6:45 am. That’s when I get everybody up. Well, my sons at least. My nine-year-old daughter and I have an understanding. I don’t pester her, and she comes down when she wants. We leave at 8:10 am. She usually shows up around 8:03.
But it all starts at 6:45 am. My seven-year-old son is quick to rise. All I have to do is say, Good morning! Time to get up! and flip the light on. He jumps up like he was never asleep. He dresses quickly. The first one downstairs gets to pick the TV show. He really wants to pick the TV show. My almost-four-year-old son is slow to rise. He rolls around on his Hot Wheels sheets, moaning. But I’m sleepy, he says, over and over. Then the questions start. Why is it morning? Because the sun’s up. Where’s Daddy? In the shower. Then, then one I dread. “Is it a Mommy day?”
I swallow. “No, buddy. Today’s a school day.”
There are tears, some kicking, some hiding under the pumpkin blanket that’s supposed to be a Halloween decoration but is his favorite so it’s out all year. I change the subject. “Do you want to wear your space ship shirt today? Or your fire truck shirt?”
The seven-year-old barrels in. “Where’s my volcano book?”
It’s his favorite book at the moment. I’d better find it, fast. Before there’s an eruption. Not the exploding kind, that’s not the seven-year-old’s style. The oozing kind, the kind that could bury the whole morning.
No two volcanoes erupt the same way. Each one is unique, like fingerprints. Or snowflakes. It’s all in the geology. How they’re built. That said, there are two main types of eruptions. Effusive and eruptive. Effusive eruptions are ones where the lava flows, glowing orange and viscous, like maple syrup. Think Kilauea. Eruptive eruptions are the ones where the volcano blows itself apart. Think Mount St. Helens. Or Mount Pinatubo.
Effusive eruptions are the photogenic ones. Mother nature at work, and all that. Eruptive eruptions hurl toxic gas and ash and debris into the atmosphere, turning day into night.
Daddy will not know where the volcano book is. That’s not his job. So the seven-year-old doesn’t ask him. Daddy’s job is to Go To Work. He words hard. It’s a stressful job, full of endless meetings and travel to far-flung offices — Singapore, Dubai, London — for more meetings. He can’t be leaving all those meetings to bring a kid to the doctor. Or a forgotten backpack to school. Or dig for the only-one-that-will-help Paw Patrol Band-Aid.
I got paid once too. It was a smaller paycheck, but it had its benefits.
7:10 am. The almost-four-year-old is dressed. The seven-year-old’s volcano book has been located under a pile of coloring pages and the nine-year-old’s abandoned attempts at origami. Yesterday’s diversions. The seven-year-old has picked a TV show. The almost-four-year-old hates it. At least he’s spewing hot lava on his brother, not me. I’ve got to make breakfast.
I throw out the usual options. Cinnamon toast, Cheerios, toaster waffles, bagel and cream cheese. I hope they don’t ask for scrambled eggs, because if they ask, I’ll have to make it. It’s healthy and I don’t want to say no to something healthy. But it really slows me down.
The orders come in. Cinnamon toast and Cheerios.
While the toast is toasting, I make lunches. Turkey and cheese for the nine-year-old, hummus and chips for the seven-year-old. Pretzels. Yogurt. And baby carrots no one will eat but I include so I can at least say I tried. The toast pops up. I slap on butter, shake on cinnamon sugar. Milk, Cheerios. I call the boys over.
“Can I have a straw?” asks the seven-year-old.
“I want to blow bubbles in my milk.”
It’s the bubbles, you see. Bubbles determine how a volcano will erupt. Magmas contain lots of different gases. Water, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride. As magma rises from the depths, these gases form bubbles. Some magmas resist this bubble formation. Others form bubbles easily, like seltzer water.
The more bubbles the magma has, the bigger the explosion.
7:30 am. Daddy says his goodbyes as he stuffs his laptop into his black nylon laptop bag, his phone into his pocket, and his feet into his brown oxfords. There are some tears. There are always some tears. The almost-four-year-old can’t bear to say goodbye to Daddy. He loves Daddy more than me; he tells me that daily. The seven-year-old explained it to me once (he also prefers Daddy, so he gets it). Daddy’s the fun one, he told me. You’re the one with all the rules.
I’m the one who wakes them up. Gets them dressed, drives them to school, picks them up. Takes them to swimming and gymnastics and karate and soccer. Makes them eat their chicken and at least try their peas, and controls access to their treats.
Daddy wrestles with them and lets them eat Goldfish crackers in the car and cookies at bedtime.
Someone has to do the planning and managing and enforcing and rushing. I understand that. What I don’t understand is why everyone thought I wanted the job. There was never even an interview.
Daddy tosses out one more goodbye wave, and closes the door behind him.
7:42 a.m. The Mommy Day question comes up again. The almost-four-year-old goes to daycare on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are Mommy Days, but of course he’s too little to understand the days of the week. It’s not the tantrum I dread. It’s telling him Mommy has to work today. Is it work? Working moms certainly wouldn’t call it work. Stay-at-home moms would call it indulgent, selfish even. Maybe writing really is just a hobby.
I brace myself. “It’s a school day, buddy.” The words catch in my throat.
Predicting a volcano is kind of like predicting the weather. Volcanologists have lots of monitoring technology at their fingertips. They tease out a volcano’s history, geology, and VEI (those bubbles again), and make forecasts. But it’s not an exact science. Sometimes they think it’s going to rain, and it turns out to be sunny. Or they think it’s going to be sunny and then …
A whole lot of people are in danger.
Maybe it’s not like weather at all.
Maybe no one can really predict anything. There was no way my husband could have predicted that he’d be running his own division, working long hours, traveling the globe. The only prediction twentysomethings make is whether they’ll have fun on this weekend’s pub crawl (forecast: sunny).
There was no way I could have predicted that my boss would welcome me back from maternity leave (“Three months,” he said, followed by “My wife only took two …”) with the words, Take it easy. No need to jump back into things. Your fill-in (replacement) is doing a bang-up job. You must be exhausted. Just sit back. Someone else is going to take on that project. Someone who can work late hours, weekends. You? You just enjoy that baby. There was no way I could have predicted how hard it would be to swallow the rising bubbles of fury (forecast: danger).
Exploding would have felt good (so many bubbles). Great, even, to spew toxic ash and debris, to darken a few days. But it would’ve left me blown to pieces. So I made my exit look effusive, photogenic. Mother nature at work, and all that.
8:00 am. It’s cold today. I will have to find sweatshirts, and then I will have to make a convincing case for wearing them. The odds are not in my favor. Especially since Daddy didn’t wear a sweatshirt to work.
I call upstairs to the nine-year-old. I’m up, she yells down to me. I wait a moment to make sure she’s actually up. She is. I can hear her growing feet on the upper stairs. She rounds the landing, clambers down the last of the stairs. My breath catches at the sight of her. My daughter. Long blond hair, colorful jumble of clothes. Sunshine and rainbows. She was a surprise. I never could have predicted that either.
Now we’re down to it. Backpacks are double-checked. Homework, completed. Reading logs and planners, signed. Lunch boxes, packed. I stuff sweatshirts in each backpack; I’m not up to the battle now. I have made sure they have sweatshirts to wear, should they choose.
Sometimes I have to flow, even when I want to explode.
Sometimes, volcanoes are both effusive and eruptive. After an eruptive eruption — the blowing of one’s top — there can be effusive eruptions, causing new dome growth. And after effusive eruptions — the oozing red hotness — there can be fire fountaining, a type of eruptive eruption. In both cases, all that can really be said is that landscapes are changed.
My husband navigated the new landscape just fine. Maybe it’s the way he’s built. Maybe it’s those bubbles again. He’s always supportive, of course. He gets to be. People (bosses) expect different things from men who become fathers. Or rather, they expect nothing different.
8:10 a.m. We pull down the driveway, right on time.
8:24 a.m. The nine-year-old and seven-year-old jump out of the car and bounce into school, six minutes to spare.
8:37 a.m. I walk the almost-four-year-old into daycare, which he calls school so he can feel big like his brother and sister. He gives me one of those arms-and-legs hugs that wrap completely around me (he does love me). He holds on tight, and I hold on tight, too. It’s restorative. I break it regretfully.
“Okay buddy, time for Mommy to go to work.”
His brown eyes look up at me. “What do you do at work?”
Kilauea’s Eastern Rift Zone erupted continuously, mostly effusively though with some fire fountaining, from May 3, 2018, until August 7, 2018. Once the thick, glowing, burning, destructive lava cooled, there were approximately 875 acres of brand new land. It’s bare basalt, for now. But, in time, the new vegetation will come. First, moss and lichen will spread through the cracks. Then ferns will sprout, green frond by green frond across the black rock. Eventually the moss and lichen and ferns will create the fertile soil needed anchor flowering plants and, later, trees.
What do I do, my almost-four-year-old wants to know?
I take a deep breath. “I explore new ground.”
Susy Churchill says
This is so emotionally true – I loved it.
Erin Halden says
Thank you for reading, Susy!
Jaya Avendel says
Very sweet story, with all the emotions so wonderfully displayed. I love seeing the parents as gentle and kind here, without the hints of impatience so many parents have nowadays.
Erin Halden says
Thanks for reading Jaya! And thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!
Beth Evans says
I loved this story. I loved the kids and the parents.
Erin Halden says
Thanks for reading Beth! I’m glad you liked the story! If you liked this one, you might like another Short Fiction Break story I wrote called Pool Day https://shortfictionbreak.com/pool-day/ . Thanks!
Excellent! No gimmicks – just clear covering of the territory of motherhood – and searching for ne ground.
Erin Halden says
Thanks for reading Karen!
I had to smile while reading this story! Your details create a clear picture of the balancing, negotiating, and emotions of motherhood. I love the analogy of a volcano throughout the piece. Great story!
Ray Kelly says
Hi Erin – I really enjoyed your story. I have a pile of work related reading to plow through and was glad of a sneaky little short fiction break.
Your writing was crisp and concise and a joy to read. Any of us who have had children – mine are a little older now – can totally relate to the experiences you shared so expertly.
You have made my day
William Marcus says
Erin, such a clever way to tell a story. The volcano stats interwoven with the busy morning getting the kids ready for a new day. So nice to see Mommy and Daddy working together. Great story!