Time is ticking.
The boys need help.
And once again, I’m left feeling like a complete idiot.
I glance at the clock: 5:05 p.m.
Time to start dinner.
I reluctantly tear myself free from the cyber world I’ve emerged myself in for the past 30 minutes and head into the kitchen.
From the kitchen, I can see both boys, heads bent, brows furrowed, as they attempt to make sense of the foreign language that we commonly call Math.
My oldest son looks pale and extremely agitated.
I tread cautiously for I never really know how I will be received when approaching him nowadays.
“Trouble?” I ask.
“I just don’t get it!” he snarls in frustration and pushes his papers and book aside in disgust.
A thin layer of skin rips free from my heart at the look on his face. He has a Geometry test the next day and I know he really wants to do well so he can maintain the A- that he’s worked so very hard to earn this semester.
“I’m sorry,” I say softly.
And I am sorry. I am sorry that he has to go through this stress. I am sorry that he has to work so hard on a subject that upon first glance looks useless, but actually comes in handy later in life. I am sorry that I can’t take his worry and anxiety from him.
But I’m mostly sorry that I can’t help him get over his learning slump.
My family teases me about how stupid I am when it comes to math – and I laugh along, but they are right. I AM stupid when it comes to math. I simply can not wrap my brain around the concepts and I struggled, and cried and worried all through my scholastic years because I struggled with a subject that many of my peers seemed to understand.
I felt stupid then, and I feel stupid now.
“Why don’t you take a break and help me cook dinner,” I say, trying to soften the blow and tell him, without really telling him, that I understand his situation more than he knows.
He accepts my offer. And we head to the kitchen.
My youngest son looks jealously at us. He too wants to cook, but I already feel like I give him so much of my attention already, that I decline his offer.
I want to spend a few minutes, alone, with my oldest son.
My youngest son grumbles, but I can see he’s not really that upset. He turns his eyes back to his math book, but I can tell his attention is actually on us.
“Take the meat out of the microwave,” I tell my oldest son. “And crumble it into the skillet.”
He follows my instructions, but I can tell his heart is not into it. His emotions are still wrapped up in the various triangles and angles from his assignment.
“Put a little water into the pan and then generously sprinkle some taco seasoning in.”
He begins to stir, and his movements are clumsy. Bits of hamburger meat fly in different directions and he tenses, bracing himself for my criticism.
I repress a sigh and force myself to be patient. “After all,” I tell myself, “how will the boy learn if I don’t teach him.”
I show him a little trick I’ve learned over the years about folding the meat onto itself as opposed to a more traditional stir.
His shoulders relax.
He opens up two cans of Fiesta Cheese soup and pours them into the saucepan, adding one cup of milk. I tell him he’ll have to keep an eye on the soup or it will scorch.
He dutifully stirs.
We do not talk, we do not have to. For once, we aren’t circling each other, waiting for the other to make a sudden, and unapproved, move – we are peacefully coexisting, we are a team.
I savor the moment.
He finishes preparing dinner just as the garage door opens.
My husband is home from work.
I can almost see the moment when my oldest son’s mind exits the kitchen, enters the dining room and settles once more onto his math problems.
I glance at the clock: 5:35 p.m.
I also begin to tense. There isn’t much time for my husband to help the boys with their homework before he will need to leave for band practice.
I swallow my impatience as my husband enters the kitchen. I kiss him hello and watch him as he greets his sons.
He looks tired. It’s been a stressful day. His company server has several viruses and he tells me it was a struggle to access important information.
The adversary has been busy making my husband’s life chaotic.
I feel a momentary pang of anger at the dark force that dares to intrude on our family time, but again, I tamp down on my emotions. There is no time for hissy fits or regrets, the boys need help.
I’m a diplomat as I navigate my husband’s moods. I don’t want him to think he’s being rushed, but at the same time, rushing is necessary.
I fill his plate with crushed chips and scoop hamburger on top. I drizzle a generous helping of cheese sauce on top and place the plate on the bar, next to my oldest son’s math book and homework.
My husband reaches out and tousles my oldest son’s hair and another thin layer of my heart rips away at the sheer tenderness.
He loves his sons so much.
I gently instruct the boys to sit down and get started while I tend to their every need. I make sure they have toppings close at hand: green onions, tomatoes, hot sauce, salsa, sour cream.
They begin talking another language and I watch as they absently lift nachos to their mouths. They chew slowly as they contemplate the problems and I smile as I turn around to make a plate for my youngest son.
I hear them softly debate, and discuss, possible methods and answers.
My youngest son and I sit down, side by side, at the table and I quietly ask him questions about his day.
He eagerly answers my questions and I look at my oldest son as we talk; a flash of regret singes my insides as I wish he would talk to me the same way.
But he is like me in so many ways.
And I understand.
We are private people.
I glance at the clock: 6:00. It is nearly time for my husband to pack up his gear.
He does not like being late, even though the rest of his band members have no problem arriving late, leaving early, and in some cases, forgetting about practice altogether.
I experience another flash of annoyance at the lack of courtesy nowadays.
And on the tail end of that thought I am once again proud of my husband for taking his responsibilities so seriously and for setting such a good example to our boys.
It is now 6:10 – he needs to leave in five minutes if he hopes to make it on time.
My oldest son’s questions have been answered and a genuine smile appears on his face for the first time since I picked him up from school that day.
He can get the rest of the problems on his own, he tells my husband and I look at my youngest son, who’s pale blues eyes are trained on his brother and father.
I know what he is thinking: will his father have enough time to pay attention to his problems?
My husband turns toward us and we exchange smiles. He looks so tired. And I feel guilty for not being to help them with this aspect of their lives once more.
I can tell the time shortage is starting to stress my husband out, but he does a good job of hiding his feelings from my youngest son and they take a few minutes to look over his work.
I send a silent prayer up to God as it appears that my youngest son has finally grasped a concept that has eluded him for weeks.
My husband nods once in satisfaction and pats his son gently on the head. He quickly gathers up his equipment, gives me a quick peck on the lips and heads out the door.
Disaster has been diverted.
My husband has served as super hero once again.
And he makes it to practice on time.