Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Waltz in a Minor Key

I signed up to bring snacks to my son's class today, so on Monday I picked up a few things. However, I neglected to buy apple juice. This morning, determined to rectify my egregious oversight, I woke up early, gave the kiddo his breakfast, gave him a bath, gave myself a once-over, and we were out the door about fifteen minutes earlier than we'd ever been on our best day.

We successfully completed our mission, and despite my running my grocery store card (instead of my credit card) through the machine and causing a minor backup in the checkout line, and despite my making a wrong turn minutes later because my caffeine-deprived brain thought we were going to the mall, we managed to arrive at the kiddo's school with about four minutes to spare. I deposited the snacks in the kitchen area and helped my son onto a pair of Romper Stompers while hoping he wouldn't fall backward and crack his head on the brick fireplace behind him. (Yep, his class is in a community room that has a kitchen and a fireplace.)

Miss Debbie, the kiddo's teacher, checked out the snacks and thanked me from across the room. Then she moseyed over and said, "You know, the kiddo never eats anything at snacktime. Ever. But I thought maybe today, since you'd brought the snacks, maybe these are things he'll eat...?" It wasn't an accusation by any means; she seemed a bit concerned. I explained to her that the kiddo would likely eat the Cheeze-Its and apple juice, but would probably not like the graham crackers and string cheese, and that I'd explained to him that we had to try to get things that everyone, or at least most of the kids, would eat. I was kinda surprised to hear that the kiddo never eats at snacktime. Nonetheless, I told Miss Debbie that if the kiddo chose not to eat what was provided, that was fine with me. Maybe I'll tell her about our relatively new "try one new food each week" rule, which is currently going over like a fart in church.

Anyway, I kissed the kiddo, who'd already forgotten who I was, and headed out to the car. Bank. Caffeine. I used to have a friend who complained that the two and a half hours that her child was in preschool wasn't enough time for her to get anything done, but I haven't found that to be the case for me so far. Anyway, for some reason, the coffee place next to the bank was closed (it's family owned and operates on its own schedule), so I drove through a fast-food joint, figuring I could get bad food and bad coffee for the same price as a good cup of coffee elsewhere. Not wanting to go straight home and devour my bad food and bad coffee at my desk, I decided to continue up the street and make a U-turn so I could park in a spot overlooking the lake.

I left the engine running and turned on the air conditioning. Yes, I could've taken off my pleather jacket, but I was intent on my ongoing experiment to determine which combination of cream and sugar successfully masks the bitter, mineral taste of cheap coffee made with local tap water. (Results to date: inconclusive.) An elderly man with a Shih-Tzu walked by, and as I gazed at the lake, I wondered why the water level was so low. Really, it's the lowest I've seen in the two and a half years or so that I've been here. I suppose it's the lack of rain, although technically the lake is a reservoir attached to the water (secondary?) treatment plant, and I didn't think the rain was solely responsible for keeping up the water level. If the lack of rain is to blame, though, the area will look a lot different this summer when the weather really heats up and the water level drops even further.

I digress but, in my defense, digression was my intent this morning.

Across the street and down a bit was a bench I'd seen once before, with a child's picture nearby and some potted flowers among a stone garden. I'd wanted to get out of the car and read the plaque, but I knew it would break my heart. I watched a lean, muscular couple jog by with a Golden Retriever as I listed to a samba version of "Moon River" on the local college station.
The man with the Shih-Tzu was headed toward me, and I made a gentle point of raising my hand in greeting. He raised a hand in return -- a fleeting connection. I decided to check out the plaque, and pulled out of my spot.

Parking in front of the bench, I almost didn't get out of the car. Still, I figured if I was going to see the plaque at some point, I'd rather do it without my son. The little stone garden was full of white landscaping stones; a couple of low, white picket fences formed circles around areas where perhaps plants had been, or would be again. Rosebushes formed a backdrop for a small altar, on which had been placed a few candles in glass jars, some well-loved dolls and a framed photo of a beautiful, brown-eyed, four-year-old girl. A small, green tiara had been placed next to the photo. The gently curving bench bore a bronze plaque inscribed to Brianna, [paraphrasing] "the girl with shining brown eyes which capture the hearts of everyone in seconds, always friendly, always happy, who will be forever missed by her big brother, her mother and father, her friends, and everyone who knew her." I said a little prayer for the little girl and her family. Then, not wanting to weep on the side of the road, I got back into the car, where the radio was playing a waltz in a minor key, and sat for a minute.

I wondered what had happened to Brianna, but I knew it didn't matter. She was gone, and I could only imagine that her family's sorrow was a million times greater than any sadness I felt upon reading the plaque. I don't know what I would do if I lost my son, and I wondered if, by considering Brianna, I was tempting fate or instead somehow ensuring that the unspeakable would never happen. Funny how the mind tries to rationalize and pigeonhole experiences and thoughts that are weakly described at best.

On the way home, I turned my mind to the mundane: calls to return, clients to update, documents to edit, ads to post. I have work to do, but I need more work if I am to get ahead of my bills and save any money.

Still, my work does allow me to be home for my son, who will be finished with his class at 11:30. Last night he said he didn't like his class, but when I pick him up in a while, he'll smilingly tell me, "Mommy, I had a blast!" and he won't want to leave. I'll smooch him and smile back.

Then we'll return a video to the video store, go home, eat lunch and get back to the business of living.