Next paycheck, I say in answer to their exasperated looks, we'll get it all fixed. Maybe. I give them a key and tell them to walk the short distance to the house and begin their homework.
For a moment, I'm busy fitting the gas nozzle into the tank. When I look up, they're well on their way, halfway across the parking lot. Little sister Katie is in the middle, holding the hands of her two brothers on either side. I can hear that they’ve picked up on a conversation begun in the car, reciting again what to them are the hysterically funny bits of a Monty Python movie. Katie’s head turns from side to side as she follows the conversation. The jokes are beyond her, but she laughs, because her brothers do.
Now I don't know if it's the fumes rising from the gas tank or the humidity hanging heavily over the Florida earth, but for a moment, my children appear to be floating in ripples of air, figures in a dream, a little girl laughing and skipping between brothers whose hold on her small hands seems careless, but, I can tell from an ever-increasing distance, is actually as unyielding as Egyptian mortar.
And, leaning against my car in the stillness of early evening, something sweeps over me that is weightier than a thought, stronger than a feeling. It is knowledge from the place where truth resides, perhaps within me, perhaps somewhere else. It is a gift I did not ask for but cannot ignore.
They will be all right, it whispers.
Like other parents, I have spent the greater part of my mothering years over fifteen of them now worrying. With cause. Parents in America have reason to fret over how to rear decent human beings in an often corrupt and degrading culture, threatened by economic insecurity, hearing daily about violence almost everywhere.
And we have our own histories, our particular family stories that make us fear, in this psychologized age, that our children will doubtless be damaged beyond repair, or propelled into life-long therapy.
For me, as for many, it is divorce: a divorce I instigated when my oldest son was 10, at a time when I looked at the rest of my life and saw it as one long, dark tunnel. But was I being selfish? Are we all better off? I’ve kept asking, even as the thought of being married to my children’s father fades into an unlamented, unrecoverable memory, and even though my children seem to understand and my oldest has told me, more than once, that in his view, it’s better that his father and I are no longer married.
I worry about their spiritual lives, too. Is God real to them? Catholic schools, weekly Mass, constant discussions of religion at home; but is it enough? Is God real for them? When they seek to calm those restless hearts, will they turn to God's peace or succumb to temptations that may soothe briefly but inevitably bring long-term wounds?
So we worry, because our families are not quite the families we thought we would build and our world has certainly not evolved as we expected. Are we doing enough? We ask, “Will they be okay?”
This evening I got my answer. They will be all right.
Tears gather unbidden in the corners of my eyes, and my throat tightens in gratitude for the whispered assurance. I follow the three unique and precious people born from my body, assured that they've reached their destination safely.
I had driven them thus far in this slightly shabby, yet still serviceable vehicle, the only one available to me, and they had spilled out of it, sent to go the rest of the way on their own.
They're out of sight and hearing now, but the One who molded them within me assures me that I have indeed done enough because it was all I could do, and they have all the confidence they need to go the rest of the way now, and unlock the doors to whatever places they will call home.