Now What Am I Supposed to Do?

 Vol. 10, No. 19

May 9-15, 2002

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A mother’s journal … As I would have written it if I’d had the time.
story by Sonia Linebaugh; illustrations by Betsy Kehne

Sure, my days as a mother have had all the usual: first steps, schools, emergency room visits, dates, boyfriends, girlfriends, broken hearts, college, jobs and so on. But the moments that define my motherhood are a little different …

November 24, 1971, Agaña, Guam
We brought baby Darin home this morning. Dave drove the MG more slowly than usual. The baby was sleeping when we got home. We put him in his little travel crib and just looked at this beautiful miracle.

“Now what are we supposed to do?” I asked Dave.

He deferred back to me, “How am I supposed to know? Mothers know these things.”

“I don’t know anything. I guess we’ll just wait until he cries.”

January 24, 1972, Somewhere in Tennessee
The baby sleeps while we’re driving. Wakes up every time we stop at a motel. We’ve been driving for six days now, four of them in blizzard conditions but this morning was the only scary time. I was driving while Dave slept. The baby slept in the little back seat wedged in with packages. It was raining. At a merge, a tractor-trailer passed me on the right. Suddenly he was way too close. There was a scraping sound. Dave woke up and made me follow the truck to get a license number. No luck. I wasn’t up to driving that fast. We stopped a state trooper and told him what happened. Showed him the tire tracks on the side of the little yellow MG.

“Truckers are the safest drivers on the road,” he told us without sympathy.

The baby slept on until we got to a cheap motel. Dave plans to trade the car in for one of those new vans.

January 26, 1972, York, Pennsylvania
We rang my parents’ doorbell. We had been gone for three years.

“You look so old,” said my mother. “Why is the baby wrapped in a shawl?”

“I am older. I’m a woman now,” I replied. “The baby wet through his snowsuit a little while ago. I didn’t have anything else warm to put on him.”

July 21, 1973, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Baby Stephanie and I came home this morning. As we got in the door, the neighbors brought Darin home. He wouldn’t talk to me or look at his beautiful sister. The neighbors left. Dave insisted that he had to report to the base. The baby is so little. Darin is looking stormy. I am so tired. Now what?

August 15, 1975, Norfolk, Virginia
Darin and Stephanie curled up against me as we read The Pokey Little Puppy. I’m so lucky to have these warm little children to love and cuddle while Dave is all alone on a ship off the coast of Scotland. It’s hectic trying to manage the children and a job, a college course and an old house. Luckily we can make supper out of two hamburgers and a small order of fries at McDonald’s.

December 26, 1976, Denver, Colorado
It was a nice Christmas despite the fact that a broken pipe in the motel room above flooded our room and our Christmas tree. We spent the morning moving down the hall. Stephanie and Darin thought it was great fun.

March 4, 1977, Denver
The hamster is getting to be an escape expert. He climbed out of the aquarium that is on top of a bookshelf three times in the last two days. The kids now call for popcorn as soon as they see the empty cage. When the smell wafts out into the room, the hamster appears with nose twitching. We make a popcorn trail into a bucket and capture him every time.

May 9, 1977, Denver
I’m never taking the children to see their grandparents again! We all drove to Ohio, where Dave had work at the parent company. I took the kids on to York, Pennsylvania. Dave planned to join us so we could return home together, but he had to fly to Denver to cope with some emergency. I was left to drive back with the kids.

As we approached Chicago after two days on the road, the car began losing acceleration. I pulled off, let it cool down, started up again. I stayed calm … Assured the kids that we would get the car fixed once we made it to Aunt Susan’s. We got the car fixed. A mechanic back in York had failed to grease something when I had a tune up. That was good since all I had was a credit card and $20.

The hamster escaped continually. At Susan’s we kept it in a trash can with a weight on top. I put it in the glove box when we were in the car. The kids and I sang corny songs, played road games, stopped to eat and stretch every few hours.

As we left St. Louis, things deteriorated. The prospect of four more long days in the car faced us. Darin and Stephanie squabbled in the back seat. “He’s looking at me.” “She’s taking up too much room.” “When are we going to be home?”

I pulled over to the side of the highway and covered my face with my hands. A tap came on the window. It was a state trooper.

“Anything the matter, madam? I saw you pull over pretty quickly.”

“I’m driving to Colorado with these children. My husband was supposed to be with us … I don’t know how I can do it.” It all came out.

The officer put his head in the window and looked at the kids. Younger than me. Still in his mid-20s. But the kids didn’t know that. He had the big hat, the serious face.

“Kids,” he said quietly. “Your mom has a long drive. I want you two to cooperate and not give her any trouble.”

There was no sound from the back seat. I thanked the officer.

There was no sound from the back seat for several days. I thanked the officer many times over.
We got to the final push. Two hours to go. I could just about make it.

“Mom, I don’t feel so good …” The sound and smell of vomiting came from the back seat. I pulled over, without any words cleaned things up as well as I could without water. Then I just drove. Dave was home. I left the kids in the car, walked into his arms and cried.

December 7, 1978, Streetsboro, Ohio
Darin was sick this morning, so he was to spend the day home with Edie, the babysitter. When I got home from my college classes, Edie told me what happened. She had watched for but hadn’t seen Stephanie get on the school bus. Edie sent her son to look for Stephanie and found her out in the snow behind our house. If Darin wasn’t going to school, she wasn’t going either! Edie would have none of that. Her son drove Steph to school and turned her over to her kindergarten teacher.

September 20, 1979, Kent, Ohio
It’s much easier now that we live right by the university. After school, the kids walk over to the print shop or the sculpture studio to wait for me. I taught them how to mix plaster. They like to add bugs, stones and branches to make small environmental pieces. Just like Mom.

May 10, 1981, Kent
Parents must be crazy. We spent the night in a school gym with 100 Indian Guides and Indian Maidens and their parents. We all had sleeping bags on the floor. Stephanie — who can sleep any where, any time — was the only one to get any rest. Basketball, swimming and, most importantly, an entire night of Star Wars movies filled the clamorous night for everyone else. What were we thinking?

June 23, 1982, Kent
I took my eight young sculpture students, including Darin and Stephanie, on a campus bus out to the stadium and back so we could look at Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Wood Shed. Then the kids created their own contemporary (and temporary) environmental artworks out of wood, stones and mounded earth. We invited parents to an opening. The kids explained the concepts of mass, volume and visual interest. I think they knew what they were talking about.

May 5, 1984, Silver Spring, Maryland
Darin has bad bike karma. He had two bikes stolen in Kent. Today, two boys came onto our carport and stole his latest bike. I caught a glimpse and chased them down the hill, pulling a jacket off one boy. We later found the mangled bike at the entrance to the park. I hope the boy will have to explain to his mother about the missing jacket. Stephanie’s bike was sitting next to Darin’s, as usual. She has never had a bike stolen.

April 15, 1985, Silver Spring, Maryland
We spent the past weekend with a group of Sea Explorers at Point Lookout. The teenage sailors tipped over the 28-foot boat in rough water near shore. They got it righted as Dave and I came upon them. We sent them to the campground by car to get dry clothes while we sailed the boat toward the dock in the high winds. Rangers lectured them because girls were using the hairdryers in both restrooms. Then the kids had to ask them to rescue Dave and me from where the boat had blown into the marsh. Soon after, the camper blew open and our sleeping bags got wet. We spent the evening in a laundromat. Next day we got a broken tiller repaired by a man who used to be a Sea Explorer. A great time was had by all.

April 2, 1989, Fairhaven Cliffs, Maryland
Darin asked if he could have a few friends over for a bonfire on the beach. Sure. He’s a responsible kid. Just a few friends. Word spread. It seemed as though the whole school showed up. Neighbors called to complain. Dave was conveniently out of town. I went down the steps to the big beach.

“Hi, kids,” I started. “I’m Darin’s mother and I substitute teach at Southern. You all know me. I just want to tell you that while you’re behaving quite well, the police are on their way and it’s time for you to leave.”

It was amazing. They went away. Darin and I talked about the future.

May 8, 1989, Fairhaven Cliffs
I called the school to tell them Stephanie won’t be in today. The secretary didn’t quite believe me when I told her that Steph had to stay home with Sir William, a bereaved goose whose brother had been killed by a raccoon the night before. But it was true. Sir William cried and carried on all day. Neighbors stopped by to see what was wrong. After that Sir William bonded with Stephanie, causing no end of trouble.

June 20, 1990, Fairhaven Cliffs
Darin lectured Dave and me all the way home from Chesapeake Beach to Fairhaven Cliffs. “Don’t you know the parents are supposed to come pick up the kids when we get into trouble. The kids aren’t supposed to pick up the parents.” We were sailing the boat to Plum Point, but there was no wind and we were lucky to make the six miles to Chesapeake Beach.

December 13, 1990, Fairhaven Cliffs
Darin is just back from Army boot camp and met up with his old friends to play touch football. He had gotten slammed on the ground, the friends told me, and he wasn’t acting quite right. I gave him Arnica Montana “for trauma” and called the family doctor.

Between more phone consultations with the doctor and phone calls to Dave — who was traveling on business — Darin’s worried friends, Stephanie and I spent the evening watching a 19-year-old who couldn’t remember that he had ever been in the Army, who cried over the pile of Army clothes on his bedroom floor, who cried over his unfamiliar closely shaven head, who cried because he couldn’t remember why he couldn’t remember. It was after midnight by the time we went for a drive, talking about all the familiar places as we passed, and, bit by bit, his memory returned — except for the minutes immediately surrounding the fall.

December 23, 1991, Fairhaven Cliffs
Stephanie, a girl who said that she would never leave home after all our years of wandering, has gone off by herself to Sweden and Norway to visit friends who were once exchange students at her high school. It’s been almost four months. She’s living on a sheep farm above the Arctic Circle. She’s so brave.

August 8, 1992, Fairhaven Cliffs
Darin bought a 38-ton, 53-foot, ferro-cement sailboat in Galesville. He just sailed it down to St. Mary’s to live on while he finishes college. After a trip filled with diesel fumes, grounding on a sandbar, loss of engine power with subsequent drifting about in the dark and second loss of power with steam scalding a crewman, the boat finally made it into the St. Mary’s River, where it had to be towed to its berth in Smith Creek. The neat thing about this phase of parenting is that we only hear about these adventures after they’re over.

April 2, 1995, Fairhaven Cliffs
For the past few years, we have been a mere way-station in our children’s lives. They come rushing in with a cadre of friends; they buzz about and then rush off to their own lives again. We accustom ourselves to the rise and fall of the energy level. It has a nice rhythm.

January 20, 1997, Fairhaven Cliffs
After her graduation from St. Mary’s, Stephanie signed up for a 10-month stint with Americorps. She’s now in New Roads, Louisiana, where her team of 12 is sleeping on the floor of a church hall and showering and cooking at a firehall a block away. The stress level is high. We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls.

September 19, 1998, Fairhaven Cliffs
Darin leaves for Norway in a few days. The Papa who Stephanie stayed with has hurt his knees and can’t bring in the sheep. Darin quit his job and packed his bag as soon as he heard the news. Stephanie offered to help with money. The children have become adults.

May 12, 2002, Fairhaven Cliffs
Darin and Stephanie continue to edge their way in and out of our lives, but I no longer ask, What am I supposed to do now? I love them and let them be. I have my own plans.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly