"If he's happier..."

Oliver had just finished his cinnamon toast and started in on his scrambled eggs when he innocently asked, "When is Percy coming home, Mama?"

Bleary-eyed from nausea and a fitful night of sleep, I fumbled briefly and paused.

Jack won’t be home until tomorrow; is it wrong to tell Ol first? Should I wait for Tom? Oh, how I have been dreading this, but oh, how I want to cross this threshold.

I sipped my tea and glanced at my darling boy, wearing only super hero undies and smiling as he speared egg with a Lego spork he outgrew years ago. I took a deep breath, put my tea gently on a coaster, and said, “Sweetheart, Percy is so happy with Suzanne. Do you know that she makes him meatloaf every day and that they sleep together?”

I watched as the brightly-colored utensil arced slowly toward Ol’s plate and felt my heart break as my boy started to understand where I was going with my lengthy answer.

“Suzanne is very happy too, Ol. Her pugs died last year, and she has been lonely for a dog to love. Percy is lucky to get to live with Suzanne.”

I watched as the spork landed on the china plate dusted with cinnamon sugar and a rapidly chilling yellow-orange mound. I saw my boy’s eyes fill with worry and the first tears, watched him take a deep breath and bravely ask, “Is Percy going to stay there, Mama?”

“Yes, precious. He is. Daddy and I feel it is the best thing for him. We couldn’t love and care for Percy like he needed and deserved, but Suzanne can.”

My arms opened as Ol scurried around the table to my lap. He and I always feel so in sync. Like when we’re walking and our hands find and clasp each other’s tightly, even when our eyes are on the path ahead or the sky above.

“But why, Mama? Why? I do not think this is the best decision. I love Percy and I want him here.” His tears wet my pajama shirt, and I struggled to hold him in a way that didn’t allow his sweet tush to feel like a pair of pile drivers into my thighs. Vomiting for hours really screws with your muscles.

Neither Jack nor Oliver has ever known life without Percy. I forget that sometimes; that Percy came first, and the boys after. The kids never seemed terribly connected to Percy, didn’t hang on or try to sleep with him, didn’t talk to him in the ways some children do with their pets. And so while I knew they would be sad, I wasn’t sure how that anguish would show itself.

Ol and I sat together for a long while. He cried and snuffled, and I kissed and comforted. And then I gently reminded him about school and his field trip and suggested we get dressed. I emailed his teachers and was lucky to find that a dear friend was Ol’s group chaperone today; loving eyes were on him.

At pick-up this afternoon, he seemed buoyant, and I took him for a frozen yogurt date. I let him get an absurd amount of toppings, hoping some extra sweet would ease whatever pain might be coursing under his beautiful surface. One of his friends was there, with her grandmother and little brother, and Ol whispered, “Mama, would it be nice if I asked them to come sit with us?”

“Oh, yes, sweetheart, that is a fabulous, kind gesture.” And so he did, and we enjoyed their company, and I smiled upon my little boy who is both simple and complex, young and old, placid and feisty.

Afterwards, as we pulled up into our driveway, I heard Ol’s voice from the backseat. “I have so many happy memories with Percy, Mama. It didn’t make sense to me this morning, your decision, but it makes sense now. If he’s happier…” As he trailed off, I glanced in the rearview mirror, dumbstruck by what a seven-year-old had just said.

We got out of the car, and I knelt on the ground and pulled Ol to me. “Oliver, you are an amazing child, and I am lucky to be your mother.” And for the second time today, we just stayed there, as if a mother-child sculpture cast in an ephemeral moment but one that could represent so many of the small moments mothers and children share.

There are times that motherhood is the opposite of this memorable, moving bliss; times I very nearly hate it and all it demands and asks and takes; times in which I am so fatigued that I’m not sure I’ll be able to give for another hour, another day; times in which I miss having time.

But too there are experiences like those I had today, where in a child I see such courage and wisdom, where in that child’s understanding of an event I am able to better understand my own understanding of that same thing.

Our brief exchange in the driveway this afternoon felt profound. I can’t explain it better than that. A little boy received some sad, surprising news, carried it with him and processed it all while visiting the National Portrait Gallery and being fully present there. All while enjoying his friends and recess and our fro-yo date. All while acting chivalrously too.

The tears came again tonight, as they so often do when darkness and tired seep in. I held him tight and answered his questions and softly but firmly said that the decision was final. We turned on an audiobook, and before I could blink, he was immersed in the science mystery Einstein Anderson had begun to solve.

“Goodnight, Ol. I will come check on you later. I love you so much.”
“Goodnight, Mama. I love you too. I hope you feel better soon.”
This post is inspired by:
my need to write and remember this day with Ol;
this week's Finish the Sentence Friday prompt "The things I've seen this morning...", hosted by Kristi Campbell and Leanne Russell;
and my 40 in Forty series. Today's bit of wisdom: listen to some of that which comes from the mouths of babes.