Riding in Cars with Boys
If I want to know what Andrew is thinking, I just need to put him in the car. The five minutes between dropping Jordan off at preschool and dropping Andrew off at his elementary school are often the five most informative minutes of my day. I find out all kinds of things — did he get in trouble at school yesterday? does he have a new best friend? is he worried about something? All kinds of things that I’d never hear about if we weren’t in the car together for a few minutes.
This morning, I spent the entire ride to school being compared, unfavorably, to their mother. The boys were telling me that their mother loved Halloween, and always had the best Halloween decorations. Apparently she baked special Halloween desserts, too. Now, I can’t say how much of it is true, but I can tell you that my sons, especially Andrew, believe it. He spent a lot of time and energy telling me how much better Halloween, and life, would be, if I had more Halloween decorations and made more Halloween desserts.
Now, I’m no stranger to being compared to others and found to be wanting. My kids compare me to my husband all the time, and tell me how much more fun he is, how much more reasonable, and how much better. I make the rules, and like that episode of Modern Family where Claire and Phil traded roles, it wouldn’t work any other way. Still, when the boys ask, “Is Mark coming to the zoo with us?” and cheer when the answer is no, it stings a little.
I know they don’t really mean it, and they fall over each other in a race to tell me all about whatever adventure they had.
It’s harder when I’m compared to their mother. I know a lot about the reality, and they mostly just have mythology. To them, Mommy was perfect, a mythical creature made out of hugs and love.
Really, isn’t it better to remember her that way? There’s no question in my mind that she loved her sons, and that’s certainly what they remember. If nothing else, showing her children that she loved them was something she did well. A success in a long, sad string of failures.
I’m never sure how best to respond to their grief over losing their mother. All responses seem insufficient.
The other day, again alone in the car with the boys, Adele’s “Someone Like You” came on the radio. Now, that cd was in my car for months. They’ve probably heard the song hundreds of times. This day, though, Andrew said, “This song makes me think of Mommy. I really miss her.” Suddenly, a car ride to Nana and Grandpa’s for dinner was filled with sobbing from both my children, crying over the loss of their mother.
When we got to my parents’ house, grief was quickly forgotten in the impulse to look at Grandpa’s pumpkins and ask Nana to sew a rip in a stuffed animal. My mother could see it in my face, though, and we spoke about it briefly.
“You know,” she said, “Jordan is older now than Andrew was when the boys moved in with you.”
I nodded, not sure where she was going.
“At the time, we talked about how mature Andrew tried to be, and how he used to have such adult conversations. Try to imagine Jordan having the kind of conversations that Andrew used to have when he was four.”
It’s impossible. Jordan has the kind of conversations that four-year-olds have. He tells you about his toys. He tells you what camouflage is. Andrew used to say things like, “I know that Mommy can’t take care of me now, but how does the judge know that she’ll never be able to take care of me? I don’t think he can really know that.”
Carrying that weight on his shoulders, it seems only fair that I should have to carry the weight of subpar Halloween decorations.