Of my five children, two are not at home this week.
One of my preteen boys, gifted in math and computers, is at what our family affectionately calls his Geek Camp. It’s the summer camp of his dreams. From his phone calls home, we know he’s doing amazingly well.
Our other preteen son is struggling. He’s had a rough start to life, plus he’s made some poor choices. He didn’t choose where he is staying, and it’s not a place any mother wants for her child. From his phone calls home, we know he’s not doing so great.
Tonight, we decide to take the three remaining kids to a restaurant with a video arcade. We are attempting to piece together a time of family normalcy. Typical families do these types of things, right? Don’t they go out to eat on Friday nights, and spend ridiculous amounts of money to sit among headache-inducing strobe lights while their children run about playing video games?
We don’t remember how to be a normal family, if indeed we ever had a chance to claim the term “normal.” We know there was a time before rages and fits, myraid therapists and county workers visits overtook our lives.
Tucked in the back of the last room is a row of worn-looking Ski-Ball machines. These are my jam. I need to show the kids mama’s still got it, plus they’ll need the tickets to cash out for their prizes of a large pencil, a cardboard airplane, and 3 tootsie rolls valued at $126 of my husband’s hard-earned money.
I love Ski-Ball, but tonight I play a few games and am finished. I am here, but my heart isn’t. My heart is across town in other places.
I find a table in the middle of the restaurant, in the middle of the arcade. A waitress comes, and I order two decadent-looking desserts with huge amounts of chocolate. Homemade doughnut holes with dipping sauces, YES. Cookies and brownies towered with chocolate and caramel and ice cream, YES.
A server brings the massive desserts. Here is my escape in the form of creamy, sugar-laden goodness. I take a few bites, then set down my fork in disappointment. I’m too full to eat more.
Curses. Before I overcame my eating addictions, this used to work. I could eat my way into a stupor of mind-numbing, zoned-out lack of feeling. This isn’t working anymore. My eyes fill with tears. I stare without seeing at a Candy Crush game brought to life in 7-foot size. The game looks comically ridiculous in this moment.
So I just sit and feel. I am so achingly, desperately sad. There is no fixing it. In the middle of the restaurant, in the middle of the arcade, in the middle of a hundred blinking, flashing games of chance and prize, I feel.
I sit with my heart grieving and broken, as people mill around me, in the middle of a metropolitan city on a hot Friday night. On the edges of this busy city, one of my boys is where he wants to be. One of my boys is where he needs to be. A piece of my heart is there with each of them.
When we are here and our heart is somewhere else, sometimes there is nothing to do but simply allow it to be so.
I am here, but my heart isn’t.