I stand at the ironing board, my hair still damp from the shower, steaming the creases out of my uniform with swift, practiced movements, one eye on the clock, both ears straining for the sound of the school bus.
I have just minutes today with my children. I want them to count for something.
I want to count for something.
I slip my apron over my head, grab my mascara, acknowledge the dog's persistent presence in my bathroom, and try again to subdue wildly curly hair into something that looks more like style and less like I decided to experiment with electical currents in my spare time.
What spare time?
I yank shoes on, thinking quickly through dinner options and homework projects, and wondering if my cell phone is charged.
The bus is coming.
I hear the low, throaty growl of its engine surging as it tops the small hill beside my house. My heart leaps as I stuff tic tacs, a pen, lip gloss, and my keys into my apron pocket. I grab meat out of the freezer, snatch ongoing homework packets out into plain view, alert my husband to the presence of both and then rush to the front door.
They tumble off the bus, three boys growing so fast somedays I can't believe they are truly mine.
The youngest is talking, though no one is directly around him. Maybe he's finishing a conversation he started on the bus, even though the friend he talked to is still inside. Maybe he's just talking to himself. His adorably crooked glasses slide down to the end of his nose and he leaves them there, staring at the world in his own wide-eyed wonder, one eye looking through a lens, one eye peering over the top of the frame.
The oldest walks off, a boy's body thickening into a teenager. I stare at his shoulder span as he nonchalantly tugs on his backpack and plans a skateboarding rendevouz with a neighbor boy - too cool to carry his pack on his back anymore - and I wonder how long I have before he uses that studied nonchalance on me. My arms ache to absorb every freely given hug he has left inside of him to give.
The middle child launches himself off the bus, catching significant air time before landing on his feet. While the youngest wanders slowly onto our grass, now squinting at the sky, glasses stuck to his forehead, and the oldest casually walks toward the porch as though coming home is just one more thing on the list of what he does this day, my middle child looks up and sees me, standing just inside the glass storm door.
He runs to me.
I wouldn't trade this moment for all the money in the world. He scrambles up the porch, plays the password game to get me to open the door (What's the password? "I love you"...), and suddenly I am holding a warm, squirming boy who decides that his mama needs a "squeeze" hug.
It won't be too many more years before a "squeeze" hug from my boys will crack my ribs.
I squeeze back and look up. My other two have seen me. My youngest brightens, starts talking though I'm still too far away to understand him; my oldest grins and increases his pace - not running, not anymore - but fast enough to lose the edge off his cool nonchalance.
It's enough for me.
I hug them and listen as the details of their day tumble from them in colorful profusion ("We're playing with frogs in class!", "I wrote a story today about gummy bears taking over the world!", "I missed you!") and I know that I am enviably rich in ways that matter more than any other.
I smile, ask questions, remind them that backpacks, shoes, and dirty socks do not belong in the middle of the floor, grab snacks and dispense kisses and hugs to my hubby and my children as I ease my way out the door.
It hurts a little to leave. It always does.
I drive away, chased down the driveway by my oldest, so brave to play chicken with a car going in reverse. My youngest scrambles across the lawn, racing me to the edge of the yard. I let him win and he laughs, delighted to be faster than my car.
I ease around the corner and hug those brief moments to myself. I wanted them to count for something. They did.
I wanted to count for something.
My heart cherishes the memory of three pairs of little-boy arms wrapped around me, squeezing, wanting to hear that they are mine. That they are strong. That I admire them. That I am always, endlessly, in love with them.
Nothing I will ever do in my life counts for more than that.