“Are we still in Ohio?” Benjamin calls from the back seat.
“Yes, we’re still in Ohio but we’re not in Columbus anymore. We’re almost to Athens. Your Daddy will be there, at the gas station in just a few minutes.”
During our bi-weekly hand-offs I try to mask any emotion other than, of course, pure Mommy delight. I never want Benjamin to feel any guilt for loving his father as much as his mother, for wanting each of us just as badly. We’re meeting at a gas station because even though Benjamin can tell me exactly how to get to his father’s house, deep in the back hills of Athens County, I know I’d get lost on the way back out.
Benjamin sees his Dad before I do and starts howling from the back seat, “Daddy! Daddy!” Their bond is solid now, far beyond anything I could ever control.
I am driving Benjamin down because his father can’t drive up to pick him up anymore, for reasons I can’t get into here – but keeping them apart is no longer an option. So, I bite my lip. I smile, exchange a few nicities. I hand over his bags. I hug my son so tight he screams at me to “let go”. After I do I stand up, walk to my car and drive away. That five minutes feels like fifteen and the only thing that makes it all right is seeing Benjamin’s smiling face from the back seat of his father’s car, with a wave and then a few kisses he blows my way.
I have an absolutely astonishing, bright and happy boy and his father is a part of that equation. It’s taken us a while to get here, but now I can’t imagine a world for Benjamin without his father there.
A few hours later John Bear and I are sipping margaritas on the patio of our favorite Mexican place. He always manages to talk me into a dinner out, even though we should be saving every cent. The little luxuries though, these are what we work for, he says. And it works. Like a charm. We compliment each other in this way. I bring him far enough into my frugal zone and he pulls me out of it just enough.
This tug and pull translates into just about every aspect of our lives. I’m hotheaded, he’s cool. He tires easily, I can never relax. We always end up somewhere in the middle.
“I miss Benjamin already,” I say. He’ll be at his Dad’s for another week this time because school is out again.
“I understand,” he says.
“No you don’t! You love it when he’s gone,” I tease.
“Alright fine, maybe I do enjoy it a little.” Admissions come easily from John. Another thing I love about him – his honesty, almost as raw as mine but not nearly as abrasive. I raise my eyebrow at this and say, “I knew it!”
“Well, come on. It’s not like we get much alone time.”
“True, this is true.”
A few minutes later a couple led by a screaming toddler walks past our patio table. Twenty minutes earlier they had walked in, bright and happy – ready to bravely attempt a family date night, in a crowded restaurant.
John shakes his head in sympathy as the father picks up the boy who is now screaming even louder.
“I used to look at that before differently, now I’m just like ‘Been there, done that.’”
And then, without hesitation, John Bear uttered a phrase I used to tell him, “People without kids just don’t get it.”
I lower my eyes and start sipping my margarita, trying to hide the astonishment on my face. The way he said that, so casually. These are the little things that still manage take me aback. Because they amount to one big, giant, colossal thing – John has completely embraced Benjamin and I, tantrums and all. We are becoming a blended family.
A few minutes after we finish our margaritas we get a phone call that the Cement Marketing offices were on fire. No serious damage. Unless, of course, you’re this door.
Or this window
And now, I know exactly what John Bear will be like when driving me to the hospital when/if I’m ever in labor again.
Me: “Don’t go so fast. You’re going to kill someone.”
John: “I’m trying to get us there as fast as I can and I’m not going to kill anyone.”
Me: “Watch out for that old lady. That poor old lady. She wasn’t doing anything wrong!”
John: “You need to calm down.”
Me: “Do you want a piece of gum?”
John: “No! I do not want a piece of gum.”
Me: “Geez. What’s wrong?”
John: “Nothing. Nothing. I’m just trying to drive. What? Are you laughing? Seriously? Dude, this is serious.”
Me: “I know, but you’re so funny right now. Look at you, you’re driving like a maniac.”
We got there a few minutes later and waited for about twenty minutes before getting confirmation that our front office room, the room with all of our equipment – and, most importantly, my external hard drive with Benjamin’s baby pictures were unscathed. The fire started out on the roof and creeped into the entryway and our entry window, but aside from that no serious damage inside of our office.