"Mommy, will you look at this?" four year-old Josiah asks, tugging at my sleeve while excavating his bulging pocket.
"Not now honey," I sigh. "Mommy's busy."
It's "one of those days." After spending most of the morning picking Juicyfruit out of the cat's whiskers, scrubbing stubborn grass stains out of three baseball uniforms and rushing overdue books back to the library, I've just returned from an emergency run to the grocery store for tonight's spaghetti dinner.
Next on my To Do List is tackling a minor Matterhorn of dirty dishes. I hope I can at least clean up "base camp" before revving up "Mom's Taxi Service" to pick up Josiah's three older brothers from this afternoon's Little League practices.
Josiah follows me into the kitchen. I open a Safeway bag to discover pasta but no spaghetti sauce. I look at the clock and jerk out my car keys. Again.
"Mommy, come watch me run" my preschooler intones, "I can run 80 miles an hour!"
I beg off, groaning, and hustle Josiah into a brisk autumn afternoon for yet another mad dash to the store. He jabbers cheerfully non-stop. I feign interest, rationalizing that I don't have time for another "interruption" in my already way-behind day.
Sheets of rain tumble down my windshield. I forgot the umbrella. We jump out of the van and bolt into the store, breaking land-speed records in search of an unusually elusive jar of Prego sauce. Josiah and I hurry home. I rush son and groceries inside before we all get soaked. I'm vaguely aware of muffled whimpering.
"Mommy!" Josiah tries for the umpteenth time as we scramble into the kitchen. "Not now!" I snap. He stops.
"Mommy doesn't have time right now" I explain. Softening, I add, "Sometimes parents have too much to do to be able to play."
"Mahhh-meee!" Josiah quavers, azure eyes clouding. The dam breaks as he wails, "I lost Shaggy!"
Shaggy. His omnipresent stuffed animal. My son's favorite toy. A scuffed, rumpled companion from Josiah's infancy, Shaggy's not pretty. One eye is missing. Most of the dog's brown fur is loved off. His noble head is almost entirely denuded from close contact with Josiah's cheeks. The faithful canine has survived accidents with wagons, tricycles, the fireplace and a blender. He's cheered Josiah through countless doctor's offices and three eye surgeries. Been run over by the car and baseball cleats. Suffered numerous mendings and sibling spats. Survived two cross-country moves in six months without getting lost. Until today. My To Do List flutters to the floor, forgotten in the face of a REAL emergency.
A futile search of house and van ensues. Frantic, Josiah and I jump into the van and tear back to the store.
"I don't have time for this!" I mutter as we peel through the Produce aisle and dart toward the Dairy Section. Three inquiries later, an alert assistant manager retrieves Shaggy from his rain-soaked perch atop an empty grocery cart. Boy and toy are joyously reunited. And now I'm really running late.
Home with his bedraggled buddy, Josiah scampers into the kitchen, "Read me a story Mommy. Shaggy wants a story!" I've just finished toweling off Shaggy following his involuntary shower.
"Here," I say, thrusting the tousled dog into Josiah's arms, "Why don't you and Shaggy go play in your room for awhile? Mommy can't play right now. I'm busy."
Josiah's eager grin fades as he grabs Shaggy, turns away, and hauls the hapless hound into his room by an ear. My son closes the door behind him. My head's too full of lists, clocks, simmering sauce and schedules to notice the… the... quiet. Too much of it.
"Do I really sound like that?!" I murmur, startled. I've crept to Josiah's too-quiet room. He's conversing with his captive audience. His ONLY audience.
"Not now, Shaggy!" Josiah admonishes the wordless mutt. "You're a little doggie. I'm the parent doggie. Parents don't have time for little dogs!" Josiah squalls, stomping his foot for emphasis. Brow furrowed in grown-up consternation, Josiah tosses Shaggy into the closet.
"Go away!" my little boy bellows, "I'M BUSY!"
The house seems quiet indeed. Painfully, dreadfully quiet. Then it hits me: How many times do I climb into my heavenly Father's lap and jabber a mile a minute, tug at His sleeve, demand His undivided attention? Has He ever brushed me aside with, "Hey, I'm running the Universe here. Can't you see I'm BUSY??!!" Has He ever closed His door, hid behind an answering machine, admonished me to come back when I have an appointment?
Green nausea somersaults through my stomach. I retreat to the kitchen phone and start dialing. Coaches agree to bring home my older boys. My husband volunteers to grab dinner from the Golden Arches.
The sauce is turned off. The dishes are left in the sink as I knock on Josiah's door. He graciously accepts my soggy apology, crawls onto my lap and digs into his Oshkosh pocket to retrieve today's prizes: four dead pill bugs, a jay feather, crumpled autumn leaves, two snail shells (empty, thank God), and three slightly grimy pennies. The Fort Knox of a preschooler.
Shaggy is rescued from closet exile as we chase "The Runaway Bunny", dine on peanut butter and jelly and watch the sun set. I cheer for a little boy who really CAN run "80 miles an hour!"
After bath and bed I tiptoe to my son's room. Shaggy is scrunched under Josiah's chin beneath a shower of cherubic snores. The paunchy pup seems quietly content just sharing his mangy life with his boy.
My sparkling, effervescent tow-head will be five years old next spring. Then my little boy will be a man, grown and gone in the blink of an eye. He'll leave behind a frayed brown dog, empty pockets, and with any luck, many barely scratched To Do Lists.
Grateful for the lesson, I tuck in boy and his toy and indulge in an extra smooch for Shaggy. The threadbare pooch may not be much to look at, but he's beautiful to me: the dog who spoke volumes without saying a word.