As was customary, I deposited Elmo into My Playroom which was just beside where I was going to have my weekly massage. There was a time when Elmo's eyes shone at the prospect of spending an hour or so at that place – toys,tikes,books and all-- so their parents could get some real shopping done. This time, however, Elmo was on the verge of crying. I had reprimanded him for touching everything in the mall he was not supposed to touch: stair rails, elevator rails, the surfaces of kiosks.
And then I remembered, these days I had been pretty hard on the boy: prepare for school on time,fix your bag,do your homework, brush your teeth, finish your food, etcetera etcetera. See he had not been exhibiting much enthusiasm for any of those things. The only things that perked him up were SpongeBob Square Pants and the Transformers. At six forty five in the morning, when every body is running late, a mom forgets her resolution not to nag or yell. What diplomacy? The bell is about to ring!
This afternoon Elmo's last words to me as he entered the playground were “Wag kang matagal ha?” (Dont be long, please) Poor baby, did he feel he was getting too big to be in that place full of toddlers? I knew he had wanted to be left in the internet cafe upstairs, where his Ate Sophie preferred to be left nowadays so she could tend to her farm and her pets on Facebook. But it was too cold there, he said, and they were fighting besides. That's another thing. Not too long ago Sophie, 9 and Elmo,7 were inseparable and got along just fine. Now they got on each other's nerves. Each wanted to spend time with me without bringing along the other. Elmo was especially resentful that I'd been spending more time with Sophie (okay, it's true.) I brought her to the office yesterday, I went to Bataan with her last Friday, took a boat and went swimming and kayaking on the beach. And on Sunday she would be accompanying me again at a christening in Bulacan. (At this stage shes the most manageable. Not yet a teenager yet not anymore a child you have to mind all the time).
And so I got my massage, just a shiatsu on my chronically painful back . Thirty minutes later I was done and observed Elmo from outside. He was on a bouncing ball,amusing himself. The other children were huddled somewhere else. I waved, and when he saw me, he jumped up and raced to the door at once. I gave the claim stub to the clerk and noticed that 1. Elmo could not stand straight 2. His nose was bleeding. What's up, I asked. He said he needed to go to the boys' room. I waited for him at the magazine stand at the corner. I figured such a small thing, going to the washroom unaccompanied, could be a big badge of accomplishment for my boy. When he went out he was still bleeding. Yet he was talking about french fries, and being torn between sour cream and barbecue. I pressed a tissue onto his nose.
I took his little hand (filthy, I thought) and regretted that I forgot my wet wipes or alcohol. When I looked at his face, though, I clutched his hand a little tighter. What thoughts were going into this boy's mind? Among the four he is the closest to his father. Among the four he is the one who always wants to be at the other house because of unlimited TV and unlimited play time. Among the four, and being the youngest, he is the most clueless about why what happened did happen. This is going to be the third Christmas of my new life and I am thriving, I am finally in control, running my household and my family unchallenged. I am supermom not DESPITE the fact that I am single. I am supermom BECAUSE I am single. But did my little boy know the separation was it not his fault and that I love him fiercely, nevertheless?
We claimed Sophie from the cafe at the third floor, and then she wanted to have fries, too. It was too early for dinner and I had cooked something at home; this was only merienda. She settled for sour cream, he asked for barbecue. She asked to taste his fries and he asked to take a few from her pack. And just like that, brother and sister were okay. Oh, children. Did they know that someday when I'm gone all they would have would be each other? I told them the story of the mother who died from a crushed heart. The doctors could not tell what caused it. But it was because her two children, both of whom she loved so much, were enemies. If you want my heart to remain healthy, I warned Sophie and Elmo, then you'd have to make allowances for and love each other. They knew it was fiction but nodded anyway – and shared a cup of Sprite while they wolfed down their fries. What joy.
Elmo's nose had stopped bleeding by then,but since it was the weekend, they had to spend the night at their father's,and I was dropping them off there first. What will you do when you arrive, I asked them. Take a bath. Put on clean clothes. Make a Christmas list (they had been saving the entire year and both had respectable amounts in their junior savings accounts). Next Friday, I announced as the tricycle roared noisily into dusk, Elmo and I will go shopping for his Christmas clothes and I will help him get his gifts for family and friends. Just Elmo and me,okay? I told Sophie.
I looked back at Elmo. Finally, for the first time, his eyes shone.