Right Where I Need To Be

A few weeks ago, after Brandon and I returned from celebrating our tenth anniversary, I looked ahead at our calendar for October.  There were a lot of commitments that required a lot of babysitters, which translated to many nights and weekends away from the kids (and several hundred dollars in childcare and travel expenses).  I of course love to get away, especially when it is for good things, like time with my husband, writing conferences, and poetry retreats, but with Brandon gone every weekend and me working full time, it just didn’t seem fair to the kids to escape leave so much.  I emailed my friend in Kentucky and reluctantly pulled out of the poetry retreat that was to take place this weekend.  I let my cousin (awesome babysitter) know that I decided not to go, and promptly willed myself to forget about the retreat.

This Thursday, my poet friends posted photos of their road trip south, and from my office desk I pouted.  I was supposed to be getting ready to head out for Louisville.  I sighed.  It would have been such a good time to hang out with these friends.  I reminded myself of the much-needed downtime with the kids, the bushel of apples ready to be sauced, and the cash that was staying obediently and responsibly in my bank account because of this decision.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t throw a small tantrum on their Facebook comment section.

After work, the kids and I were off to a great start to the weekend.  Everyone ate dinner without whining.  The paved path through the woods and field behind our house beckoned.

“Do we have to wear a helmet?” Lydia asked, and I considered for a moment saying no. We had ridden the path in the field without helmets lately.  Elvis was nearby, getting ready to ride his bike, listening for my decision.

“Yes, you should still wear your helmet, since we’re planning to ride through the woods.”  She strapped it on.  Elvis did, too, and we set out for a leisurely ride through the woods.

The new path is only paved for about fifty feet into the woods before it transitions to gravel and dirt.  Since the weather began to turn a few weeks ago, pine needles and leaves have begun to fall across the trail.  I love the pine needle floor of the forest, the canopy high above our heads, the scratch and rustle of the squirrels through the fallen leaves.  We rode along, Henry in the tow-behind trailer and Elvis and Lydia speeding ahead.

Just over the peak of a small hill, I heard Elvis scream.  I rolled my eyes and smiled and sighed.  He is always falling, and every little bump and bruise causes him to erupt into tears.  I pedaled my way over the hill, Henry sitting in the tow-behind trailer.  There he was, splayed out on the trail, still on top of his bike.  Lydia was slowly making her way back to Elvis.

“Oh, buddy, are you okay?” I asked him, helping him to get untangled from the red Lightning McQueen bike and stand up.  He looked up at me with tears streaming and blood dripping from his lip and chin.  “Oh my goodness, Elvis, come here.” I gave him a hug and worked his fingers and wrists, asked him to move his arms and legs to make sure nothing was broken.  It was clear he split his lip.  There was a small cut on his nose and a small bruise forming on his forehead where his helmet likely jammed into his skin, a couple small cuts under his chin and on his neck.  I stood for a minute, balancing my bike and Henry and holding Elvis.  A man with a dog came down the hill and held my bike for me while I inspected Elvis some more, considering what to do next.  It wouldn’t make sense to take Henry out of the bike trailer and walk all three of us back, and the handlebars of Elvis’s bike were bent out of shape.

“Elvis, can you walk back beside me?  I’ll go real slow with Henry, and we’ll leave your bike here,” I said.  He nodded while wailing and hiccuping, still shaking from his fall.

“I’ll ride back to the house and then come back for his bike,” Lydia offered, and I said that was a good idea.

“Be careful!” I yelled.

We walked/rode back out of the woods, Elvis rubbing his neck and crying, me rotating between “Oh, buddy,” and “It’s okay, you’re okay, you’ll be fine,” and “I love you, little man,” until we were out of the woods.  It was still early, and we passed others running and walking along the trail.  He kept touching his fingers to his bloody lip.  Each time he did this and saw the blood, he cried harder.  Almost back to the house, Elvis spoke for the first time since his fall.

“My tooth,” he muffled.  I stopped.

“Your what?”  I asked, bending over to look closer at his face.  When he fell and looked up at me, I could have sworn he was missing a tooth, but maybe he had recently lost one and I just mis-remembered?

“I lost my tooth,” he cried again.

“Let me see, open up a little so I can get a good look.”  His mouth was bloody; there was a dark gap where one of his front teeth had been.  “Oh no, Elvis, do you remember if you had already lost a baby tooth, or was that one of your adult teeth?”

“It was one of my adult teeth,” he said, his big brown eyes watery.  I couldn’t remember — had he lost his top teeth already, or was it the bottom that were permanent?

“It’s okay, buddy, it’ll be okay.  We’ll figure out what to do.”

So began our weekend.

His other front tooth was loose, too, and I urged him not to play with it.  The next morning, I woke up congested — tell-tale symptoms of a sinus infection brewing — and Henry seemed a little congested himself.  Elvis threw up twice.  Concussion?  Probably.  I took him to the dentist.  She confirmed that they were, in fact, his baby teeth (thank God), and his permanent teeth had not suffered any damage from his fall.  Whew.  Crisis averted.

The boys and I enjoyed some time with my mom Friday morning, and after I put Henry down for his nap, I fell asleep on the couch.  For almost three hours.  Henry slept just as long, and Elvis put together four puzzles, colored two pages of a coloring book and some posters, and played with his Legos.  Other than a fat lip and a couple of scrapes, Elvis seemed back to normal.

I had some girlfriends over Friday evening, and after they left, Henry proceeded to wake up every 90 minutes until 6 a.m. the next morning, thoroughly congested and struggling to breathe.  My sinus symptoms worsened throughout the night.  When it comes to sicknesses, my tendency is to head to the doctor’s office at the first sign of symptoms rather than let it hang on for days and days, but I’ve been trying to break myself of this.  Most things need to run their course, and I’ve paid enough co-pays to know this now.  I spent Saturday hunting on Pinterest for home remedies to treat my sinus issues and Hank’s chest congestion.

Me and Henry at the football game a couple weeks ago

By Saturday night, Henry’s breathing was frighteningly forced.  I called my friend Julie who came over with some essential oils, and even though I had tried steaming up the bathroom, a humidifier, chamomile oil and peppermint oil, honey, and hot tea, we gave her treatment one last shot.  Still no major improvement.  So, it was off to the emergency room.

You know, of course, that my husband was out of town this weekend, as he is every weekend in the fall.  This is how it goes, tragically funny how these things happen.  The last major incident was Elvis’s kidney stone back in March, which set me further down the spiral of an unconfirmed mental breakdown.

As soon as I scooped Elvis up off of the bike path, I knew why I had to call off my weekend poetry retreat.  And when the sinus congestion clogged up my nasal cavities, and when Henry’s chest heaved and wheezed on Saturday night, I knew why I was home this weekend.  It felt like God providentially said, “Nope, not this time,” two weeks ago.  “Nope, you need to be with your kids.  You need to be Mom.  The poetry can wait.”

I don’t always feel this way, of course.  I leap at opportunities to get away, and I think that’s healthy for me and for my kids.  But other than a smidgen of envy at the laughing, eating faces of my poet friends, I felt no regret about being home this weekend.  Disappointment, yes.  Disappointed that we had to spend it sick, nursing fat lips and receiving breathing treatments at 11 p.m., cancelling plans to watch the Browns with my husband at the stadium.

But I was here.  I was present.  I was available to snuggle my loved ones on the couch, to watch Despicable Me and Cars 2 and several dozen episodes of Looney Tunes, and to rest.  Sometimes that is exactly what we need.  Exactly where we’re supposed to be.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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