I wiggle out of his embrace. “You’re adorable, sweetheart,” I tell him. “But I’m pretty sure she’s not jealous. More like irritated at my very existence. And Zoey’s, for that matter.”
“Well, lucky for her, there’s no avoiding Zoey,” he says, gesturing to the spot around the side of the house, where Bridget and Zoey are playing catch. That the two girls get on like a house on fire gives me just that slightest bit of guilty satisfaction. I watch as the softball flies from the back of Wendy Charles’s yard to the back of mine, crossing over the top of the split rail fence that divides them. “Now come inside; come see what your genius husband has done with the plumbing in the hall bath,” he says. “A good flush will perk your spirits right up,” he adds to his own amusement, leading me to think of how very, very far we’ve come from the honeymoon phase.
I follow him inside and applaud his handiwork. But as he explains U-bends to me, my brain wanders back outside, to that ball sailing back and forth over the fence line. A line that exists for reasons I cannot understand. A line across which Wendy’s life refuses to acknowledge the meaning of mine.
My desk is empty; my email inbox is full. I am ready to do my real work. My productive work. It’s the perfect moment in my day, when I can turn the world down and my brain up and be what I am meant to be, if only for a few short hours.
Before me on one large monitor is the synthesis of six different new productivity studies. On the smaller screen of my laptop is a blank page, where I will unfold trends and make sweeping recommendations to present at the championships of life coaching, the annual Upland South Women’s Expo, where I have scored a juicy keynote spot just eight short days from now.
Quickly I start to lose myself in the work, falling deeper and deeper into my thoughts and ideas on one simple subject: how much time we have as humans and how to make the most of it. As I work, time ignores me, moves on without me, until my phone goes off and two hours have magically passed. My smart reminders begin to crawl up the calendar pane of my display, my Wi-Fi reconnects automatically, my phone comes off Do Not Disturb, and a banner alert says, I’m reminding you: ASP tomorrow.
The reminder merits a sigh. Tomorrow might be Bridge’s favorite day of the season. It’s definitely Linus’s least favorite. I think I’m probably with Linus.
It’s called the All-Sports Potluck, an event to kick off kids’ summer league sports in our local leagues, and it always happens right after tryouts for baseball, softball, swimming, and tennis. Technically the golfers are invited, too, but there are so few of them, and they’ve already been playing for six weeks by now, with intense focus and more intense polo shirts. Worse, the golfers are terrible at potlucks. No matter what course assignment you give them, they bring crazy things. Trays of daikon sushi, bruschetta with truffle oil, artisanal pickles: foods that none of the kids will eat and the organizers end up feeling terrible about throwing out at the end of the night. What the kids want is cut-up fruit, ranch pasta salad, cold fried chicken, and little meatballs cooked in grape jelly. The adults want sangria—specifically the Charles Family Recipe—and they want a lot of it. It’s hardly rocket science.
I’ve been bringing sangria to this same banquet for four years, but now, at the ripe old age of eight, Linus has informed us that he wants to stay home this year and send Bridget with the Masons. I dismissed the thought out of hand, but Seth is considering the request, and it has me crawling my mental walls. Uncomfortable though I know it can be, the poor kid needs to get out there, to try to socialize, for his own good.
“They’re just not his people,” Seth tells me when I call him about this over my lunch hour. “I get it. They’re not mine either.”
I don’t want to start the game called blame Wendy because we live in the suburbs right now, so I say only, “Somewhere out there, if he doesn’t hide at home every time there’s a chance at social interaction, someone will come along to be his people. Everyone’s got people when they’re patient and they keep looking.” I wonder if this also applies to me. I have a few trusted confidants—a guy friend here at work and my sister especially—but all my other relationships are nurtured thanks to a detailed spreadsheet I created with Google Calendar teasers whenever I need to mail a birthday card, send a check-in text, or set up a phone date. I like the other moms from the team, but after the season is over, we always lose touch. After all, who has the time?
“Sure. Ok. But I doubt he’s going to find his people at All-Sports,” says Seth.
I can’t help but laugh at that. If we make Linus go, my money says he’ll bring a book. “You’ve got a point there,” I concede. “I bet he’ll bring his own people with him, and by ‘people’ I mean dwarves and elves.”
But Seth isn’t laughing. “I’m telling you, Wendy. That’s the whole problem with this kid. All the sci-fi and fantasy stuff, the depressing stories, the make-believe.”
“You’re complaining because he’s so imaginative?” Seth requires hours and hours to nurture his work and feed his creative muse. Time, I’ll admit, I sometimes would appreciate having for our family.
“It’s not that he’s imaginative. It’s that he’s a huge bummer. He’s not interested in doing anything in real life.”
“All the more reason to make him go to All-Sports,” I say, wishing Seth would just for once stop bagging on my kid. Our kid.
“Tagging along to his sister’s event is not the same as doing something. Doing things is how you meet your people.”
“He does lots of things,” I say.
“Scratch programming? Reading about Scratch programming? Talking our ears off about Scratch programming?”
“Well, what if his thing is programming?” I say slowly. It doesn’t sound socially great, I’ll admit, but the kid’s gonna do what he’s gonna do. “It’s better than cooking meth.”
“Programming is not his thing,” says Seth. “He’s a kid. His thing is kid things.”
I’m not sure what to say to this, because it’s obviously not true.
“What we need to be doing is giving up on dragging him to his sister’s endless shit—”
I wince a little when Seth talks this way about Bridge’s devotion to softball—though yeah, it will feel endless by the time August rolls around, and Seth makes sure to make every single game of the season. Credit where credit is due.
“—and start dragging him to his own. What about golf? I know you say the club membership isn’t worth it, but look at those kids, with their weird food and their tucked-in paisley tech shirts. Maybe that’s Linus just waiting to happen.”
I clench my fists. Because he’s trying so hard to relate to his son, Seth has tried tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer, and rock climbing with Linus. Each sport with an expensive new set of gear, shoes, teachers, lessons. Linus is indifferent to them all. He doesn’t understand the rules; he doesn’t try hard; he doesn’t always even stay awake between innings. Must we go around this carousel again but with a $1,500 country club membership added to the bill?
I exhale. “The club will set us back financially. The money situation in our house is already too much pressure on me.” I am the primary wage earner, to be sure, but I’m also the CFO of the household. Seth’s art is expensive to create. Sometimes I have to hide the money to be sure Seth and I have a shot at retirement. The rest of the time I have to hide it to make sure we have next month’s mortgage. “How about we consider him visiting your workshop again?”
Seth’s offense is practically audible. “Honestly, Wendy,” he says. “You know I can’t juggle my work and the kids at the same time. It feels so unfair whenever you ask. Would I ask you to take the kids to your meetings?”
I find my eyes studying the far-left corner of my office. There’s such lovely molding in here. And the shutter-adorned windows overlook the chicest street in the moderately chic town. “I’m sorry, babe, but I’m running outa time,” I tell Seth, because I don’t want to delve into the differences in our careers or how his, of late, has started to feel more like a hobby. Besides—it doesn’t need to be said. I’ve seen how much his recent dip in commissions and sales has affected him. I’d do anything to boost him up right now rather than drag him down. “Let’s just bring Linus for one more banquet. He’s growing up fast, and my hours are so long. I hardly see him as it is.”
“What’s to see? He’s a lump,” Seth says.
I sigh. “Enough with that, Seth,” I tell him firmly. “He’s really a good kid.”
“You’re right,” he says quickly. “He is. I love him; you know that. That’s why I’m not willing to give up on him.”
“And I thank you for it,” I tell him, finding that once again Seth and I are better off polite than honest. “I’ll see you tonight.”