By Diane Stark
“Mom, I’ve got good news and bad news,” my 12-year-old son, Jordan, said one afternoon. “The good news is that track practice starts tomorrow. The bad news is that I need a physical exam before then.”
I sighed. “Really, Bud? You’re actually giving me like an hour’s notice that you need to go to the doctor?”
He shrugged. “I’m sorry, Mom, but this is really important to me.”
“Then you should have told me about it sooner,” I snapped. “I’ve got a million things to do this afternoon, and this just wasn’t on the list, Bud.”
“I’m really sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to wait until the last minute. I just kept forgetting to tell you about it.” His eyes pleaded with me as he added, “Please, Mom? All my friends are going out for track.”
I sighed again as I reached for the phone to call our doctor’s office. I wasn’t surprised when the receptionist said they couldn’t squeeze us in. But she did suggest a 24-hour clinic that didn’t require appointments.
I hung up and gave him my best “Momma-ain’t-happy” look. “I’ll take you for your physical today, but if something like this ever happens again, you’ll be out of luck. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Mom. Thank you, Mom,” he said.
I packed up Jordan’s younger siblings, already thinking about the dozens of other things I really needed to be doing instead of running off to the doctor’s office. I piled everyone in the car, feeling my mood worsen by the minute.
We went to the clinic our doctor recommended, only to discover that they no longer perform sports physicals at that location. They sent us somewhere else, which was, of course, on the other side of town.
We drove to the second clinic and went inside. After confirming that they did in fact do sports physicals there, I was given the usual mountain of paperwork to fill out. “How long do you think it might be?” I asked.
The receptionist shrugged. “Sometimes it takes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours.”
A few hours? It was already nearing dinner time, and I worried how my three-year-old son, Nathan, would handle the wait.
I was slogging through my paperwork mountain when an elderly man walked in, practically carrying his wife. Ever so gently, he settled her in a chair and kissed her on the forehead. “I’m just going to sign you in,” he whispered. “I’ll be right back.” The woman’s eyes were vacant, as though she barely knew where she was.
The man ambled over to the counter, spoke to the receptionist and made his way back to his wife. He nodded at me and smiled slightly. My return smile was a mixture of sympathy and admiration.
“Mommy, I’m hungry,” Nathan said.
I cringed and said, “I know, Baby. We’ll get you something to eat right after Jordan sees the doctor.”
“But I’m hungry now,” he whined.
I dug through my purse and triumphantly pulled out a Dum-Dum sucker. “Here, Baby, you want a candy?”
Nathan’s eyes lit up as he snatched the treat from my hands. He shoved it into his mouth and began to explore the waiting room. He paused when he reached the display of medical pamphlets. “Can I look at these, Mommy?”
“Sure, Honey,” I said, relieved that he’d found something to occupy himself.
He pulled out a pamphlet on diabetes and sat down. He opened it and began to read.
“Sam I am, Sam I am, I do not like green eggs and ham,” he said. He looked up and saw me unsuccessfully hiding a smile. “Isn’t that what it says, Mommy?”
“It sure is, Baby.”
He looked back at the pamphlet and read, “I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere.”
I heard a noise and glanced over. The elderly woman was watching Nathan, her eyes more alert than before.
“Keep on reading, Nate,” I murmured quietly.
“I would not, could not in a train,” he said. “I would not, could not in the rain.”
“He sure is cute,” the woman said to her husband. “And he’s such a good reader.”
“Yes, he is,” her husband said.
“He reminds me of someone,” she said, thinking hard.
“You used to read that story to our Michael,” he said. “But he’s a grown man now.”
“I do remember,” she said. “I read that story all the time.”
Nathan, oblivious to the conversation around him, had gotten up and chosen another medical pamphlet, this one featuring a colorful food pyramid. And this time, Nathan’s story was, Are You My Mother? It was another of our Dr. Seuss favorites.
“How could I be your mother?” Nathan read. “I’m not a bird. I’m a cow, said the cow.”
The woman smiled. “I remember that one too.”
Her husband’s eyebrows lifted, and he caught my eye. He smiled again, but it wasn’t the tired, world-weary smile I’d seen before. This time, it was one of hope. Hope for a good day, a day when his wife would be here with him, in the present. I sighed, wanting that for him.
His wife interrupted my thoughts by saying, “You sure are doing a good job with your little boy. He’s as sharp as a tack, just like my Michael.”
“Well, thank you, but he’s not actually reading, you know,” I said. “He’s just heard the stories so many times that he has them memorized.”
“I know, but it says a lot about you as a Mommy,” she said. “You’re making time for what’s important. I can tell.”
“Thank you. You’ve always been a wonderful wife and mother too.” I smiled gently at her husband and added, “I can tell.”
I vowed in that moment to remember that while the present is sometimes inconvenient, even annoying, it’s an opportunity.
To show love.
To encourage someone who needs it.
To just be there.
And sometimes, the present is all we really have.
About this writer
- Diane Stark is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. Her work has been published in 16 Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, A Cup of Comfort for Christian Women and dozens of magazines. She loves to write about the important things in life: her family and her faith.