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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2021724-Who-Ive-Always-Been---Chapter-1-new
Rated: GC · Other · Sci-fi · #2021724
First Chapter to a novel about loss and love: a snapshot of a typical day in Tessa's life.
Chapter 1 - Revised (2)

Chapter 1

"Do you have your lunches?" I shout as my kids, six and nine, run out the door.

"Yes!" They both reply as the door slams behind them.

I would ask about homework, too, but I know it's too late: they are already hustling to the car.

"Bye,Tess," my husband says to me, taking a last sip of coffee and sliding his mug onto the counter. Dressed in charcoal grey slacks and a tidy red polo shirt, he looks handsome and well-aged. When I look at him I still see that man I met fifteen years ago with his dark, wavy hair brushing the top of his collar. Now it's salt-and-pepper and kept trimmed short and professional. "Hey, can you call the plumber? That toilet is still giving me fits and I just don't have time to mess with it."

"Uh, yeah, I'll add it to my list," I tell him, thinking of all the things I have on that "list" in my head. Too many things to do, never enough time to get it done.

"Thanks," he says quickly, grabbing his bag and keys and following the kids out to the car. Mornings are always a rush for them: dress, eat, run out the door to get to school and work on time.

Standing barefoot in my tattered pajamas, I survey the kitchen. Near-empty cereal bowls are stuck to the table, stray cereal is scattered across the counter next to a few dribbles of milk, crumpled napkins litter the floor, and cups half-full of orange juice sit abandoned. Luckily the fridge is actually closed this morning, unlike yesterday when I woke up to find the door wide open and the dog noisily helping himself to leftovers.

"MamaMamaMama!" The three year old calls from our bedroom. Why can't he just roll out of bed and come to the kitchen when he wakes up?

I nearly trip over the grinning dog as I rush out of the kitchen to where Cole is yelling from the hallway. I feel something sticky squish between my toes and look down, raising my foot. A purple puddle is spread across the floor that, at one time, was probably a popsicle, judging by the flat wooden stick adhered to the middle of it. A groan escapes my lips. The perils of having young children around the house.

"I'm coming, baby!" I call, hoping on one foot so as not to spread the mess.

"Mama?" he calls questioningly.

"Good morning!" I say with a smile, hobbling up. He's standing in the doorway wearing his blue dump truck pajama top and green camo underwear, his white-blond hair standing straight up, rubbing his blazingly blue eyes. He raises his arms and I go to him and give him a big hug. He hugs back.

"Good morning," he parrots, then, "I eat now?"

"Yes, Baby," I reply. We hold hands as we walk to the kitchen, too late remembering my foot was sticky and all my hopping has gone for naught. His little feet tap, tap, tap across the tile as we walk. I stop, suddenly feeling a prickly feeling running up my spine, a little like static electricity. It only lasts a second and then is gone. <i>Weird.</i>

"I want cereal," Cole says a little too loudly and pulls a red bag of a generic marshmallow cereal out of the pantry and shoves it into my hands. I am now on automatic. Bowl. Spoon. Dump. Milk. Pour. Sit. Eat. As he is eating, I work on emptying the dishwasher. Clang. Thump. Clank. Slam. Bang. Crash. I get everything put away in its proper place. Routine. Automatic. Banal. Thoughtless. Mundane.

I am so sick of mundane!

No matter how I look at things, I can only see this. Sure, this is an improvement over diapers and the endless baby-spit up, but it's painfully boring. No deviations from the norm, except for those few times when the deviations take a bad turn: a burst pipe, dead refrigerator, car that won't start, and a leaking roof are the most recent nightmares I've experienced.

"More cereal, please," Cole requests, bringing me back to the pleasant present. I serve him more, fill my own bowl, and we eat together.

Glancing out the window, I take in the perky sunshine and the clear blue sky, thinking it's nice enough for me to open the windows after breakfast. Springtime in Phoenix is an enjoyable season. I'm certainly not looking forward to summer here: school will be out and I'll have to find indoor activities for all three kids, which is a challenge when they have little in common and few shared interests.

We finish eating and Cole runs off to play with his cars as I clean up our breakfast dishes. As I turn to switch the kitchen light off, I notice the dog staring at me. "Do YOU want to eat too?" I ask him. I swear he understands as he lightly woofs at me and turns his brown Labradoodle body in a tight and lumbering circle, wagging his tail furiously. I pour a scoop of pungent dry dog food loudly into the metal bowl and walk away to the crunching sound of him snarfing down his food.

I check on Cole in the living room, hearing the car "vroom" and tire "squeal" sounds getting louder as I approach. I'm content to watch him play for a minute. His chunky hands, still roly-poly with baby fat, grasp the cars roughly. His movements are imprecise but a far cry from those of an infant. Not too long ago he was just learning to manipulate objects, and now he's participating in a one-man-band play episode. He's single-mindedly engaged in his pretend race, enthusiastically cheering on his favorite car. He's growing up and doing so way too fast.

As I stand observing him, I get the strangest feeling of being watched myself. The air around me feels like it has changed - it has a sense of presence to it, that warm misty feeling you pick up on when you enter a room and, without seeing anybody, know someone is there. I turn my head around, knowing full well no one else is at home, looking to alleviate my motherly worry about an intruder. Nothing unusual sticks out. <i> I might want to cut back on the coffee.</I> I shake off the sensation.

Since Cole is peacefully immersed in his car race, I collect the hamper contents from Landon's room, which also involves me fetching stray items from under the bed, the bathroom, and all four corners of the closet. It's a thankless job that goes unnoticed until someone runs out of underwear  - then I only get grief.

The dirty clothes go in and the contents of drier come out, having sat in there since yesterday. I feel like I should fold them but I really don't want to. I get started anyway, allowing my mind to wander to the email I received from my college roommate yesterday. Right now, she’s lounging on a beach in Aruba, sipping fruity cocktails with several of her childless friends. Careless and carefree, no laundry, children, or spouse to worry about. My email reply said, “Wish I was there!” which is probably more true at this instant than it was when I wrote it.

After folding two pairs of shorts, Cole comes bounding in. "Mama! I help?" he queries.

"Sure," I say, knowing full well I'll just have to refold everything. He picks up a red shirt in his little hands, very carefully and meticulously rolls in into a little ball, and hands it delicately to me. I set it just as carefully on the already-folded pile, and he grabs another shirt from the basket. He looks pleased with himself and he loves to help, though it just makes more work for me.

I get three more items folded, barely scratching the surface of the pile, and I check my watch: almost 9:00. "We need to get you dressed so we can go do our errands."

He drops the item he's holding back into the pile of clean laundry and says "Me pick!" and turns and runs to his room. "I'll do this later" I actually say out loud. Oddly enough, I feel as though I should get an answer. That feeling of someone being nearby has hit me again. Cole is down the hall and I'm completely alone. The sound of the washing machine swishing in watery circles is all that I hear. I start to worry that I'm cracking up. I feel my forehead with the back of my wrist, checking for a fever. I do feel a little warm. On my way to Cole's room, I stop by the medicine cabinet and pop a couple Vitamin C. If I do have something, maybe I can nip in in the bud.

When I arrive, Cole's in his closet flipping his shirts. "No....no....no....THIS ONE!" he says as he pulls the shirt off the hanger through the collar. I see it's one of his favorites: a bright yellow short sleeve shirt with a red fire truck on the front.

"Good choice," I tell him. He's smiling as he pulls on the sleeves on his pajama top, struggling to get it over his head. I walk over and assist him by holding one sleeve cuff while he pulls his arm out, then holding the other cuff to repeat. Once his arms are out, he can finish removing it completely unassisted. He's getting more and more independent every day. Soon I won't need to help dress him at all, which, upon reflection, is both wonderful and sad.

I put the clean shirt over his head and he pops his arms through himself. I grab a pair of jean shorts and set them on the floor, as he can put them on without help that way. After pants come socks and shoes and he is ready to go.

For myself, I go to my room and I quickly grab yesterday's pair of jeans and a clean grey t-shirt and throw them on. I step into the bathroom to run my fingers through my hair. About 3 weeks after the birth of my second child, I realized I'd never again have time to braid, coif, tease, roll, or, heck, even regularly wash or brush my hair again (at least while my kids were little), so I decided a short, easy-to-manage cut was the right move. From a straight, shoulder-length, "Rachel" cut to a short and spunky pixie cut. I like to think I'm an edgy and hip mama, not one who is futility grasping on to the last shreds of her youth, when I take the time to spike it out a little bit, but for the most part, I just brush it and leave it. About the only thing I do now is go every six weeks to dye it a rich cherry auburn red, which feels more lively than my natural dirty blond.

Now that the kids are older, I'm getting enough sleep at night, but the years of sleepless nights have certainly taken their toll. Wrinkles have appeared here and there, peppering my eyes with wisdom and causing my forehead to look as if I'm deeply thinking or constantly worrying. My smooth youthful glow has been replaced by the pale sheen of maturity which makes me look "experienced" but not yet "wizened". Not young, but not old, and hopefully more than a handful of years short of being labeled "middle aged."

While shutting my brush up in its drawer, an old lipstick rolls out from under the long-unused curling iron. Doubtless makeup could make huge strides in softening my age, but I'm a busy mom and don't have time to bother with tubes and powders, creams and lotions, brushes and applicators. Living in the dry desert of Phoenix, Arizona, makes it necessary to don Chapstick regularly or suffer the painful cracking and bleeding. Aside from that, I don't spend much time on my appearance. The kids keep me busy, as well as young, or so like I believe.

I finish dressing and go find Cole. He is standing in the kitchen, his legs all but crossed, doing the "potty dance."

"Let's go pee before we go," I say and lead him to the bathroom. We take off his shoes, shorts, and underwear and he climbs on, does his thing, and hops off with my help. "Close the lid, flush, and wash," I remind him, as I remind him every single time he goes to the bathroom. I step away to go put my shoes on. When I return, he's holding his pants and underwear in his arms. He holds them up to me and, without being asked, I help him put everything back on. This repetition is exhausting; I feel like Sisyphus.

"Ready?" I ask.

"Yesh" he replies. I grab my boring mom purse. He heads out through the garage door ahead I me. I turn to glance at the empty rooms, straining to hear anything. I still have that feeling of a presence nearby, a sense of vibration, of life, of breathing. I neither hear nor see anything. Trying not to over-think things, I follow Cole to the car.

I slide open the door for him and he climbs up into his carseat. I hook his five point harness. This minivan in is the running for the greatest purchase I've ever made since having kids. Hooking car seats standing up is so much nicer on my back than doing so in a sedan.

I climb in to the diver's seat, turn on some music, and we head off to the grocery store.

During the drive, Cole is chattering continuously, talking about the cartoon episode he watched most recently. "Guess what? The good guys, they had a sword. And guess what?" he pauses.

"What?" I say, as I turn right at the intersection.

"The bad guys got in a fast car. And guess what?" He pauses again.

"What?" I dutifully reply.

"And then the good guys go after the bad guys. And guess what, Mama?"

"What, Baby?"

"The good guys caught them!" he concludes excitedly, like there had been any doubt of the outcome.

"Yay!" I say, feigning my own excitement.

We pull into the parking lot of the grocery store. I park the car and we climb out, me unhooking him from his seat. His hand is small and warm in mine, squeezing tightly as I lead him safely to the line of grocery carts.

"This one!" he points excitedly, singling out the cart that looks like a blue car, complete with duel steering wheels.

I help him in, clean all the parts he can touch with a complimentary sanitizing wipe, and we are finally walking up and down the aisles, grabbing the food we need for the week. Running to the grocery store used to be a quick affair, comprised of simply grabbing my keys and driving there. With young children, it is a long journey fraught with speedbumps, hills to climb, and riddles to solve in order to appease the restless passengers. I keep it quick, because even I find the grocery store tedious.

Back into the car, again hooking the car seat, we are off again. I feel my stomach rumble with a loud
groan. On cue, Cole says "Hungry, Mama!"

"Me too, Baby" I say. "After we put these groceries away, we're going meet Grandma for lunch."

"Yay!" he yells and claps happily. He loves my mother. She enjoys being a grandma and he loves the attention she gives him. She lives close, so we see her almost daily, but no matter how often we see her, he's just as excited.

I pull into the driveway and open the minivan liftgate with the push of a button. Cole waits for me to unhook him. <i>I can't wait until he can move to a booster seat and unhook himself.</i> We both carry groceries into the house, with Cole taking the lighter bags of bread and cereal, though he likes to use his "big muscles" to carry the gallons of milk.

Once all the bags are settled on the kitchen counter, Cole finds his matchbox cars and returns to his racing, while I shuffle everything around, rustling bags and thumping boxes until everything is put away in the pantry and the refrigerator. I heave a sigh. <i>Done.</i> I survey the kitchen and am pleased at my accomplishment, then I hear a noise. It's a quiet buzz, like an electrical box, that sounds like it's nearby. I try to locate it. It's not the fridge or coffee maker or toaster. So weird. The longer it goes on the more it sounds like it's coming from inside my head. Remembering how I felt earlier, I wonder if I'm getting an ear infection. I guess I'll call the doctor tomorrow if they start to hurt.

My stomach grumbles again, pushing me to call my mom and ask if she's ready to meet for lunch.

"Yes, where?" she says. We go out to lunch frequently - it's one of the things we've always enjoyed, even when I was little.

"Well, there's this new BBQ place next to the mall..." I start.

"That sounds good."

"Ok. I'll meet you there."

"Ok," mom replies with a perky voice. "See you in a few!"

We both mutter goodbye and hang up.

"Let's go, Cole!" I say. He comes running, but now his shoes are off. "Where are your shoes?" I ask, exasperated. He turns and points to where he was playing, and I see one next to his racetrack and the other peeking out from under the couch. "Well...go get them," I admonish gently.

He looks at me innocently and says "You help." So I follow him to his shoes, and we repeat the shoe-donning process we did just a couple hours ago. I groan inwardly, annoyed at the daily repetition of all the little things like this, things that I never considered before I had kids. I find on a daily bases that I am highly appreciative of the invention of Velcro. Now shoed, we are ready to leave once more.

The restaurant is close, the car ride brief. We go in and find my mom already seated with a half-empty glass of water in front of her. Cole and I join her at the booth. The inside is a very sparse decor done in a "farmhouse" style, with bare wood tables, white "picket fences" around the walls, red-and-white checkered cloth napkins, old feeding troughs refurbished into light fixtures hanging over the tables, and rough wooden floors with grass painted near the edges. Folk-style art hangs on the walls - photographs of rustic barns, fresh fruits and veggies, pigs and chickens, goats and cows printed on glass, metal, and canvas and artfully hung on the walls. Colors are greens and blues, whites and reds, all of the naturally-grown variety. It's an interesting concept and very eco-friendly. I have heard the food is extremely "down home."

The waitress, dressed in denim overalls over a white t-shirt, comes to take our drink order. She tells me they have fruit-infused waters, so I order a cucumber-lemon and get Cole an apple-lime-cranberry, then I take a look at the menu. There are so many fresh items here! I look for Cole first and decide on a fruit plate with vanilla-honey yogurt and granola, which he will love. I look at the salads. I choose a beet and goat cheese with gourmet micro greens and candied pecans and raspberry vinaigrette on the side. Mom gets a beef and spinach salad with dried cranberries and fresh pear and topped with a gorgonzola-cream dressing. We'll both let Cole try some of our salads when they arrive.

While we are waiting, we talk. We are always talking about something. You'd think we'd run out of things to talk about since we see each other nearly every day. We don't. I remember my teen years as being tumultuous, but since my early twenties, since graduating from college and moving out on my own, we've formed a much more even-keeled relationship formed on mutual respect and admiration.

"I'm thinking of getting a dog," my mom says.

"Oh?" I say, just as our salads appear.

"Yeah, maybe just a little thing. I'm not sure. Since it's just me at home, I think it'd be good to have a dog." Mom is cutting up some of her meat and setting it on an appetizer plate next to several dried cranberries.

I nod. "Sure, I guess." I cut up a beet and add it to the appetizer plate, then set the plate in front of Cole. "Maybe something not-too-little, though, with a good bark to scare off potential intruders," I suggest, watching Cole taste the beet tentatively. He's always been willing to try new things and tends to eat the stuff we set on his plate.

To Mom, I continue my thought, "Do you really want to have something to take care of?" I'm thinking of me and my bustling household with the dog and kids and it's just crazy sometimes. Her house, however, is so calm and quiet. Since Dad died three years ago, she has been alone except for our semi-regular visits. I would feel better if she had a dog, I think.

"Hm. I'm open to considering one," she says, spearing a spinach leaf with gusto.

"Maybe we should check out a local rescue on Saturday and see what they have." I pop a beet into my mouth, enjoying the earthy flavor and chewy texture.

"Ok. We can take the kids. I bet Evie would love to go," Mom says.

I'm so glad my mom wants to be involved in my kids' lives. They really adore her and her attention and generosity with them really fills in for all the household organization that's part of my job as parent: laundry, dishes, yard work, doctor appointments, scheduling, repairs, all those sorts of things. Add in discipline and homework and I find there's little time left for the fun parts of parenting, like crafts, trips to the park, and cuddling in bed on Sundays. Knowing my mom can step up and do some the fun things helps me to accept what I can do and let go of the things I can't. To raise children, it really does take a village.

Mom asks me how things are going. "You know, I feel like I'm overwhelmed. There's always something to do, something to fix." Only now do I remember Tim told me to call the plumber, too. <i> Crap. I should write that down.</i> "It's like I'm juggling kids and house and husband and there's no time left for me or my interests. I love my kids, but what happened to my own stuff? I used to love to read or play piano or something." Saying this, I almost feel the cool keys beneath my fingertips and hear Für Elise fill the air around me. I actually feel tears trying to escape but hold them in - I can't break down in front of Cole.

Mom nods sagely. "YOU chose to have three kids," she says, her voice tasting both sweet and sour to my ears.

"I know. And they are amazing. This is what I wanted. I just didn't know how difficult it would be." I set my fork down much louder than I intended, making a startling clink that reverberates around the suddenly hushed restaurant. The quiet only lasts a few heartbeats, then the din of luncheon conversation reprises its tonal hum. In that instant, however, I feel under a microscope, as if my lifestyle choices are being scrutinized by the crowd, judging me to determine whether I am worthy enough to be graced with such a wonderful family.

Mom reaches across the table and pats my hand. "You're a great mom to your kids, Tessa, and a great daughter too. I'm not biased or anything," she winks. I smile wanly, my mood reluctantly improving. A mother always seems to know what to do to reassure her children.

Cole is leaning his head on my arm which is the sign he's in imminent need of a nap. I lean over and take a covert whiff of his head: this isn't a new-baby smell, but it's comforting and familiar to me, reminding me that all my sacrifices are worth it, even when I'm having my own doubts, feeling like a mime stuck in a glass box, unable to change my life or make different decisions. <i>Can't go back in time, Tessa,</i> I tell myself. <i>Suck it up. Make the most of it. Be grateful for whatcha got.</i>

The waitress hands us the bill and I take it. "My turn. You got lunch last time," I say in response to Mom's look of chagrin.

"Ok," she says, shrugging, then, "I'm going shopping. Do you need anything?"

"Um, yeah, I need dog food."

"I'll add it to my list," she agrees. I feel lighter knowing I have one less errand I will need to squeeze in later this week. I'm not sure if she realizes how helpful she is to me, but all the little things she does are lifesavers.

We stand up to leave. Cole gives Mom a hug then raises his arms to me. I pick him up.

"See you later, Tessa," Mom says, kissing my cheek. "Need help?"

"No, I got it," I say, juggling my keys, purse, and Cole, but I find the right balance and lug off toward the car. His head is heavy on my shoulder as he drifts in and out of slumber.

He's asleep before I pull out of the parking lot. Once home, I successfully transfer him to his bed and, while he's napping, I take the opportunity to pay a few bills online. I remember a time when we couldn't even pay all the bills with what we made each month. With Tim’s good job and our more-mature spending habits, it's a relief to finally be able to pay everything and still have money left over.

Life has gotten a lot less stressful now, though the kids create another stress entirely. They are fun, but they are always on the go: it's hard to keep their schedules straight. And, of course, being a disciplinarian isn't the best part of being a parent. There's the responsibility of creating a child who grows up to become a productive member of society and has basic social skills. It can gnaw on me - in the background, for sure, but when I see them licking their plate, running with scissors, or attacking each other with blunt objects, I start to worry that I'm raising ill-mannered, dangerous sociopaths. As a group, parents try to expose their offspring to the great things in life, like Impressionist paintings, astronomy, classic literature, and gourmet foods, but all the kids want is finger paints, cartoons, happily-ever-after fairy tales, and chicken nuggets. So I balance as best I can and know I am doing my best, hoping that my best is good enough. "Children are resilient" I've heard over and over, but I can't determine whether it's true or just a platitude parents tell each other to ease their burden of responsibility and the subsequent feelings of guilt and failure that accompany it.

But without kids - <i>Wow, my life would be so different.</i> I don't daydream often, but every once in a while I wonder how my life would be if I had chosen to wait. Would I travel the world? Write a novel? Learn to knit? Tim and I didn't feel young when we started our family, but many of my friends are just starting now. They've had time to live their lives: forge a marriage, explore hobbies, develop friendships, travel. I tell myself that my kids will be graduating college and they will still have kids in school, so my freedom will just be beginning. Of course, it's just a thought exercise - there is no edit-undo function in life. It is what it is and I'm very happy it is the way it is. I know waiting to have kids also poses challenges. Being younger you have more energy and are less set in your ways - and kids require more flexibility than you'd ever expect.

<i>I must get some more work done</i>. I have a large pile of laundry still waiting to be folded. I snap shut the laptop and head to the laundry room. Cole sleeps for a good while, so I actually fold almost all of the laundry before I hear "Mamamamamama." I feel satisfied, a sense of accomplishment. It's the little things that keep you going.

Cole wakes and, after a quick snack, we pile back in the car to go get the older kids from school. I drive down the block and a pleasant chime dings happily at me, a red light flashing on my dash. CHECK ENGINE. <i>Not now,</i> I moan. Hoping the car doesn't blow up on the way, I continue my drive and, several minutes later, pull into the car line at school without incident. I mentally add TAKE CAR TO SHOP to my list of things that need to be done, again re-remembering Tim had asked me to call the plumber.

Cole whines, "It's hard to wait!" and I agree, but we do not have a choice. He starts kicking my seat, expressing his displeasure. I really do not like to have my seat kicked. I repress the urge to snap at him. I take a deep breath and think of something to diffuse the situation.

"We can't leave them at school. Where would they sleep?" I ask him in a sweet motherly voice, and he giggles and giggles, knowing full well there are no beds there for them. I congratulate myself for my creative problem solving and rejoice in the sounds of a happy kid rather than an angry one.

Finally, we are at the front of the line and both kids are standing on the curb waiting for me. I push the open button for the sliding door of the minivan and they both start to climb in at the same time, on the same side, pushing and bumping each other, which causes both to commence yelling.

"Evie, let your brother in first. He has to get in the back." I swear I say this <i>every single day.</i> She gives me a nasty look, but backs off and Landon climbs in, all knees and elbows colliding with seats and armrests, windows and belts. Finally he makes his way to his seat and plops down. Evie climbs in much more gracefully and easily sits in her seat and clips her seatbelt. I start to pull forward. Landon yells "I'm not buckled yet! Wait!" as he scrambles for the belt and tries several times to click it.

"Calm down," I tell him. "Focus on what you're doing," I say with a touch of annoyance. He never hooks himself until we get moving, then he always panics. One of these days, he'll get in the car, sit down immediately and promptly buckle himself without any stress to any of us. One day. Not today, apparently. I pause at the parking lot exit a few beats until I hear the telltale click of the belt latching into it's clip, then I pull out just ahead of his verbal confirmation, "I got it!"

"Excellent. How was your day?" I ask them both. Evie starts to tell me about what her and her best friend, Vicky, were doing on the playground while Landon tells me who got in trouble for talking in class. Both are speaking at the same time, but I've gotten good at following two conversations at once - I don't get every word, but I get the gist. They, however, take it as a personal affront, and both start yelling at each other, again.

"I'm talking, Stupid!" Evie directs back to her brother.

Landon replies, "You're interrupting me!" then adds as an aside, "Dumbo!"

"No, I was talking first," Evie snipes in a nasty voice.

"Blah, blah, blah" Landon says, taunting, over her.

"Guys!" I say loudly. "Please stop. I can hear you both."

"But she called me Stupid!" Landon says,

"And he called me Dumbo! You're the Dumbo, Landon!" Evie retorts.

"ENOUGH!" I yell, quickly realizing I over-reacted. My frustrations from the day escaped like an erupting volcano. “Enough,” I say again, this time in a calmer, more rational, more motherly voice.

I check the rearview mirror and see Landon sticking his tongue out at the back of his sister's head but she can't see it. She is rolling her eyes at him but he can't see that. So, both have expressed their displeasure, but both are unaware of it, so that should be the end of that. "Just listen to the music, we can talk when we get home," I say.

We drive in verbal silence for a while, made possible by me turning the music up a bit too loudly. I drive, enjoying the way the sun kisses the mountains. The saguaros are blooming. They are so simple, just white with a yellow center, but they make me happy: a beautiful sign of life on an otherwise desolate plant. Green and spikey, arms held up to the sky, but slow growing and never changing. They don't sway with the wind, birds don't flit and fly constantly around them, but when these flowers appear, it's just a reminder of how things change and how cycles repeat, even in the desert.

"I'm hungry," Evie interjects into my thoughts. I tell her I went to the grocery store today. She asks "Did you get Doritos?"

"No," I reply, "But we have yogurt and fresh fruit. I could make a yogurt parfait when we get home, if you don't mind waiting while I make it."

"Nooooo. I'm hungry now," she says, exasperated.

"Me too!" Landon jumps into the conversation. "What else did you get?"

To pass the time and keep them from arguing, I list some of the things I bought today, "String cheese, Wheat Thins, raisins, apples, bananas, yogurt - I said that already - cereal, pretzels, lunchmeat..."

"Doughnuts?" Cole asks.

"No!" I laugh. "You were with me today. Do you remember me buying donuts?"

"No...." he replies sadly.

Both the other kids, in agreement for the first time this afternoon, chime "Awwww...." just as sadly. I am at peace seeing them all agree. But I'm not buying donuts.

I pull into the driveway and the kids don't even wait for the car to stop before they are loudly unhooking their seatbelts. I open the doors and kill the engine simultaneously. They rush out of the car like race horses at the Kentucky Derby. Both run, neck and neck, in the home stretch at the door, where they narrowly miss colliding. Both reach for the door handle, but Evie gets there first, pulling it open and making it to the finish line before Landon can maneuver around the open door, which has become an obstacle on the track, slowing his pace and making him stumble. He disappears as the door slams behind him. Not a photo finish, by any means.

I unhook Cole as quickly as I can, set him down on the pavement, and follow him into the house. Upon entering, I see bookbags, lunch boxes, shoes and socks, and two bottles of water strewn in a loose pile in front of the doorway. Apparently the race has finished with a traumatic explosion.

Someday, apparently, I'm going to miss this. Right now, however, I'm exasperated. I have bins by the door with their names on them. All they need to do is throw their stuff in there. Not. On. My. Floor. Their mess is always everywhere, no matter how much I help them organize, or how often I nag, or how frequently I take things away. Their minds are just on other things, things more important, like food. Because they are always STARVING.

I walk into the kitchen and Evie is pouring herself a bowl of cereal and Landon has raided the fridge and found both a container of peach yogurt and string cheese. Nothing like dairy overload after a long day at school, I guess. Aside from the mess - cereal spilled on the counter and a milk ring where the bowl had been sitting, both the string cheese wrapper and the yogurt lid upside down on the counter, leaving a sticky ooze - the damage isn't bad. Cole, even though he had his snack less than 40 minutes ago, is sympathetically hungry watching his siblings eat, so I offer him string cheese, which he happily accepts. If he doesn't manhandle the whole thing, I'll finish what he doesn't eat once he runs off to play.

They are loud. I try to stay in my happy place and focus only on what they are saying, not the way they are saying it.

"Can we go shopping today?" Evie asks. "I need new shoes"

"Uh, no, I wasn't planning on it. Why do you need new shoes?" I question suspiciously.

"I want some summer sandals and my tennis shoes are falling apart."

"Those shoes are only 5 weeks old?! I just got them for you. Why are they falling apart?"

She just shrugs.

"I guess, you'll need to get shoes but we aren't going today," I tell her.

"Mom!" she whines.

Now it's my turn to shrug.

Landon runs off, leaving his empty yogurt container on the table. "Hey, Mister!" I shout after him. "Are you forgetting something?" I look directly at the yogurt container. He gives me a sheepish grin and speeds back to the table, grabbing the container. He runs to the sink, sets it down, and scurries to his room where I hear his door slam and then a ball being bounced against his door repetitively.

Evie surprises me by taking her empty bowl to the sink without being asked. I'm shocked, but don't say anything. She's getting older and I'm so happy some of this household stuff is starting to stick in her head and come out in her behavior.

Since he's the last at the table, Cole decides he's done. Sure enough, he leaves half of his cheese on the table. It looks alright, so I eat it myself and begin a quick clean of the kitchen.

The room tilts, slowly at first, but then the floor lurches at me as if it were trying to swallow me up. I plop quickly down on my backside, which shoots stinging pain up my back to the base of my neck. I squeeze my eyes shut tight and lean my back against the kitchen cabinets, trying to regain my equilibrium. I feel my heart thumping in my throat and I'm alternately cold then warm then cold again. I take two slow deep breaths to calm myself. I still hear the rhythmic bouncing of Landon's ball on his door and can hear music playing loudly from Evie's bedroom. I feel my pocket and am relieved to know my phone is still there so I can call an ambulance if I can't get up. One more deep breath and I slowly open my eyes, expecting to see the room spinning around like a carousel. Shockingly, it's not. It's steady as can be and I feel normal. I stand up slowly, making sure to keep my feet under me and a hand on the countertop. I feel fine. No hint of the previous sensations.

Vertigo coupled with the earlier ringing in my ears seems to confirm my suspicions of a developing ear infection. Now I mentally put CALL DOCTOR IN THE AM high on my to-do list.

I contemplate a nap - I'm kind of sleepy. Just as I'm thinking of it, Landon appears.

"You wanna play a game?" he asks.

I like boardgames; however, if I am getting sick, I should get on top of it now to keep it from becoming a week-ending mom-stuck-in-bed disaster. "No, kiddo," I tell him gently, "Mama's not feeling well. I need to lay down for a bit." He scowls at me, disappointed. "See if Evie or Cole want to play."

He shakes his head and returns to his room, closing his door a little too loudly. He’s always slamming doors. I'm feeling too out of it to bother correcting him. Instead, I lay down in bed and close my eyes, hoping to drift off quickly but not sleep too long.

The next thing I know, forty-five minutes have gone by. Surprised by the seemingly quick passage of time but revealing in that well-rested feeling, I pull myself out of bed, feeling only a little guilty. It doesn't take the kids long to realize Mom is up an. Seconds later all three of my kids are bouncing around me, complaining about the others' offenses while I was sleeping. 

I tell them to go outside while I work on dinner. They actually comply without much fuss or hesitation; they must know the dreaded heat of summer is coming, too. I peacefully assemble a simple pasta salad with fresh herbs and Tim gets home just as I'm setting the table. We share a quick kiss as he squeezes my behind lovingly. The kids run inside to greet him, jumping all over him.

"Daddy's home!"

We share a group hug. "Everyone wash up for dinner," I tell them.

With the scrape of wooden chair legs, we all sit down to eat. I serve up Cole and Evie, Tim sets two pieces of pasta on Landon's plate.

"Ew. I hate pasta," Landon announces the second it hits his plate. I bristle. Every time we sit down, he announces he hates it before he tries it. I cook good, healthy meals not necessarily because I always want to eat healthy but because I know it's important for us both in the short and long term. It feels so fruitless, so hopeless, and so pointless sometimes that I just want to throw in the towel and feed them junk food just so we can have a happy dinnertime every night.

"Just try it," Tim tells him, "and don't be rude," he adds sternly.

Landon sulks quietly, having learned there's no way to argue with Dad, and pokes at his food dejectedly with a fork.

"How as your day, Tess?" Tim asks me.

"Good." I begin, but then Cole cuts me off.

"We had lunch with Gramma," he says.

Evie cuts in, upset, "You went to lunch? But I wanted to go!" she whines.

"Guys, don't interrupt your mother," Tim says.

"She's thinking of getting a dog." I tell him.

"Oh. That's interesting," Tim replies.

Evie jumps in, "A dog! So exciting! I hope she gets a poodle or chihuahua, something cute.”

"Yeah, Evie, we will see," I say dismissively. I address Tim, "I've been feeling a little under the weather today."

He frowns, looking a little concerned. "I'm sorry," he tells me with empathy, though I wonder if he's also considering what it would be for him if I were to be sick in bed all day. Hopefully my nap was enough to stave off a serious bout of any illness.

I ask Tim, "What about you? How was your day?"

“It was work. Nothing exciting. We just got a new client that we're starting an ad campaign for. He's not sure what he wants yet. I can tell he's going to be difficult to please. My team started brainstorming today. We hope to have a few mock-ups ready by next week to present to him."

<i>Great,</i> I think. This means he's going to be working longer hours over the next several days, which means less help around the house. <i>I better NOT be sick!</i> He often will end up taking a good chunk of the weekend to work on new projects, too, which means if I have things I need to be done around the house, I have to do them alone. Sometimes I wish I had my own job to run to. I don't say any of this, however, as it always leads to an argument: either a "well, you were the one who wanted kids and chose to be a stay-at-home mom" or "I work just as hard or harder than you do, and I actually bring in money." So I shove it all down, biting my lip and burying it deep, and change the subject before I say something I completely regret.

"Oh! That reminds me," I say, and tell him about Evie's presentation next Friday morning. "You might want to try to be there for that."

Evie interjects, "Yes, Daddy! Please come! We are all dressing up and talking about our person."

"Who are you going to be?" he asks her.

She smiles sweetly, "I'm not telling. You'll have to guess!" She looks at me, "And, no telling!" she says seriously.

I'm glad she told me, as I most definitely would have told him. "Ok. Cross my heart," I say, tracing an X on my chest with my finger, "I won't tell anyone who you're dressing up as."

Tim pulls up his calendar on his phone. "Hm. Think it'll be done by noon or one?"

"Oh, probably," I tell him.

"Okay." He types a few things on his phone, "I'll schedule my presentation with the client for later that afternoon and take the morning off." Then, addressing Evie with a smile, "Now I have something fun to look forward to next Friday."

She smiles broadly, thoroughly excited her Daddy will be there. She has always been his little girl.

"Can I be excused?" Landon asks, fidgeting in his seat as though he had snakes slithering up his legs. Not one for listening to adult conversation, he’d rather be running, jumping, or throwing a football than sitting at the dinner table.

"Me too!" Cole adds.

"Yes," Tim responds, and they both bolt from the table like Tasmanian devils. I can practically see the dust follow behind in their wake.

"I'm done too," Evie says.

"You may be excused," I tell her, and she leaves the kitchen, headed toward her bedroom.

Tim and I clean up the kitchen together, weaving around each other and falling into a familiar rhythm of dishes and leftovers, rinsing and wiping. Tim feeds the dog, rubbing between his ears before setting down the bowl of chow.

It is now, finally, the kid's bedtimes. I move on autopilot, ignoring the lightheadedness that's steeled between my ears, getting teeth brushed and pajamas on, reading books. As I'm leaving Cole's room, I glance though Evie's open door. Tim is laying on her bed with her, and they are talking about something I can't hear. Her side lamp is on, bathing them in a warm glow. She's giggling about something and he kisses her forehead, then stands up and tucks her in. I walk in and tell her goodnight.

"Goodnight, Mom," she says. "Love you!"

"Love you too," I reply, then Tim turns off her light and we leave the room together, pulling her door closed behind us.

Several minutes later, Tim and I sit down on the couch to relax. He's changed into his comfy clothes - light grey t-shirt and blue satin pajama bottoms with bare feet. I, too, have gotten rid of the jeans and shirt I was wearing in favor of a purple cotton nightshirt. It's quiet. How nice to relax next to Tim after the long day. I sigh and put my head on his shoulder. Evie appears and says "I forgot, I need you to sign this permission slip for our field trip next week."

Tim says "I'll look at it tomorrow. Put it on the kitchen table. Get to bed. Good night."

"Ok. Goodnight Dad. Goodnight Mom," and she kisses both of us again and skips to her room, where we hear her singing to her music a lot louder than I suspect she thinks she is. I remember doing the same thing in my room starting about her age. Time goes so fast! It seems not that long ago that she was a toddler, and before that, I was in college, and before that I was a kid! I love seeing the kids grow up, but I'm sad to see it too. It's a little sad to think my childhood is gone, my young adulthood is gone, and I'm nearing middle age. I love progress, but I get sentimental for the past, too. It's almost as if I didn't get a chance to enjoy it then and now wish I could go back and really savor those experiences with the knowledge I have today.

I feel Tim rubbing my knee, pulling me out of my reverie. I murmur something about that feeling good, and would he do my feet. Instead he leans down and starts nibbling my neck. It's been a long day and it's hard to keep my eyes open, but his lips feel so good. I lean my head over just a bit, allowing him easier and deeper access. His hand moves from my knee up to my hip, while the other wraps around my shoulder and up to the back of my neck. He shifts his kisses from my neck to my lips, and I kiss him back, using my teeth to pull gently on his lower lip. He pulls back. "Do ya wanna...?" he asks lightly, with unmistakable eagerness in his voice. I truly am tired, but I also enjoy any alone time I can get with Tim, plus his neck nibbles did what they were intended to - I am very interested despite the sleepiness. He knows what turns me on.

"Did you plan this?" I inquire, with mock accusation in my voice.

He smiles a cunning grin, slightly mischievous, resembling the same guy I fell in love with when when we were twenty, working at the bar and trying to pay our way through school.

I start to turn away, pretending to be offended at his plan, but he takes the opportunity to nibble the back of my neck, which causes my insides to shiver something pleasant.

"I repeat..." he whispers into my ear, then turning me to face him "do ya wanna...."

I now answer with an "uh-hum" which, though maybe not sounding strictly affirmative, is followed by a deep kiss that cannot be misconstrued. His lips are eager on mine, and I'm matching his desire. He shifts his weight and I straddle his lap in order to return the favor - kissing his neck while running my hands though his salt-and-pepper hair. I stop.

"Let's take this to our room?" I suggest.

He laughs. "You aren't ready to have the birds and bees conversation with any of the kids?" he jokes.

"Uh, no." I answer and stand up, holding his hand in mine. I back away from the couch and help pull him up, then he leads me to the bedroom, where he lays down on the bed and I close and lock the door and set the lights low.

I join him on the bed and lay next to him, my head on his pillow, both of us laying on our backs. I listen to his breathing - so familiar and comforting. I love this man with all my heart, even as life has gotten hectic with the kids and work. Our lives are so different from when we met in college, and yet I'm so happy to share these changes with him. Our relationship has changed, but we have grown closer and still love each other. And still want each other, too.

I turn over on to my side and see him looking at me with his bright blue eyes, a little smokey in the dim light. A chill travels down my spine - fifteen years and he can still do that to me. I lean forward and resume kissing him, my lips meeting his in a joint dance, at once familiar and exciting. His hand moves up to my face and he strokes my cheek, then drops his head lower and trails kisses down my chin to my neck. I sigh, an expression of my appreciation. He doesn't need any encouragement - he knows what I like and what works, but I can't help myself. His hands travel down my body, following the path of my desire. Where he touches, I feel warm and I respond to him. I want to touch him, too. I pull away and help him remove his shirt. Not be be outdone, he removes mine and I lay down on my back. He follows me, putting his weight on the bed as I wrap my legs around him.


--WARNING: GRAPHIC SEX SCENE HERE. SKIP DOWN THREE PARAGRAPHS IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ IT.--


His bare chest rests on mine, his breath against my ear. I push away thoughts of the kids and tomorrow's errands and focus on him only - his musky smell, so sweet yet so masculine. I taste his shoulder - salty - and I can't help but give it a little nip. He pushes his weight against me and I push back. I feel all of him: his slippery pajama bottoms sliding against my bare legs, the stiffness of his need for me, the hair on his chest tickling my skin and intensifying my arousal. He shifts his weight enough that he can get one hand between us, caressing my body and teasing all the sensitive parts - my breasts, my hips, my upper thighs. His lips follow, leaving damp spots where the air chills me and I only want him to return. He pushes his palm between my legs, just there, which floods my senses with a wanting for more. I feel him run his index finger across the band of my lace panties and I decide to assist - I lift my hips and help him remove them. He tosses them aside and lowers his lips to me, using his tongue to tease me where my underwear had just been. I open to him, arching, allow him to taste every bit of me. I close my eyes and enjoy the sensations. Soon, though, I want more or it's all going to end here. I whisper "Come here" and, after one last kiss, he comes back up to me, positions his body on top of mine. I press my lips against his, after so many years no longer bothered by the taste of myself on him, and my tongue explores his: we are both ready. I slide my hands down his back to his hips and start to pull on his own waistband. He raises himself up to a kneeling position, gazing at me, all of me, as he pushes his pants and underwear down together, then rolls to his back next to me and kicks his pants off his legs and past the foot of the bed.

I roll over and lay on top of him. I can feel him hard against my stomach and I don't want to wait - least of all because I'm tired, but also because any one the kids could need us at any time and, heck, I'm eager for him. His hands are stroking my breasts. One pinches a nipple and I hear myself gasp with pleasure. He smiles and raises me up a little so he can put one in his mouth. I reach down and grab him hard, then tilt my hips up and back down, slowly inserting him into me. He frees my breasts and runs both his hands up from my hips to my shoulders, then down my arms to my hands. I clasp my hands in his, intertwining our fingers, while we move together. I look down at him and he looks at me. We smile, then our lips join as we increase our rhythm. Our breaths quicken together, no longer can I think. We just do, in sync. We are. I feel him stiffen and I crash over the edge, waves of pleasure overtaking me, gasps of satisfaction escaping my lips. He grunts softly below me, and I feel his spasms as he thrusts into me twice more. I collapse on top of him, releasing his hands and letting the blood return to my arms as they lay tingly and near-numb at my side. He wraps his arms around me, and we lay together, our breathing slowly returning to normal.

When I feel him shift, I slide off to his side, laying next to him, my head in the crook of his arm. He takes a couple deep breaths. "Thanks. Now I can breathe again," he chuckles, and I rub my hands through his chest hair. He kisses my forehead. I sigh.

"We need to do this more often" I say.

He replies "Sure. Shall we lock the kids in the closet?"

I laugh. It's true. This is the first night all the kids were asleep in their own beds before 10:30 in a long time. As it is, I know Cole will be joining us in a few hours, if not before. And since Tim gets up early for work and I'm running around with the kids all day, we're both too tired at the end of the day to do anything in bed besides sleep. So we neglect our sex lives. For now.

"A few more years..." I say wistfully.

"Grrrrr" he groans.

I nudge him in the ribs with my elbow. "The kids are worth it." I say.

"Are they?" he questions, but I hear him smiling in the dark. I nudge him again. Now it's his turn to laugh.

It's time to get dressed. I don't want to - gone are the days of laying together unclothed until the next morning, or until we do it again. Instead, we must get decent in case a kiddo needs us for something. I sit up and look for my clothing. I find his pants and toss them to him, which he slips on silently. He finds my nightshirt just as I find my underwear, so I get reclothed, then I go unlock the door and flip the lights off completely. He's adjusted the covers: I join him in bed, savoring this time with him. I roll on my side and he curves his body around me. I hear him start to snore and I almost drift off when I hear footsteps next to the bed. I crack an eye and in the dark I make out Cole, half asleep. I pull back the covers and he crawls in, soft and warm next to me. As I'm settling in, listening to Cole's gentle breathing and Tim's ragged snoring, I'm hit by a strong wave of dizziness and the room begins to spin a wobbly spiral, like a top about to fall over. I squint my eyes tight and hope whatever this is goes away by morning.
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