A Long Day at the Track

A Long Day at the Track

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

A Long Day at the Track

Time is never more relative than when stretched across the full span of childhood. When my sons were toddlers, sticky and close, omnipresent and ever needy, my days were measured out in two-hour intervals between meals and naps and baths and stories. As our lives moved forward in these minute increments, I did not think it possible they would one day be leaving home “before you know it,” as innumerable friends told me. After serving them some twenty thousand meals, lowering the toilet seat thousands of times, issuing countless reminders that cars need oil to run, how could a mother so centrally engaged in their growth not know they were growing up?

Can a woman really forget cooking two and a half tons of macaroni and cheese? Can she forget playing solitaire until dawn on snowy nights, waiting for the sound of tires crunching into the driveway? Can a mother really not notice that her former baby’s life has changed completely when he receives, among his high-school graduation gifts, a pair of purple silk boxer shorts and a scented card written in a dainty script? No, I think a mother always knows these small incidents are adding up to Something Big. We just understand, like the fans who come faithfully to the Indy 500 every year, that it’s going to be a long day.

Lurching and stalling through the early years, time moved slowly as the rookie drivers tested their limits, learned to take the curves and conferred with their pit crews. I got used to thewhining noises and oily fumes, paying only half-attention through each repetitive cycle until a warning flag or frightening accident snapped my mind back on track. Then, in the riveting final laps, time suddenly accelerated. Fixed solely on the finish line, convinced they knew all they needed to know, my sons put the pedal to the metal and ignored any further signals from the pit. They barely stopped home long enough to refuel with a favorite pot roast.

While they forged ahead with a speed that bordered on recklessness, I found myself falling back in time, seized with a ferocious desire to remember everything about this long day at the track. As twenty years of effort compressed in those final laps, I felt the stirring excitement and lumpy throat I often get in movie theaters. Living with two jocks has undoubtedly had a profound influence on my imagination, because the musical score that kept playing in my head as I watched them fling themselves into the world was not Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto or Pachelbel’s Canon, but the theme song from Rocky. I know I should be far beyond the moist, sentimental lumpiness of motherhood by now. But as it turns out, I’m not.

In those months before Ryan and Darren left home, a familiar gesture or facial expression would trigger a sudden onslaught of memories, I would see the faces and hear the voices of all the children in the family album, all the little guys who used to pepper my life but who have now disappeared. Whenever I caught a certain provocative smile, a long-suffering frown, I would be suddenly infused with a peculiar clairvoyance. I would travel back and forth in time, remembering the first time that look appeared, knowing how often it would return to delight or haunt me. I was swamped by one of these mind floods in a shoe store last August, as Darren tried on a pair of loafers in a size that could have comfortably fit both of my feet in one shoe. I remembered the first time I saw those astonishing appendages eighteen years earlier then attached to the smallest, most fragile human legs imaginable. Once more, I was standing woozily next to his crib in the preemie intensive-care nursery, leaning against his incubator for support as I watched his labored breathing. This impatient son, who had crashed into being two months before his due date—very nearly killing us both—lay unconscious amidst his tangle of wires and tubes while I tried to suppress fears about underdeveloped lungs and heart muscles.

He was tininess itself, his delicate pink form stretched nakedly under sunlamps to cure his jaundice, his skinny limbs covered with dark, prenatal fuzz—cilia hair for the amniotic sea he was still supposed to be in. I watched him take a wet gulp of air and then, suddenly, stop breathing entirely. My own throat seized as the line on his heart monitor flattened. The nurse jumped up when she heard the alarm and rushed to his incubator, flicking his tiny heel a few times until the rhythmic beeps of his heart returned again.

“Apnea,” she said, sighing with relief. “They get so tired they forget to breathe.” She then went back to her paperwork at the nursing station, little Darren Oliver went back to sleep, and I worried about brain damage for the next five years.

Darren’s traumatic birth was my first encounter with the reality that motherhood was not, and would never be, entirely under my control.

The young rookies eventually morphed into grown men, putting thousands of laps behind us. The repetitious and monotonous routines of our past do accrue into Something Big, with time and patience and a whole lot of luck.

Mary Kay Blakely

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