Late August – Ordinary Time
August’s tiny room has one spot for a crib and that spot provides him a perfect angle for flicking on the light switch. He’s had a cough for the past week that has been waking him in the middle of the night. And in his happy, wakened state, he’s been figuring he might as well turn on his light at three in the morning. After all, his bed is full of stuffed animals. Why not play?
Chris and I don’t think this is such a great idea. I’ve tried taping the light down. August, however, knows how to pull tape off. And beyond the tape, I’ve been at a loss for ideas. But tonight, sitting at the table, eating rice and pork chops and salad, a light goes off in Chris’ head, in more ways than one. He interrupts my story with, “We’ll just unscrew the light bulb!”
How did I not think of that? I blame pregnancy and nausea. I’ve decided I can blame anything I want to on pregnancy and nausea.
So, while I read August his bedtime story in his crib and the summer evening light reveals sparkled dust particles floating past the bedroom windows, making soft shadows on the wall, my husband stands on the stool, unscrewing the three light bulbs from the ancient light fixture.
I’m halfway through Hey Mr ChooChoo when I hear the shatter of glass and turn to see my husband staring at his empty hand from his perch at the top of the stool. He and I both look down at the same time to survey a thousand tiny pieces on the floor, glass shredded into puzzles, into the basket full of blocks, beside my bare feet.
At first I feel nothing more than frustration. I think to go find the broom. I think how annoying it will be to shake out all the toys and make this room safe again. I moan and look up at Chris. My husband’s face, however, is beyond annoyed. He’s in panic mode.
“There’s mercury in there,” he says.
“In the light bulbs?”
“Yes, Micha. The new ones, the CFLs. They’re full of mercury.”
I turn my face up to him. “You’re telling me that you just broke a container of mercury all over our son’s toys? And your pregnant wife is standing here breathing it in?”
“Yep.” He looks at the floor, his hand running through his hair. I stare at him, furious for his carelessness and furious that energy-saving light bulbs contain mercury and no one told me. Then I look at the basket of wooden blocks on the floor, where pieces of light bulb and, I suppose, mercury, are now scattered. Even though I’m usually the one who would drop the light bulb, I’m still furious at my husband for not being the careful one. In our marriage, he’s supposed to be the careful one.
“Okay,” I say. “It’s okay.” I decide to think like a normal human, instead of being mad at my husband for the fact that some light bulb maker decided that mercury was necessary in order to create energy efficient lighting.
“Hey, Chris.” I say it slow, as if I’m the controlled one in this relationship.
He looks at me. I don’t really have any ideas. I look at him and then August and then back down to the floor. “Okay,” I say. “You figure out how to clean this up. I’ll figure out how to get August to sleep on the couch.”
I pick my two-year-old up out of his bed and step carefully over the shreds of glass. I carry his pajama clad body and fresh puffy diaper down the hall and straight to our skinny mustard brown couch from the sixties. My stomach is uneasy and the dinner we ate an hour before is beginning to feel troublesome in there. I take deep breaths and lay a sheet on the couch. August and I snuggle down and cover ourselves with a blanket.
For the next hour Chris researches how to clean up a toxic mercury light bulb. He follows the rules: let it sit for fifteen minutes, unroll duct tape, meticulously sticky-snag each broken piece.
August and I turn the lamp off and lie face to face. He wants a story. I whisper about rockets and dinosaurs and Ming Ming the duckling. Then we lie quiet for a while. He touches my eyes and feels the direction of my eyebrows. His finger moves down my cheek and then squeezes my nose. “Honk!” he whispers. I keep my eyes closed and try not to smile. He tries again. “Honk!” he says louder. Then, back to a whisper, “Mama, wu sweepin’?”
How can the same creature who bit my neck at 4 am this morning and won Whiner of the Year today at the grocery store be so beautiful and kind-hearted and tender? I open my eyes to see the outline of his in the shadows of our makeshift bed. Yesterday, while Chris and August were playing together before dinner, Chris stopped tickling him and asked, “August, where did you come from? Where did you live before you showed up here with us?”
August thought for a minute and answered, “Space.”
“Space?” Chris asked.
“On a wocket.” August said. Of course we laughed, like all parents do, sure that the child we made together is the best one that’s ever been knit. And certain that never in the world has a child ever said anything so clever. If you’re going to just arrive on Planet Earth from somewhere, it’s most logical that you would come from space on a rocket.
I look at this boy in the dark, the one asking if I’m sleeping here on the couch beside him. “Shhhh,” I whisper as he pokes my eye again. “Go to sleep, baby,” I say.
In six days I will turn thirty-one. It’s not that special of a birthday, I guess. It’s an ordinary birthday. The kind where you get older and look in the mirror and say, “Wow, my jaw is a grown-up jaw. And I’ve earned those first starts of wrinkles under my eyes.” I guess everyone has a moment when they first feel like a grown up. And here, on this old couch with my little boy’s sweet breath fanning my face, I feel like this year has been a growing up year, a refresh button on the direction of my life, of my marriage. I feel like God is making something beautiful of all this upheaval, all this uncertainty.
God is remaking me and it hurts and it’s meticulous and dangerous and right.
At first I don’t fall asleep. I just lay there with my son, my stomach churning, my fingers moving the hair across this forehead over and over until his eyes are closed and his breathing is a deep rhythm.
Two hours later, the bedroom cleaned and vacuumed, the toxic air whipped out through the window into the night sky, Chris wakes me and gathers our boy in his arms, places him in his crib.
Photo Credit: Students from these universities often take assistance with their academic research