I’d really been looking forward to Friday the 13th. Not because I hoped to have my son drown in a lake at summer camp, then to seek gory vengeance for his death on the counselors of that camp and be decapitated by one of my intended victims, only to have said son’s ghost rise out of the lake and terrorize the camp for decades and almost a dozen sequels to come, as fun as that might be. No, I was just looking forward to a couple free hours while June would be at school and I wouldn’t be co-oping there or tutoring at Noah’s school. I only get a morning like that once a week on average, so it didn’t seem that unlucky to me. I’m not a superstitious person. If I were, we probably wouldn’t have two black cats (including one with a white splotch on his chest, just like the cat in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” one of my all-time favorite short stories.)
The day didn’t start out great, though. I went to bed a little past ten the night before and had trouble falling asleep. I felt like I hadn’t slept long when Beth came to bed at 10:55. June was up crying at 2:15 so I brought her to our bed and she was up again at 4:15, wanting a diaper change. At 5:35, Noah wandered into our room, thinking it was 6:35. I followed him back to his room, switched out the light and said, “No lights on until 6:00.” He might have gone back to sleep because I didn’t see the light creep under our door until 6:15.
By then I was awake for good, though I stayed in bed until 6:50 when June sat up and mumbled sleepily, “Get up and have breaxtfast?”
That was easier said than done, however. Beth has been insanely busy recently, as the peak of nursery school fundraising season has coincided with a contract negotiation at work. As a result when we finally had the Caterpillar and his moms over for homemade strawberry coffeecake, pleasant conversation and peaceable parallel play between the two little ones last Sunday morning, it pushed grocery shopping down so far on Beth’s to-do list that it never happened and we are out of almost everything, or rather almost everything the kids love.
June requested a cereal bar, but we were out of all but two objectionable flavors. A banana? Out. String cheese (or “stick cheese,” as she calls it)? Nope. She finally consented to eat a few bites of toast with black currant jam, one and a half slices of vegetarian bacon, and most of the white of a fried egg. Meanwhile, Noah demolished four slices of toast with jam and two slices of the bacon. Clearly, they won’t starve before Beth makes it to Safeway.
After breakfast, I hustled June off to her bath and dressed her. A few months ago I found a little cardigan with white, red and pink hearts all over it in a box of free clothes in front of our neighbors’ house and I brought it home, thinking it would be perfect for the nursery school Valentine’s Day party. The party was replaced by a President’s Day swim party this year, though, so I’d decided to have June wear it on the last school day before Valentine’s Day instead. It’s a little small and has some holes in the weave, but it was serviceable enough for one day. She loved it the instant I showed it to her. “I want to wear that!” she cried. Soon after I got her dressed, Noah rushed out the door with the freshly printed valentines he’d designed for his classmates the day before and was gone.
At nine I dropped June off at school, where her sweater was much admired. The Dragonfly’s mom, as she always does when she sees me at the bus stop, kindly offered me a ride downtown, where I deposited a paycheck from Sara and strolled up to Savory. Sara recently steered a big editing job my way, a one hundred-page document about medicinal mushrooms. I’m still in negotiations with the client so it’s not quite a sure thing yet. If it were, I’d have brought it with me, but as it was I was forced to sit and read Oscar Wilde short stories while I enjoyed my almond latte and warm-from-the-oven lemon-poppy seed muffin. Life is so hard sometimes.
I picked June up at school at 11:30 and brought her home. I surveyed the wreckage of breakfast all over the dining room table and kitchen counters. While June ate lunch, I did the breakfast dishes, got the dishwasher running and ate my own lunch. We went down to the basement and she helped me load the washing machine. Once we had it going too, I read her some stories and put her down for her nap. I split her naptime between newsletter work, exercise and rest.
When June woke up she watched me wrap Beth’s Valentine’s present with great interest. She wanted to know what she would get for Valentine’s Day. I realized with dismay I hadn’t gotten the kids anything and I thought it was pretty unlikely that Beth had either, as frazzled as she’s been. (On top of everything else, she had a colonoscopy on Wednesday.) I called her later in the afternoon and we decided to delay the giving of gifts until evening and pick up something for the kids during our date tomorrow afternoon.
Noah leaped off the bus at 3:15. “I got a lot of candy!” he exclaimed. “In my morning class, my afternoon class and on the bus!” He had a little brown paper bag with his loot. He’d left most of his valentines at school by accident, but he described his favorite one to me: “It had a picture of a lion on it and it said, ‘I’m not lyin’,” he reported. He didn’t remember who gave it to him. I admired a handmade card with the letter N in yellow crayon on the front and Noah mentioned he’d forgotten that boy when he made up his list of classmates the night before. I felt a stab of guilt. Noah had decided to make valentines at the last minute and we didn’t have a class list for his afternoon class. We thought we’d gotten everyone. I suggested he print a new one and take it to school Monday with some diplomatically phrased explanation– “Not ‘I forgot you were in my class,’” I counseled.
Noah dug around in his bag and pulled out a card. “Here,” he said, handing me the funniest valentine I’ve ever received. There’s a snowman lying on its side on the front with the words “Love you to death!” written in crayon. Inside it says, “OOPS! I guess I loved you to much!” Like mother, like son is all I have to say about that. Also this — it was the perfect Friday the 13th valentine.
The whole day was like that. A mix of bad luck (well, the mildly bad luck of the poor night’s sleep, no decent cereal bars, shoddy Valentine’s day preparation and Beth not coming home until eight o’ clock variety) and the sweetness of my daughter dressed in cheery hearts, coffee drunk in solitude, June demonstrating her newfound bubble-blowing prowess on the porch and Noah showing me a Now and Later from his candy bag and asking me, “Should I eat it now or later?” then cracking up laughing. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Beth and I have hired a babysitter for the afternoon. We’re going to see The Reader (‘cause nothing says “I love you” like a film about the Holocaust). I hope you all had only the mildest of misfortune today and enjoy the fullness of love tomorrow.