My Son's First 15 Birthdays
1. Only one guest, Paul's mom, on our sunny deck. Leo puts out candle with his hand and laughs.
2. Family party in the park with his new cousins, both age 1. Leo wears his engineer's hat. Paul and I have spent too much on wine and snacks from Trader Joe's for the adults. Trying to seem grown up? Fog turns to rain. We retreat to my parents' house for the train-shaped cake.
3. Party in our backyard with neighbors, friends and family. My friend Michael juggles.
4. Leo insists on no party, just a piñata all to himself, in the backyard.
5. Gymnastics party at the YMCA with the whole kindergarten class. Paul makes a dinosaur cake.
6. We try a traditional party with Leo's classmates at Paul's mom's house. Boy cheats at pin the tail on Pikachu. Musical chairs ends with two girls in tears.
7. Entire second grade class at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Three girls wander off. Paul and I panic, but eventually find them.
8. Decide to have a grown up dinner party at Paul's mom's house. While the adults are at the table, either Leo or his cousin breaks a lamp in the living room. Paul and his sister argue about paying for it. Sponge Bob Square Pants cake is eaten in near silence. Sister ends up paying for lamp but gives us no Christmas present this year.
9. Party at Head Over Heels Gymnastics with all the boys in the class, plus one girl. She tells us about her two moms and their sperm donor.
10. Mini-golf. All the boys in the class, plus that same girl.
11. Karate party at the Dojo. Some classmates, plus Karate friends. Leo wants a piñata, but Paul says he's too old.
12. Laser tag with three friends.
13. Laser tag with two friends.
14. Picnic in backyard, just Leo and Paul and me.
15. Leo takes the PSAT. Goes out with friends afterward.
In the Night Kitchen
4am. Face in pillow. Arm flails. Hand hits cat. Snarl, bite.
Raise my face. Light under the door. Pull sweats on over nakedness. Follow light to kitchen. Son looks up from computer, flinches.
Your face looks dragged down.
I used to walk into a restaurant knowing I was the prettiest woman there. Best legs, arms, hair, best face.
Go away, Mom. I'm staying up till I reach the next level.
How do I connect with my son? At his age I went for long walks with my Dad. Okay, partly for weight management. But we walked fast, after dinner, before homework, talked about existentialism, meaning/meaninglessness of life. I don't think son cares about that shit. At least he doesn't talk to me about it. Would a daughter?
Your face looks dragged down. Looking up from his computer with disgust.
Imagine a daughter knocking on my bedroom door, later. Mom? I'm sorry.
Son just sleeps. Sleep of the innocent. Men.
Walking with my dad, our long strides striking out. You remind me of a young Kate Hepburn. How much do you weigh?
Never weigh more than that.
Well, Dad, I do. Do you still love me?
In the kitchen, quarter past 4, I squirt red wine from a box into a mug. I've started ordering white when I go out, started associating red with pain
Back to bed, briefly, with the mug.
116, in my tight jeans.
Bouncing up again, off the mattress. Not quite tipsy. Walk into kitchen, toward the light, in my pulled-on soft clothes. Son's fingers rattling on the keyboard, face glowing with light from screen, big headphones turning him into Princess Leia.
Screech. The sound comes from me.
Son: why can't you leave me alone? I didn't seek this conflict. (Seriously.)
Go to bed, I say to him.
Go to bed, he says to me. You look tired.
You look tired. We say it to each other.
Okay, fine. He stands. Cracks his back luxuriously, in no hurry, as the computer winds down.
He's really smart. But what for? His braininess is as useless as my beauty was. I walked into a restaurant, knowing I was the prettiest woman there. He gets good grades.
I'm the best in my class, Mom. What do you want from me?
I want you not to play video games until 4am.
Do something else with your gifts.
Dark secret. He hits me. When he finally heads to bed, he whacks me above my ear. Tomorrow, the shower water blasting down will hurt my bruised scalp.
Ha ha, I say to myself, alone in the kitchen, hearing his bedroom door creak shut. He's boring.
You're boring, son. Dad.
How much do you weigh?
You look tired, bitch. Your face looks dragged down.
Yeah, I was pretty, but guess what? I read books that weren't required. Because I wanted to.
About Simone Martel:
I've published a book of creative nonfiction, The Expectant Gardener. My shorter nonfiction has appeared in Greenprints, and other magazines. My stories have appeared in The Long Story, Short Story Review, and Fogged Clarity.