"MOMMMMEEEEEEEEEE!" He appears in the doorway to greet me; he's used to his father picking him up from babysitting. Mommy showing up before 6 p.m. is a special treat.
I bend to gather his things; a backpack, a jacket, his lunchbox, some drawings …
But there wasn't the expected clatter of movement toward the door. There wasn't much sound at all.
The silence was eerie.
Our babysitter stared at me with her head cocked and lips pressed to almost disappearing. Her expression was apologetic and awkward in the way that usually precedes bad news. It reminded me of the time when the kids had accidentally seen a shopping supplement and had used it to create the ultimate Christmas wish list — stuff so rare that Santa himself couldn't procure.
"He knows what he wants to be for Halloween," she tells me sheepishly.
"Didn't you tell her what you wanted to be for Halloween?" she called after my son, who was back in the playroom pretending the toys would reassemble themselves into the boxes from which they came.
"That would be a 'No.'"
She speaks to him again, quelling a laugh.
"Go ahead, tell her. … Tell your mom what you want to be for Halloween."
He darts into the room and stands at my feet. His stance is wide and his hands are at his hips.
"I'm going to be a humpback whale," he blurts out proudly.
I just stare at him, blinking. The first year that he has had any interest in dressing up … and he's fishing for something I will never be able to land, no matter how much web surfing I do.
The babysitter looks at me and mouths the words "I'm Sorry."
I turn my attention to her. My eyes narrow as I momentarily wish for a caretaker who would have plopped our children in front of the television set instead of helping them exercise their imaginations.
"Dang you, National Geographic!"
"It was a Diego book," she says protesting the questionable wisdom she sees spinning in my mind. "And Diego was going to be a fruit bat for Halloween not a Humpback whale," she says, chortling sinisterly.
I brighten momentarily. "I have an old shark costume from two years ago that he wouldn't wear … "Maybe if I …"
The babysitter's mouth twists slightly to the side. She sucks air in through her teeth and exhales the words that describe what I already know to be true: "That probably isn't going to work. He knows the difference between a shark and a whale."
I imagine she's picturing me as I am picturing myself in the not-too-distant future: sitting behind the sewing machine, pulling my hair out strand by strand as I try to make a humpback whale out of a backpack and a few old bath towels.
"I may have been able to make a bat costume … but a humpback whale?"
"Well, if any one can do it, you can," she says, adding the perfect backhanded complement: "You are amazing."
She's mocking me, of course. Sweatshop laboring last summer to make a few dozen superhero bath capes for birthday party gift bags doesn't really amount to "amazing." In fact, at the time, I think she referred to me as "insane."
Ideas roll around in my head like square marbles, akwardly and with audible effort.
She pats my back as I turn to leave. "Don't worry. You will think of something."
In that instant, I thought of it: "I know what to do! YOU will convince him to be a fruit bat," I tell her.
She starts blinking.
It was my turn to smile. Sometimes tricks really are treats.