As soon as I tell the boys to put their shoes on, the five-year old clutches his abdomen. “My belly hurts,” he tells me. “I think I’m gonna barf.”
I sigh because it was the same all last week, and the first day it happened the nurse called me to pick him up. Now he sees the stomachache as a means to an end, hope for rescue. He loved school at first and this is new. But the nurse and the teacher are pros, so now they place a trash can by his desk and press on.
This morning, though, there are tears in his eyes. “I miss my family while I’m at school,” he says, and at first I think, wow, this kid is good. But then his little lip trembles and my heart twists because I know he is for real. I glance quickly at the clock; the bus is already on our street. My head tsks at my heart. I’ve got to mother him, but fast. He must be on that bus or I’ll have bought us another week of mornings just the same.
“I miss you too, but you’d be bored here,” I say lightly. “I’m working, Daddy’s working, the other kids are at school. We don’t watch TV or play video games.” I pause. “Put your shoes on.”
Halfway down the driveway he turns to me again, his tiny face fighting the downturn of his lips as he speaks. “I don’t have a very good memory,” he says.
“For remembering you and Daddy when I’m at school.”
And every cell in my body says, let this child miss the bus. But instead I kneel in front of him.
“That’s probably just because your brain is so busy when you’re there,” I reassure. “You could go to school a million days in a row and never forget Daddy and me.”
I hug him tight as the bus barrels around the corner. “Be tough and brave, and I will be waiting here when you get home,” I say, pulling his hood up and over his blond head.
His tiny legs stretch up the two tall steps of the bus and I see him take his seat inside. I wave and smile, but the windows are tinted and it’s sunny and I can’t see him wave back.
I turn back to the house, biting my lip. “Tough and brave,” I repeat.