Last Week: The Ant-Eater and his Mom

Monday: 

I went into work complaining about Andrew. Specifically, about the fact that I caught him, I think, eating an ant.

I can’t get mad at him, since he’s adorable. I saw him sitting there giggling next to the screen door, looking down at his hand, turning it over and back and over. I realized he was letting an ant crawl on it, like they were friends. “Eatin’ ants?” 

I figured this was cuz he’s been watching Planet Earth again, and one of his favorite animals is the Draco Lizard. Mr. David Attenborough’s voice introduces the creature with a half-whisper: “This is a Draco Lizard. He’s the size of a pencil…and he eats ants.”

Sunday night (or Monday morning, I don’t even remember now), I saw Drew bent over, looking at the ground, saying “eatin’ ants” to himself. And he put his hand to his mouth.

I can’t win, can I, I thought as I tried to extract an ant from his mouth—but either he’d swallowed it and evaded me narrowly, or he had just been putting his hand on his face and I am insane. Either option is viable.

Monday was cold, I remember. The first cold day since…well, it’s hard to remember. This is Texas—the heat sits there like it belongs. Then all of a sudden, in skitters the cold air and it’s football season. That’s good, I thought—I can finally wear MOST of my clothes. But I WILL have to start drying my hair in the morning, so…win/lose.

Tuesday:

Andrew has this favorite thing these days—the Rebel Fighters.

On our way into daycare in the morning, we take a short walk over to the field where the junior high football team is practicing. They have their white helmets, they’re sweaty and tired, they’re all suited up and people are yelling commands to them. Yep, Andrew mistook a bunch of twelve-year-olds for Star Wars characters because he knows more about Sci-Fi than he does about sports. 

Drew starts talking about the Rebel Fighters as soon as we leave the house. And when we get there, he clamps over to the fence and watches them in rapture. Some of them wave—many of them know his name. The other day, a few of them gave him high-fives and fist-bumps (which he had no idea what to do with). And he just stared, and smiled, and couldn’t form any words but “Rebel Fighters? Good guys?”

On Tuesday, I walked him over to see the Rebel Fighters. He was wearing his Batman shoes that lit up, and a gray sweatshirt that daddy had persuaded him to wear because “Obi-Wan would wear a hood.” And as he was high-fiving the Rebel Fighters before they took a water break, a fire engine raced by, sirens screaming like banshees. 

Fire engines are another of Drew’s favorite things right now, because of these short little videos about trucks that my friend introduced us to. They’re catchy and informative, and they’ve turned Andrew’s world into a Where’s Waldo?-type game where he looks for garbage trucks/fire engines/excavators/ambulances. 

With the same admiration with which he greeted the Rebel Fighters, he watched the red truck disappear, followed by a police car. “Fire engine? Tell me where the fire is?” He said from under his hood, so excited he was nearly shaking.

And maybe because it was September 11, my heart sank.

That day was harder when it came around this year. I don’t know why THIS year in particular…I’ve had Drew for two years, after all. And it’s been 17 years—that’s a long time. Maybe it was because some radio station was playing the audio from that day. Maybe because I realized that NONE of my kids in school were alive at that time. But a lot of it had to do with Drew’s fascination with firemen. Because I remember those pictures of firemen.

Mostly, I remember watching the footage on TV, and seeing the normal people being escorted away from the scene by firemen. Everyone was covered in dust, they had been whitewashed and looked like wraiths. 

And I remember that I was wearing a sweater my dad had bought me. I remember that the day felt unreal, like I was dreaming. I remember snatches of confused conversations with friends. I remember what THEY were wearing. I vaguely remember writing in my blue velvet journal while sitting on my bed with the white and blue covers—feeling like I was falling into a pit. Like everything had begun to shake, everything in my mind had begun to wobble and would crash. The way I thought of everything around me changed—my idea of safety and permanence changed. 

But what I REALLY remember is the adults. The teachers. My parents. How did they tell us, “We have to keep going, we’re going to have class same as always.” How did they fix dinner (I think we had grapes with it, but I don’t remember much else)? How did they wash dishes and grade papers and go to the gas station and vacuum the floor? How did they not just LOSE it? 

So this year, I pulled into the Target parking lot, cried until my head hurt, walked inside, hid in the shoe section, called my mom, and then wandered around Target for maybe an hour. Then I went home and…I guess cooked and cleaned. But I felt down and uncertain all day. I felt like a thirteen-year-old. And I think I’ll always feel like a thirteen-year-old when we talk about that day. My mind and body have grown up, but that memory is time travel.

Wednesday:

Andrew had this weird scattering of bites on his legs- I noticed it when I put him in the car that morning. 

“This is what comes of playing with ants,” I told him as we walked into daycare, hand in hand. I knew I would worry about him all day once I’d seen the bites—if they WERE bites. Maybe they were the beginnings of chicken pox. Maybe they were mosquitoes. Maybe he WAS eating ants, although that didn’t really matter at the moment. I knew they couldn’t be Hand, Foot and Mouth because that doesn’t start with the spots, it starts with the sore throat.

Thomas didn’t know that—about Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, I mean. I rolled my eyes and said smugly, “the spots are the LAST thing that shows up.”

Of course that had been news to me when Drew was a year old and got it for the first time. I’d taken him to the doctor with what I thought was an ear infection. Nope—HFMD, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. Thom had to hear me say it a few times before he realized he was thinking of Mad Cow. No wonder he didn’t want to believe it.

Thursday:

It’s cold, I thought again on Thursday morning. Not outside, but inside. I was in the first day of a two-day workshop for other Motor Lab teachers. It’s not an everyday subject—only a few schools have it—and the presenter had come from Houston, I think, and there were teachers from schools nearly two hours away. All of us, freezing. It was ninety degrees outside, and I sat there in wool next to another girl in flannel. 

The smell as I walked down the hallway of the big building—an educational service center—reminded me of my first year teaching. I’d come to this building three nights a week, from 5:30 to 9:30, and learned to be a teacher. While I WAS being a teacher. It was weird, and hard. But in the end it was good. Sure enough, one of the rooms was marked off for Teacher Preparation that night—5:30 to 9:30. How did I get enough sleep, I wondered? Oh, right—I was twenty-two and single and living with my parents. School and teaching my small class were ALL I had to worry about. That, and whining about my boyfriend living so far away. 

Wow, what a weird person I was then, I thought as I sat down in my seat after the lunch break. I’d never had children and I’d never been married and I was teaching my FIRST class ever, and yet I thought I was so smart. Good thing I can’t remember most of it. I bet I’d be embarrassed.

I started to feel kind of ill, but it’s hard to tell HOW sick you feel when it’s so cold in a room that they have free blankets in a drawer in the back. I figured I should just keep drinking free coffee and eating free candy that was on the tables—I ate everybody’s Nerds. It felt weird saying, “Are y’all gonna eat those Nerds?”, like I was twelve, but my love for Nerds is stronger than my fear of looking stupid. 

After the day was over, I picked Drew up and brought him to “Mommy’s School”, where I set the classroom up for my sub the next day. I let him chase a playground ball around the room, and we went down the hall holding hands—hoping to say hi to some teachers. He kept saying, “Hallway…be very quiet.” So either I’ve said that to him or his teachers have, and he’s memorized it. Talk about nerd.

We said hi to one teacher and she kindly let Andrew run into her closet, mess up her puzzles, and try to steal crayons. “He’s half your size already!” She exclaimed.

“Yeah, and I think he’s eating ants.”

He was covered in mac and cheese from lunch. He’d found a folding stool. “Sit down, Drew,” I said. He did, and put his hands demurely in his lap. So adorable I could die.

Friday:

Drew awoke with fewer ant bites but more mosquito bites. Maybe they love mac and cheese like I love nerds. I knew it would be hot, but I put him in long pants anyway. I frantically reminded my husband of my brother’s crazy mosquito allergy and how his hands had ballooned like those little gloves at the dentist every time he got bit by a bug. 

“We’re sure he doesn’t have HFMD?” Thomas asked.

No, I replied. And in my mind I repeated, “Not Mad Cow either.”

I wondered all day if I shouldn’t write a blog post about 9/11. I wondered if I was the only one still thinking about 9/11 this year. I dropped Drew off—I don’t remember if we saw the Rebel Fighters—and went back to the service center. I was still wearing a thick sweater, and comfortable pants—we were going to learn some exercises today.

The instructor had me demonstrate the different exercises, and I was glad I’d worn clothes that were long enough and that I didn’t have to be embarrassed about. Not that I’m embarrassed of my clothes in general, but I always dress for comfort. I was proud of myself for doing things well—the Rocking Horse stretch and Giraffe Stretch, exactly like I was supposed to. Like a kid in gym class who feels proud of being singled out.

I felt sick again—still not sure with what—and asked my sister if she’d go pick Drew up from school. Then, when the workshop was over, I went home and lay down in bed, browsing pictures on facebook…people talking about fall this and Autumn that. I re-read the scene in Anna Karenina where Anna and her husband fight about…something. That is such a sad book, but it’s grown with me in the last ten years. Tolstoy…what a genius, but I’ve read that he wasn’t super nice. 

I wondered if someday I’d be famous, and what my family would say about me—if there’d be some cutting, disastrous “Diary of Andrew Hunter: A Memoir” that talked about how selfish and obnoxious I was. I hope not. I really hope not. When the GrownupInternetWeblog becomes a classic, he will of course provide the annotated version—whatever medium people are reading from then.

Ginni texted me to say that she’d taken Drew outside to the park, and they’d run and run and played and played until my Mom came to get him. 

Saturday: 

Super couponing day. I spent the day at HEB and Walmart, scanning products with my phone and then scanning receipts with the iPad after I’d bought stuff. I began to wonder if this was worth it, since making a list and scanning everything takes SO long. 

NPR had an interview with a girl who was the owner of a cool hipster restaurant where you didn’t know what you’d be having for dinner, but she said she “felt like a hostess—arranging flowers and ironing napkins…just having people over for dinner.”

It sounds so nice and fancy. Drew eats his lunch on a paper towel and I mostly just have cereal, but fancy stuff is nice once in a while.

I returned home to a toddler who hadn’t napped worth beans, and his father who was amused more than annoyed. “He’s being very sweet, but so HYPER,” Thomas said. 

Drew fussed to watch truck videos. No, we’re going to turn on something calming, I said. So the Great British Baking Show filled our living room for the next few hours—it was the first Italian week, and the smug British hosts were telling the college kid and architect and blonde mom contestants that even though it was hot in the baking tent, they were still expected to make delicious dinners.

Drew ignored all this and took the lid off the storage ottoman, turned it sideways and used it as a ramp to lean on while digging in his toy box. He forgot we were there, I think. And we just let him do this—sometimes talking to himself, sometimes showing us what he found—for the rest of the afternoon, while kindly British people made cakes and pastries on tv and all the toys in the toy box found themselves thrust into the light and thrown onto the floor. 

I wondered again if I should write a whole post about 9/11. I wasn’t there—I was in Norton, Massachusetts—I’d heard survivor stories and I didn’t have one. I was just still thinking about it this year, I told Thom—usually I thought about it for a day, then forgot. 

“Look, we all have stories,” Thom reminded me. “It was our generation’s Kennedy assassination.”

It’s true, I thought. And our generation’s Pearl Harbor. I remember hearing people talk about being in class when they heard the president had been shot…or stood beside their dad’s chair while the Pearl Harbor announcement came on the radio. A long line of scared little kids watching the profiles of focused parents whose eyes were fixed on tv’s and radios. Have we all had those thoughts, those deep-pit thoughts about death, I wondered? Is that just another part of being a Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve, like feeling sick and worrying, like being hungry and looking around for your favorite snack, like looking up in admiration at some heroic figure in a helmet, like playing with toys and digging in the sand and watching the bugs?

Andrew stood there, once again, touching the tile with his big toe like he was dipping it in a pond. “Ants?” 

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