DH the way he used to before his legs were long and his knees were scraped and his heart belonged only to us. Then he wakes, and all he wants is her, his Gram, who smells like sweet perfume and has soft hugs and buys him cookies whenever they go out.

He starts to cry for her. His eyes get red and puffy and he runs away and hides in corners, sobbing. Inconsolable, he doesn’t want either one of us, only her. Snot runs from his nose in a trail, and we offer peanut butter cookies and milk and he eats them and then starts to cry again; his smile as temporary as the thunderstorm earlier today that brought nickel-sized hail and a tornado warning while I was at school.

DH and I go outside onto the lawn. We check on the baby chicks, their beaks and yellow and sharp and their eyes round and dark. The grass is wet from the rain. We hold hands. Neither of us has any fucking idea what to do with our small boy who is standing in the doorway sobbing, not wanting to be with us but not wanting to be left alone either.

My heart feels like the tangled strings of a marionette; like prongs in a splintered music box; like the quarters that fall under couch cushions and are forgotten. We go back inside, agreeing to ignore him for a while. Surely this has gone on long enough, this wailing, this utter ridiculousness. He’s clutching the phone. “I want to call Gram,” he says each word punctuated with a gasping sob.

I put on Jack Johnson. DH grills chicken. I make potato salad. Bean sobs, clutching the phone.

Finally we cave, after forty five minutes of sobbing. When she answers, her first words are stupid and they make my heart feel like bits of broken glass. “I’ll be right over,” she says. DH intervenes. She’s his mom, so he can say it like it is. Not what we’re looking for here. Just say hi to him, calm him down. So she starts in, planning tomorrow with him: a trip to the café for milk and cookies, returning library books, a bike ride, a trip to the playground.

Smiles flutter on his face like the little blue moths that kept landing on the kids hands and arms at school while we were walking in the tall grass. They’d alight, then stick their tongues out, licking the salt from the kid’s sweaty palms, everyone watching in wonderment. My little boy didn’t want anything to do with me, and now he’s sitting there at the counter, elbows up, talking on the phone like a teenager, his face wide with grins. I can only listen for a while, before I feel like I can’t breathe.

I go to the wine rack, reach for the first bottle, grapple with the cork screw. Except for with dinner sometimes I never drink, but it seems like the only thing that makes any sense: in that it doesn’t at all. The cork breaks, and the sharp tip of the corkscrew gashes across my index finger. When I hold my finger up to my mouth and my blood tastes coppery. I pour a glass and take a sip. He’s still talking to her and her voice is a cloying sing-song of sweetness.. My heart feels like a bit of clay, drying in the sun, a hundred little fissures forming on the surface. Damn. No one told me told me about this. No one warned me that they stop loving only you. That you stop being everything, that a day comes when your kiss no longer makes it better.

I take the red metal colander to the garden with a sharp knife and cut the outer leaves of lettuce heads, all curly and green. Walking across the wet grass to the garden I cry. Then while I’m cutting the salad greens he calls for me, “Mommy, where are you?” and my heart is a trout flip flopping about with a wild helpless kind of love. He’s standing at the top of the garden path waiting for me, and I pick him a wild daisy from among the tall grasses and he grins when I hand it to him. “I love you, Mommy,” he says.

We eat dinner and finally, he’s all mine again. I feed him buttered noodles with peas and carrots and then we sit on stools by the window watching the storm move towards us across the mountain. We count bolts of lightening and he grins, eyes still red, eyelashes tangled. Then the sky changes fast from light to metallic gray. The leaves on the trees are tossed belly side up, like a thousand darting minnows caught between here and the storm tossed sky. Rain chases the wind, and DH goes about shutting windows and nursing his own form of heartache.

Bean wanted neither of us; and while he’s climbing back and forth now between our laps sharing an ice cream sandwich and watching the storm dwindle, his small betrayal still stings like salt in a cut.

So this is watching your kid grow up; becoming someone separate, like one Jupiter’s moons. We fall into each other in a tight embrace and I feel the muscles in DH’s chest bunch against my cheek. He’s holding me the way we used to, like it’s just us again, before Bean, though it’s different of course. Three years, and suddenly he’s clamoring for independence at the threshold of our hearts. All we can do is stand in the doorway watching the storm approach. Then suddenly, rain is pelting our skin.