Friday afternoon. Looking back.
It’s been unusual week. Just five short days… and yet each one has had its own flavor, its own thread of reality–or un-reality, as the case may be.
By “day,” I mean the span of hours between 1:50 and maybe 5:00 PM… the “day” that happens after school and before dinner. Those scant hours, not even a quarter of the day, often characterize much of the fabric of the day, or so it seems. There is a span of 45 minutes in the morning that also has much pull and sway on the flavor of a day. But the day is, really, embodied in what happens during the afternoon hours.
Monday was unusual.
Thursday bounced on the edges of disaster.
Some days, are more like this one, a Friday, and happen something like this: I head to pick up, logging out of work just a few minutes later than I should, running around to gather a snack for them (an unhealthy cereal choice dumped in a baggy because I was rushing), grab a book (or two) for myself, make sure I have the current schoolyard toy de jour in my bag, cut a few pieces of thread and grab a panel or two of applique, just in case, use the bathroom and brush my teeth, grab the library books to drop off later, make sure I have my phone, and rush out the door, a few minutes late, knowing I might have
trouble parking. Once there, I assume we’ll be there for exactly 50 minutes before we leave to drop off one kid and his friend at a weekly art class. But some days, like today, it doesn’t go the way I expect.
The kids came out from school, and it seemed like we were on track. One kid and his friend headed down the stairs to the wooded hillside to brandish sticks and climb trees. The other hooked up with his toy de jour at the base of a slide where the clang of spinning tops created its own familiar cacophony of sound until a parent shooed them from their cluster of boyhood at the slide. I watched as my son rallied the troops, scooped up the plastic stadium (his, which has given him cadence in the afternoons), and pulled everyone in a circle around the structure and up the plastic playground rigging to a new space.
Thinking them settled for a few minutes, I opened my book, ready to embody the minutes of my own there in the “in-between” minutes of afternoon.
But no. Not today.
We have to go. Something is wrong with his pants? His pants are not comfortable enough for the toy de jour battle? Did something happen? Was there an accident? There seems to be nothing specific, but we have to go. We gather our things and head out of the school ground gates and down the back stairs, retrieving the older boys from the hillside along the way. The timing is a mess. I offer a few plans, but what they want is to simply go home for the half hour we have before art. So we head that way.
But no. Not today.
Once home, it becomes clear that a phone call is about to happen, and we need to clear the space. They play a quick game of a favorite trading card game, what had been the older toy de jour but has now faded away, sadly. They play, and then we gather our things again, shuffle into the car, and head out the door. We now have a half hour before art starts. So we head to the library so that I can pick up books on hold and drop off a few that need to be returned. Luck is in our favor, and we find a short-term green parking spot right in front. The kids decide to sit in the small patio at the bottom of the library, two planning on another game of cards, and the youngest opting to stay with them and read.
In the library, I scan the slips of paper waving from the ends of the reserve shelves until I find the cluster with our name. I gather the books and audio titles ready for us and then decide to check the teen shelves to see if any of the manga in a new series we’ve discovered are in. In luck, I find numbers 4 through 13. I know he’ll be excited. I had taken a few minutes earlier and reserved a few of these online, but finding them available on the shelf was an unexpected bonus. I gather 3 through 10 in my arms, unable to carry more, and I head to the self-checkout kiosk.
I head back out the doors into the afternoon sunlight and see the kids still sprawled on the rock ledges playing their game. I show the stack of books and explain that there are others inside. Not surprisingly, he sends me back in for the remaining three. I ran in, keeping my eyes lowered as I slipped past the librarian’s counter and rounded into the teen area, feeling somehow conspicuous having just checked out almost twenty books and now being back for more. When I emerged again and saw the boys still playing, and saw the stack of books next to them, the tableaux struck me… the afternoon felt hectic and scattered, minutes carved and diced as we raced from one space to another. But seeing them there, spread out along the stone… there was an interesting texture to the afternoon… we were making work in its own way.
I laid the new books atop the stack and ran to the car for my camera, tucked in the floor, just in case. But as I turned and walked the few yards back, the boys had cleaned up their cards and were standing to leave, and the little one was determined to carry all the books himself. My photo moment was gone! I cried out that I’d wanted a picture, but it was too late. The moment to catch the big boys playing cards on the stone ledges while the little one read and next to the gigantic stack of books had slipped away in a matter of seconds, along with the slight breeze that had evidently blown their cards, thus ending the game. Quickly, I snapped a photo of the one carrying the stack. Quickly. It wasn’t a posing moment. I didn’t get to fine tune the light or the exposure. I quickly got my numbers balanced and snapped. He was on the move.
We got to the car, dumping books into all the floors. We head off to art, and then the youngest realizes that his special trading card from a new book he’d opened is missing. He’d had it as he read outside at the library. I turn around, midstream, and head back, knowing the boys might end up a minute or so late. I get out and look all around the area, but I find nothing. I go back to the car and explain, only to end up getting back out and looking one more time. Still nothing.
I take the boys to art, three minutes late, and then we return, one more time, to the library. I park, but before I cross the street to search, I have him get up, and we find the car under him.
And we head home. Less than an hour-and-a-half of a “day,” but somehow it gave the days its flavor. And yet we managed it. And it wasn’t the photo I wanted, but I’m glad I caught at least this one.
The next day, when I pulled up the photos after finishing this post, and I looked to see what I actually caught in the three snaps of the shutter as we hurried out of the library, I could only smile to see that the card that minutes later we thought missing was clearly clutched in his hand as we headed back to the car.