By Susan McCorkindale, DC Metro Moms Blog
My ten year-old, Cuyler, peers at me from beneath his thick, brown bangs, bites off a whopping hunk of his Sausage McGriddle, and mumbles, “You think dad will ever be normal again?”
“I hope so,” I respond, surprised at both the directness of his question and my own stupidity for ordering a sausage, egg and bacon biscuit. Breakfasting at McDonald’s is a new thing for us. I don’t really enjoy it, but since it usually tricks him into talking to me — I think all the lard lubricates his vocal chords — we usually go once a week, whether my stomach can stand it or not.
“You hope so?” he snaps, flipping his bangs out of his eyes so fast his head bounces against the wall behind our booth. Ooh. Even with all his hair, that had to hurt.
“Yes. No. I want dad to be normal again.” He rubs the back of his head, annoyed. “I want everything to be normal again.”
“Me, too,” I reply, refraining from offering to get him ice lest he inadvertently injure another body part in response to such a “baby-ish” suggestion. “But you know, Cuy,” I continue cautiously, “Normal is a relative term.”
A world-class, Bart Simpson-wicked smile spreads slowly across his face. “You said we don’t have any normal relatives.”
“Nice one, wiseguy. I’ve taught you well. But seriously. Normal can change. Remember when you had really long hair?” About a year ago, my kid was vying with Troy Polamalu for who could stuff more hair into a football helmet. Troy’s is curlier and longer, so he won. But Cuy came close.
“Having long hair was normal for you, right?” He nods. “And then one day, you got tired of it and cut it. And then short hair became your new normal. See what I mean?”
He considers his greasy hash brown for a moment and then, much to my relief, returns it to its equally greasy wrapper. Whew. Pepcid Complete I keep in the car. Immodium AD? Definitely not.
“So if dad can’t farm,” he asks quietly, “you think he’ll do his work on his computer?”
“That’s the plan. He’ll do less, and manage more.”
He picks at his placemat. I sip my coffee and watch his sweet freckled cheeks turn pink. I’ve learned to wait to acknowledge my younger son’s crying, a true achievement for the woman whose picture graces the Urban Dictionary entries for both “Oral Diarrhea” and “Emotional Martyr.”
“So that’s the new normal then, right?” He rolls his wet eyes and shoots me the trademark ‘tude it seems all fifth graders master by mid-October. “Cancer takes my outside dad, and makes him an inside dad. Just like that.”
Just like that, I think to myself.
I take a breath so deep it feels like I’ve inhaled the whole left side of the breakfast menu. The glare of the fluorescent lights and the singular McDonalds stink are making me nauseous. But what’s worse is watching as a single, perfect tear slides down my son’s left cheek, and then as he wipes it away with a swipe so fierce it actually leaves a scratch.
“You might want to think about cutting your nails,” I offer, handing him a tissue.
Clutching the Kleenex, he considers his fingers for a moment. “Me, with short fingernails?”
“You, with short, clean fingernails.” I suggest.
He cocks his head and gives me a small smile, the scratch filling and highlighting the red in his Marine Corps hoodie. “Could be a whole new normal for me.”
“Could be, dude.” I reach out and brush his bangs out of his eyes. “And who knows? Maybe you’ll even get another haircut.”
The words hang there as he ever so slowly places my empty coffee cup, his drained container of chocolate milk, all our napkins, wrappers, and receipt on the tray. “You know mom,” he says, before turning to walk to the trash, “there’s only so many new normals a person can take at one time.”
Now it’s my turn to try not to cry. He gives me an inch and I, typical mom, go for a mile. Of course he can have his hair. Hell, I don’t care if it’s butt length by next football season. I don’t care if he highlights it, perms it, or has it done up in dreads. If it makes him happy, I’m happy.
“I was just kidding, Cuy,” I whisper as we walk out the door. “Short nails and long hair are the way to go.” He looks at me like yeah, right. “Really. I think you should give Troy Polamalu a run for his money.”
I nod, and he hops in the car, happy. He’s right, of course. Too many new normals will make you nuts. Not to mention in need of a kick-ass antacid. And a much healthier place to have breakfast.
This is an original post from the DC Metro Moms Blog (http://www.dcmetromoms.com). Susan McCorkindale writes about life on the funny, and sometimes not so funny, farm on her daily blog, or just buy the book, “Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl.”