This story is by Carol Ann Cook and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Kevin! Where are you? Why won’t you come when I call you? (Dear, Lord, please help me find this boy. He drives me crazy with his constant disappearing acts.) Kevin! Answer me.”
Marie looked through every room of the house; behind the couch, under the beds, hidden by the shower curtain, even curled up in the broom closet, but she could not find her 5-year-old son anywhere. He had a bad habit of vanishing on her and she cried frequently because she didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. In quiet desperation, Marie went outside to sit on the back steps and try to let nature heal and calm her anxious heart. Closing her eyes, she thought back to the day Kevin was born.
He wasn’t due for a couple more weeks, but Kevin decided he wanted to be born NOW! Her birth canal wasn’t quite big enough for him to fit through, so after several hours of contractions, the doctor decided that Marie needed a Cesarean operation. Kevin came out kicking and screaming. Even when they laid him on top of Marie, he wouldn’t stop squirming and crying. Marie was too exhausted to hold him very long so they whisked him away. Even though he was two weeks early, he didn’t need to spend more than a few hours in the NICU before being placed in the hospital nursery.
Marie felt like she had barely taken a deep breath when they brought Kevin in to nurse for the first time. He aggressively attacked her nipple and had he not been swaddled tightly, would have pounded on Marie with his little fists as he suckled his first meal. Even after eating, Kevin had trouble falling asleep. Marie, however, was spent and gladly drifted into a restless sleep as soon as the nurse took Kevin back to the nursery. Marie was happy that no one came to see her that first day. Feed Kevin and sleep – that’s all she was capable of doing. Kevin acted like he couldn’t get enough to eat and wriggled continually.
Joe arrived on the second day, wanting to know when she would be released.
“With the Cesarean surgery, I have to stay five days instead of three to make sure I’m healing properly before I can go home and care for an infant.”
“You had surgery? Was that safe, what with you being pregnant?”
“What a great father he will be,” Marie muttered sarcastically when Joe left. “I’m amazed he even came today. I got to hand it to you, Marie, you pick some doozies when it comes to men.”
With Marie’s permission, the nurses started supplementing Kevin’s feedings with formula. By the fifth day, he didn’t act so ravenous when he was brought in to nurse from Marie. He actually was starting to settle down a bit and not squirm so much as he breastfed. After being examined by the doctor, Marie was told that she could go home. Marie called Joe and got his voicemail. She left the message that she was being released, and could he please come get her. A nurse came in and helped Marie get her belongings organized, went over the post-op/post-birth procedures, gave her a can of formula and a prepared bottle, and said Kevin would be brought to her in a few minutes.
Marie and Kevin were wheeled to the lobby with all of Marie’s belongings where they waited over an hour. Marie was making one more call to Joe just as the hospital security guard approached her.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but the hospital doesn’t permit loitering, and you’ve been sitting here for over an hour. You’ll have to leave.”
Joe finally picked up the phone.
“Hey, Marie. You’ll have to take a cab home. I’m busy and won’t be able to get you.” Dial tone.
She never got to say hello, good-bye, or go jump in the lake. What little cash she had on her was supposed to buy extra formula and maybe a sandwich for her. Since it was still nice out Marie started walking, trying to juggle a baby in one arm and her bags from the hospital in the other. She got as far as the bus stop, then had to sit on the hard bench. By now, Kevin was screaming, so she hurriedly grabbed the prepared bottle and shoved it in his face. Kevin immediately started sucking so hard that he almost pulled it out of her hand. So much strength in someone so tiny.
By taking the bus instead of a cab, Marie saved enough money to get the extra can of formula and a $2 sub sandwich before dragging everything into her house. She had barely put down the bags when Kevin started fussing again. After painfully nursing him, Marie was able to put him down for a nap and make up another bottle of formula for later. She fell asleep on the couch, only to be awakened by Kevin’s blood-curdling cry. She tried rocking him, singing to him, walking with him, and even nursing him again. Nothing seemed to work. She was in tears when she heard a knock on her door. Her estranged mother, Sue, stood there.
“Joe called. I thought you could use some help. May I come in?”
“Yeah,” mumbled Marie as the tears flowed more freely. “Thanks.”
Sue walked through the door, took Kevin from Marie, and said, “You take a shower and go to bed. I’ll take care of Kevin so you can get some rest. Do you have any formula?”
Marie motioned to the kitchen. When Marie exited the shower, it was quiet. Concerned, she peeked into the living room where Sue and Kevin were rocking quietly in the rocking chair. Relieved, she went to bed and slept until morning. She woke to the smell of coffee, bacon, and toast.
“Morning, Mom. Where’d you find coffee?”
“I brought some instant with me. When you’re fully awake, I’ll go to the store and stock up on formula and other groceries.”
“Look, I appreciate you showing up when you did, but I can’t afford a lot of money for groceries right now. Joe isn’t going to be any help. I’m breaking up with him. I don’t care about child support because my skimpy wages are more than he’ll ever make. Let me feed Kevin, then I’ll go to the store myself.”
“Nonsense. Now eat your breakfast. You will need your strength to care for this young man.”
Truer words were never spoken, Marie thought as she reflected on Kevin’s birth and start into this world. Kevin really kept her moving. He ran without paying attention and frequently butted his head into walls and trees. Marie thought she should buy stock in Band-Aids to recoup all the money she spent every week bandaging up Kevin’s scrapes and cuts. Even when he was younger, he would wriggle out of his high chair restraints, grab food and eat it on the run.
Marie moved forward in her reflections. She never knew what to expect from Kevin. Like the time he pulled the cat’s tail until it scratched and bit him, and Kevin laughed. He was 2 and needed stitches.
Or the time, age 3, he emptied an entire bottle of baby powder down the cold air vent. When the air kicked on, powder flew out of the registers and settled on everything. “Look, Mommy. I made it snow,” Kevin chortled.
Or at the age of 4, when he sprained his wrist walking up the outside of the stair railing because she had installed a safety gate to keep him safe from the stairs.
Just last month, at the age of 5, he kept tugging on her blanket until she woke up.
“Mommy, I can’t put it out.”
“Put what out, Kevin?”
Marie raced to the kitchen. A small fire was burning on the floor, surrounded by the pots and pans that Kevin had used, pounding on the fire to try and put it out.
Every day was an adventure with him. Sighing, Marie opened her eyes as she ended her reflections, looked up into the tree, and spotted Kevin on a high branch. She clutched her heart and gasped.
“Kevin! What are you doing up there?”
“Hi, Mommy. I’m flying down to you. Catch me.” Kevin dove off the branch. Marie bolted and caught him just before he hit the ground. Her heart raced as she prepared to scold him. Kevin laughed.
“That was fun, Mommy. Can we do it again? I knew you would catch me. You’re the best Mommy ever. I love you.”
All the anger and fear melted in Marie’s heart with those words. It had not been an easy five years trying to keep up with Kevin’s daily antics.
The image of Kevin hurtling towards the ground kept replaying in her mind. Hugging Kevin, Marie silently prayed, “Dear God, please give me the strength to deal with Kevin’s boundless energy.”