Tommy greeted me breathlessly at the door, screaming “Mama!” and throwing himself in my arms. I was late, again. Teaching was supposed to be a job where you got home early, but that first fall without Shawn there seemed to be too many students who needed my help and too many papers to grade. I was getting home when the sun was low in the sky almost every day.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said as I stepped in the door. Inside were a half-dozen kids and I could hear more upstairs.
I went and greeted my dad, who was reading in the recliner, seemingly oblivious to the noise around him. “How are you?”
“I’m reading this great book on physics,” he said, showing me the title. “It’s fascinating. I’m learning so much.”
“That’s great!” I was trying to sound enthusiastic. “How’d all these kids end up here?”
He explained that one of my friends had needed help, so he got her kids, and then Claire wanted a friend to come over, and then the neighbor kids also dropped by.
Backpacks were littered everywhere and I stepped over an elaborate lego set as I went to the kitchen. My dad went back to reading and I began pulling food out of the fridge to cook for dinner.
As I was chopping broccoli, Claire and her friend bounded into the kitchen. They were both red-cheeked and laughing. “We had the best time!” she said, smiling and showing her braces. “Grandpa Tom let us play on the roof!”
“What?” I barked. Had I heard that right? “He let you play on the roof?”
Immediately Claire recoiled. “He said it was okay!” Quickly, she ran out of the room with her friend.
“Dad!” I shouted, though I didn’t mean for it to be so loud. “Did you let Claire play on the roof?”
“She said it was allowed,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“It’s not allowed!” I shouted, again, and then took a breath so I wouldn’t be so loud. Still, my voice was shrill. “Claire can’t play on the roof. It’s way too dangerous!”
“Okay, okay,” he said, and then quietly added, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I said, returning to the broccoli, though I knew it wouldn’t be fine. I’d need to call the other kid’s parents and apologize for what had happened. What was my dad thinking? What if one of them had fallen? 9-year-olds can’t play on the roof!
I couldn’t be mad. It wasn’t how we operated as a team. I swore under my breath and shook my head, trying to focus on the broccoli.
My dad put down his book and came into the kitchen. Peter, Paul and Mary played “Leaving on a Jet Plane” in the background and he hummed to the music as he got out plates for dinner.
“So how was your day?” my dad asked, as though nothing had transpired.
I told him about the minor dramas of teaching and how I was behind returning a test the students had taken weeks ago. I knew he felt bad for letting the kids play on the roof, if only because it upset me, and chatting with me was his way of conveying that. I played along, describing an elaborate scene in my classroom when a student tried to “make a basket” in the trash can with a partially open bottle of soda and had missed. “I hope he cleaned it up!” my dad said at the end of the story, shaking his head and laughing. I continued on, describing everything from the jammed copier to my chat with the maintenance guy.
I looked at my dad, and he smiled at me. He wasn’t my partner, for that man was gone. But we still did so much together in the home that by that point – many months after Shawn’s death – we had learned how to work and parent together.
“I’ll make some cookies after dinner,” my dad said, and smiled at me with a half smile. I smiled back. We both knew in that moment that everything was forgiven, even without discussing it directly. We were going to keep working together, day by day.
Just like partners do.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington.