Brimley family on a walk after Marjorie became a single mom

Austin and the Kittens

A few weeks ago, I took Austin out to dinner. Claire had a play date and Tommy was home with Grandpa Tom, so it was just the two of us. I let him choose the restaurant, and he decided that we should get pizza. It was a beautiful night, so we picked a table outside.

We sat down and Austin looked at me without saying anything.

I started to ask him about school. “Do you like the other kids in your class this year?”

“Yes,” Austin said, simply.

Then, I waited for him to say more. Instead, he just looked at the sky.

“Well, are you learning interesting things in second grade?” I asked.

“Yes,” Austin said. Again, he said nothing else.

“What sort of things are you learning?”

“Math and reading,” he replied.

I continued to pepper him with questions, but only got one or two word responses. Sometimes Austin is like this, and when he is, it reminds me of how Shawn would be at times. I remember often looking at Shawn as he gazed at the clouds on a beautiful fall day from the hammock.   When I’d sit down next to him, I’d ask him what he was thinking about, and he’d often say, “nothing.”

I always thought that was so strange. I mean, I am always thinking about something. But for Shawn, he really could just be immersed in the moment.

Austin can be the same way. He wasn’t bored at our dinner. He just wasn’t feeling talkative. He was looking at the clouds and just sitting in the moment with his mom.

After a while, I decided to relax and look at the clouds too. They were beautiful. The light of the sunset was catching them and they glowed above us.

Finally, we got our pizza and started eating. As we were finishing, one of Austin’s friends from school appeared. “Hi Austin!” she said, and then she continued to talk and talk. She said more in two minutes than Austin had said in an hour, but he seemed totally entertained by her. In that way, Austin reminded me of how Shawn was always happy to have me chatter on next to him.

Austin’s friend told us about the pet store around the corner where they had new kittens in the window. “One has orange stripes and it is so cute! You can hold them when the store is open.”

Austin immediately wanted to go and see the kittens and so we walked around the corner. The store was closed, but I held him up so he could see them. “They’re so cute!” he said as he watched the kittens climb all over each other.

He continued to look at the kittens and didn’t say anything else. I looked at his face, trying to imagine what he was thinking. Maybe, I figured, he was just thinking about kittens.

But this time, I was wrong.

“Mom,” he said, “do you think the kittens get sad that they aren’t with their mom and dad anymore?”

I didn’t quite know how to answer this. Before I could say anything, he said, “because Frankie seems really happy even though she isn’t with her parents.” (Frankie is his friend Grant’s dog.)

The thing about questions like these is that you never have time to prepare. So I just muddle through them. “Well,” I said, “I think that animals are different from people. But I think for animals and for people, we can still love the people who we don’t see anymore, like your Dad. And we can still be happy because we are loved by the people who are around us now.”

He didn’t say anything, of course. He just looked at me.

“You know,” I said, “I bet Frankie feels very loved by Grant and Grant’s parents and even by you. Just like you feel very loved in our house, right?”

He smiled at me and took my hand.

And we walked home in happy silence together.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.