December 17, 2002
After The Beep

miles to go: 38.67 [YTD: 1,963.33]

His message lands on our Internet answering machine shortly after dinner on Monday night.

Hey Mom, he says, in his adorably gruff sixteen-year-old voice. I'm sorry, I completely forgot, happy birthday. Um ... give me a call when you get this. OK. Bye.

For a moment I consider keeping him dangling for a while, just for sport. This is the second birthday faux pas committed by The House of Stoopid Bachelors in less than a week: perhaps it's my maternal duty to cuff him about the ears a bit, like a mother lion reprimanding an errant cub. (Forget your mother's birthday, will you? No zebra entrails for YOU, young man!) But the truth is I'm not all that upset. It would have been nice to hear from my son on my actual birthday, instead of one day after the fact. But it's not exactly the end of the universe that I didn't. Hopefully I'll be annoying all three of the Tots live and in person in less than a week, anyway. In the meantime, this is a great opportunity to indulge in a little harmless maternal guilting-for-fun. (One e-mail per day for the next ten years -- and a couple of deluxe neckrubs when I'm in town next week -- and I'll be willing to call it even.) Plus I need to talk to him about some last-minute Christmas stuff. Plus I just want to hear his adorably gruff sixteen-year-old voice some more.

I dial the number in TicTac.

He at least has the good manners to sound embarrassed. "I screwed up," he says sheepishly. "I'm sorry." (Daughter #1 is the one who *reminded* him, apparently. And none-too-gently, from the sound of things.) He's smart enough to start out the conversation by inquiring politely about my birthday weekend. Did you go out to dinner? Twice. Did you get any good presents? A sweater, pearl earrings and flowers from Jaymi; the best-of-the-80's boxed set from David; a nice card from my sister. Did you finish the 2002 in 2002? Nope: we were rained out. The conversation then turns to more important matters -- chemistry homework, Christmas shopping, the broken computer, Driver's Ed -- before I dial things down to serious for a moment.

"Have we heard anything from Kacie this week?" I ask.

I almost hate to ask about Daughter #2 anymore: there is rarely any news. (And when there IS news, it is almost never the sort of news you want to hear.) But this time there actually has been a semi-interesting new development.

"Some lady called for her," he tells me. "I think she was calling from the courthouse."

He puts the phone down for a moment and dashes into the other room to get the information for me. A moment later he's back, reading from his notes: the caller was an advocate from the court, apparently, calling to remind Kacie about her next court date.

"I don't suppose we know whether or not she's aware of the court date?" I ask, and he says he isn't sure. Nobody has talked to her in a few days. She stops by the house every once in a while, to do her laundry or take a shower or empty her dad's refrigerator, but her 'visits' are random and unannounced, timed never to coincide with the onsite presence of an actual adult, and she never stays for long, and when she's finished doing whatever she came over to do she sinks beneath the radar once again, into her murky mysterious secret life, purposely disconnected from the rest of the family.

"I guess I'll leave her another voicemail message," I tell him. "Thanks for letting me know." And then I switch the subject back to happy stuff for a minute or two -- whenever I'm talking to one Tot, I try not to let the conversation run too far in the direction of the other two: you lose their attention completely, otherwise -- and eventually he wishes me a happy birthday, once again, and we exchange 'I love you's' and 'See you next weeks,' and we hang up the phone on a note of mutual redemption.

Without pausing for air, I dial the voicemail number in TicTac.

The usual weird clicks and beeps as I'm delivered into her voicemail system. The usual distorted rap music in the background, layered by her affectedly sullen voice. "Leave me a message," her recorded voice mumbles above the cacophony. "Let me know what you want."


What do I 'want'?

I want to know where you are, for starters. I want to know where you're living this week, and who you're living with, and whether any of your roommates are unemployed middle-aged felons with anger management issues. I want to know if you ever got that front desk job at the hotel. (And if not, I want to know how you're supporting yourself these days. Or at least I THINK I want to know.) I want to know if you're eating enough ... or at all. I want to know if you ever got over your bronchitis, and whether or not you're wearing your retainer at night, and whether or not you are currently in possession of a warm winter coat and a decent pair of shoes. I want to know if you're sleeping. I want to know if you're using. I want to know if I'm going to be able to hug you next week, when David and I come up for Christmas, or whether we'll all be visiting with each other through four inches of security glass. I want to know if you ever actually listen to all of these voicemail messages I leave you every day, or if you delete them the minute you hear my voice.

And yes, OK ... I want to tell you that that it would have meant something to me to hear from you last weekend.

"Hi Honey, it's Mom," I say with determined cheerfulness. "Just checking in again. Give me a call when you get a chance, OK?"

make sure you type the shipping address correctly

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thanks to three of the best cyberfriends on the planet -- you know who you are --
for the sweet birthday wishes last weekend.
[now where the hell is my PONY?]