We installed the weather station the day I found out I was pregnant. Of course I already knew I was pregnant, but on that day the little white stick took away any hope of early menopause.
I picked Trevor up from his after-school program at 4:30, the e.p.t. box burning a hole in my messenger bag. He immediately began to tell me about the Pokemon cards Eva gave him and how he was going to modify the Lego spaceship he’d been working on for three weeks when we got home, followed by a frame-by-frame recitation of a page from the Calvin and Hobbes book he checked out from the library.
“Don’t they let you talk at that school?” I wanted to shout. Instead I massaged my forehead and ground my teeth.
“Can we put up the weather station today?” Trevor asked as we pulled into the driveway.
“Today’s not really a good day . . .”
“C’mon, Mom, please,” he begged. “You promised.”
Trevor’s dad had sent him a science kit for Christmas, complete with microscope, weather station, and everything you need to build a volcano and grow crystals, all made from the cheapest Chinese plastic. It was a typical gesture — too little too late (it arrived December 29) and more work for me. Rick left when Trevor was 2 ½ and deep in the roiling boil of toddlerhood. Never an easy baby, Trevor went from throwing three or four temper tantrums a day to being nearly unbearable. He would go from charming pink-cheeked toddler to raving lunatic, with no warning. Rick moved to the West Coast — to find himself — and ended up starting another family. Trevor and I emerged from the toddler years, ragged and war-torn but intensely close. Now we had our groove and neither of us seemed to miss having a dad around. The science kit had gone in the closet, forgotten until last week when Trevor pulled the box off the shelf and spread its entire contents across his bed.
I decided to feel grateful he didn’t want to build a volcano, put a pot of water on the stove for spaghetti, and dug around in the hall closet for the cordless drill I bought when I realized things would still break without a man in the house to fix them.
The weather station is a wedge of white plastic mounted on a slender metal pole. It measures temperature, wind speed and direction, and rainfall. We screwed the mounting pole to a fence post in the front yard and watched the evening breeze lift the pivoting wind speed arm.
“I can’t wait till it rains so I can measure it!” Trevor said as he gently lowered the clear plastic cylinder into its slot.
After spaghetti, a bath and two chapters of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I curled up on the bed next to Trevor and wrapped my arms around his bony frame. He smelled like bubblegum toothpaste and the baby shampoo I still used on his hair. “How’d you get to be so big?” I asked him, trying unsuccessfully to recall the tiny baby who was once the length of my forearm. It was the kind of dumb thing adults always say to kids and that I swore I would never say, but now I couldn’t help myself. Where had seven years gone?
Trevor squirmed out of my grip and I kissed his pale cheek. “I love you. Good night,” I said and switched off the light.
I locked myself in the bathroom with my e.p.t. stick, sat on the toilet lid, and read through the directions twice, sipping water so I would be sure of success on the first try. After peeing on the stick, I climbed in the shower. I took my time lathering and soaping and conditioning, just to prolong the suspense, to gain a couple more minutes of before time. I toweled off slowly, put on lotion, brushed and flossed my teeth, combed my hair, and tweezed my eyebrows while I waited for my glasses to de-fog. I set them on the now-smooth bridge of my nose and lifted the stick off the edge of the sink — blue plus sign. I sat back down on the toilet seat and cried.
I blew my nose, buried the stick and its packaging at the bottom of the wastebasket and crawled into bed, still wrapped in a damp towel. Outside the open window, frogs sang in a steady trill with occasional “peep-peeps” breaking free of the chorus.
The last night I saw Steve, the frogs were out. We had decided that we weren’t going anywhere, that there were too many gaps to bridge, too many obstacles to overcome, and we had both run out of energy on the project. Not the least of our disconnects, Steve had two teenage children who lived with their mother in Florida and, while he and Trevor got along great, he made it clear that he was not interested in raising another kid. Neither one of us suspected a recently-fertilized egg was part of the picture. I had driven home feeling an odd mix of relieved and sad, buoyant and lost.
The road was scattered with upturned leaves that looked like frogs when my headlights illuminated their pale undersides. I didn’t stop to wonder where the leaves had come from — the trees were still winter-bare. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw one leaf leap and I realized the leaves were frogs — I was driving over and probably crushing hundreds of them. I slowed down and tried steering around them, but they only hopped into my path. By the time I got home I was shaking and crying. It occurred to me that I hadn’t cried about breaking up with Steve, but now I was crying about amphibians. I started to laugh at the irony of this thought, and then I cried harder in my despair that frogs had become more important to me than this relationship.
Now lying in bed and listening to frog song, I put my hand on my belly and thought about how, when he first started moving, I pictured Trevor as a tiny frog, leaping around in my uterus. “La rana verde,” I whispered, remembering the green frog in the Spanish-English book of colors Trevor insisted I read over and over again when he was two.
In the morning, Trevor ran outside to check the rain gauge and came back in downcast, “Nothing.”
“Don’t worry. It’s May. You’ll get plenty of rain to measure,” I reassured him. Just when we started to feel the heavy yoke of winter lift from our psyches, May would descend with dark clouds and unyielding rain. Sometimes I wondered what possessed me to stay in northern New England season after season, but somehow roots had thrust their invisible tendrils into the bedrock, anchoring me to this place.
“Eat your breakfast — we’re running late.” We always ran late, and that morning I used up precious minutes to cook oatmeal in hopes of staving off morning sickness.
“Yuck,” Trevor said to his bowl. “Can I have Shredded Spoonfuls?”
“Fine. Just hurry up.” I poured him a bowl of cereal and put his oatmeal in a plastic container for my lunch.
To avoid thinking about the growing dilemma in my abdomen, I sang all the way to work. “Driving, driving, driving. Driving, driving, driving.” It was a tune from the Music Together class Trevor and I took when he was four — the songs have the power to stick with you years after the class. I read once about a way of practicing mindfulness in which you repeat whatever it is you’re doing as a mantra: “walking, walking, walking,” “sitting, sitting, sitting,” “noticing, noticing, noticing.” I figured singing the mantra would distract even more of my monkey-mind.
I parked my car and walked toward the office even more slowly than usual, singing, “Walking, walking, walking,” under my breath. Once in my cubicle there would be nothing to keep my mind off la rana. I passed under a Norway maple and glanced up at its branches. It was in flower; tiny blooms sprayed out from every twig, lime green against the bright blue sky. I reached up and plucked off a cluster. The flowers were simple but beautiful — five petals and five sepals radiating out around delicate stamens. I had never noticed maple flowers before, not even in this tree that I had walked under nearly every day for the last five years.
I started working here after Rick left. I thought it would be my dream job — cataloging and analyzing data on natural areas for a state agency — but I soon found out that the only nature I would actually come into contact with were the trees I passed between the parking lot and the front door.
“Driving, driving, driving,” I hummed on the way home. I had spent the day staring blankly at my computer screen, unable to do anything productive and unwilling to think about anything that required serious decision-making. I ate my oatmeal by 9:00 and subsisted the rest of the day off Snickers bars from the vending machine, which sent my blood sugar in a tailspin. I dozed off at one point and was dreaming about frogs leaping across my keyboard and somehow landing in Trevor’s rain gauge, which was huge, or maybe the frogs were tiny — I didn’t get a chance to figure it out because a co-worker snuck into my cubicle, shocked me awake with a “Hi there!” and proceeded to fill me in on a conference call I missed and did not care about at the moment.
Now I was hungry, tired, and grouchy. When I picked Trevor up at school, he immediately asked if there would be any water in the rain gauge. “D’ya think it rained today?” I snapped, then immediately felt guilty. “I’m sorry buddy. Let’s check it when we get home. And what do you say we order pizza tonight?” Great, I thought, I’m making up for my lousy parenting with bribes of junk food.
When the pizza arrived, the sight and smell of the pepperoni sent me running to the bathroom. When I came out, I pulled our emergency stomach flu stash — ginger ale and saltines — off the top shelf of the pantry, ate a few crackers and lay down on the couch.
Trevor came and lay next to me, pizza grease smeared on his cheek. “Are you okay, Mom?”
“Just a little sick,” I said and hugged him. “Let’s go check that rain gauge.”
“I checked it on the way inside . . . no rain. Can I have some ginger ale too?”
That night I lay in bed curled up into a tight ball, listening to the frogs singing. “Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” I groaned. I felt about 16 years old — scared and stupid. I couldn’t believe I was facing an unplanned pregnancy at 37. I couldn’t believe I had been lax about birth control for the first time in my life. I couldn’t believe that I had no longer thought of myself as a fertile body.
I had met Steve on a rare night out when my mother was visiting from Connecticut. I went to a wildlife drawing class at the nature center. I know most moms would take the opportunity to go out for a drink with friends or go to the day spa, but I wanted to do something that would help me reconnect with me, to begin to redefine myself as someone other than “Trevor’s mom” or “Rick’s ex-wife.”
Steve and I connected instantly — laughing over the way the instructor looked exactly like the mounted weasel we were supposed to sketch. Steve dazzled me with the quick, simple lines of his drawings that conveyed both the weasel and the instructor. We went out for coffee afterward and he told me about his travels around the world and the book he was working on. His green eyes, gray-along-the-edges hair, and wicked grin woke my long-dormant libido with a jolt. The spark burned for nearly six months before fizzling out in a mire of insurmountable differences and emotional exhaustion. Now here I was trying to figure out if I had the energy or desire to parent a second child alone.
In the distance an owl hooted, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”
“No one, okay?” I wanted to shout. “I do all the cooking! And the cleaning and fixing and driving and shopping and appointmenting and hugging and yelling and time-outing! And I can’t do one more thing for one more person, got it?”
I fell asleep, sobbing in my pillow.
I woke up the next morning to a heavy, gray sky and a chill breeze, ripe with the scent of awakening earth and incoming rain, blowing in the open window. I closed the window just as the first drops started to spit.
“I’m gonna check my rain gauge!” Trevor shouted from his bedroom. He put his raincoat and rubber boots on over his pajamas and ran outside. He came back in with slumped shoulders, “Not even a millimeter.”
I hugged him and we ate breakfast in a rare, dreary silence that matched the weather outside.
I drove to work feeling too miserable to sing my driving song. As I neared the place where the road goes over a stream, I noticed a small lump on the shoulder — a painted turtle contemplating the stretch of pavement between it and its destination.
I pulled over and turned on my hazard lights. I checked the mirrors for cars and climbed out into the drizzle. The turtle drew its black and yellow-striped head into its shell as I approached. I picked it up by the edges of its shell and turned it over, admiring its smooth, salmon-colored underside. I ran across the road, waded through wet grass dotted with bright dandelions to a low spot on the stream bank and set the turtle on the mud. “Stay off the road,” I admonished. “You’ll get crushed.”
The rain started to pick up and I tucked my head deeper into my hood, turned around and stepped into the road. An oil delivery truck barreled around a curve, blasting its horn. I stepped backward off the road and tumbled into the grass as the truck flew by, tires spraying. I lay on my back, too stunned to move. Rain streamed over me as I listened to the diesel engine fade into the distance. I rolled over, propped myself on my elbows, and peered down over the bank at the turtle, still tucked inside its shell.
“Stay off the road,” I whispered. “You’ll get crushed.”
I rose shakily to my feet and, this time checking carefully for traffic, crossed the road and climbed in my car. I turned around at the next driveway and went back home. The weather station spun wildly in the driving wind and rain. I called in sick, took a hot shower, crawled into bed, and fell asleep listening to the rain drumming against the window.
I woke in the early afternoon. The rain had stopped and the clouds, now pale and gauzy, were shredding apart, showing glimpses of blue sky behind. I still hadn’t made a decision but I felt lighter and oddly peaceful. I called the school and asked them to send Trevor home on the bus instead of going to the after-school program. I waited by the mailbox as the bus steamed up the road and groaned to a stop. Trevor clomped down the stairs, handed me his backpack and raincoat and ran ahead to the weather station.
“It’s full, Mom! It’s full!” He shouted when I caught up to him.
“I know, baby, I know.”