Melody rushed home to be there when the boys got off the school bus, and she made it just in time.
“There’s my big boy! Hello, my love!” She gave him a big bear hug and kissed him on the cheek.
“I’m almost a man, mom!”
She chuckled and said, “Sure you are. Where is your brother?”
“He ran inside already.”
“Ok. Go put your stuff down and get started on your homework.” She waddled inside behind him and found her youngest just where she thought he would be.
“Hey, cutie pie! What are you watching?”
“Plumbob Llama Pants,” he said, never taking his eyes off the screen.
“Why don’t you let it record so you can come do your homework?”
“Awwwwww! Please, mommy? It just came on!”
“Maurice, I’m not negotiating with you. I’m tired, and I need a nap. I want your homework done before I go to sleep!”
“Can’t daddy check my homework?”
“You know he’s not always here. Now, come on.” She motioned for him to come with her, and he reluctantly turned off the TV and trudged to the kitchen. Stefan, who was older and used to the routine, was already there working on his assignments.
Melody grabbed some leftover chili while her boys did their homework. It’s not that she didn’t trust them to do what they were supposed to do when she wasn’t around. Stefan was very smart and was at the top of his class, and Maurice remained consistently on the B honor roll. These days, when she was sleeping more often and River’s schedule was uncertain, her choices were either make sure they ate or make sure they did their work. She couldn’t do both, and boys never forget to eat, so she made sure they did their work before she had to leave them alone for a short while.
By the time she finished her chili, Stefan was finishing up the last bit of work. When he finished, he slid his notebook across the table for her to review. She opened the notebook and looked over all of his work, and it was stellar. “Good job,” she praised. A few minutes later, Maurice followed suit. She looked at his work and sighed. She knew that he was a very bright boy, but he was so lazy about his work when he tried to get through it quickly. “You’re not using the right ‘theres’ in any of these sentences. They’re, there, and their! Try it again…and take your time this time.” She slid the notebook back over to him, and he rolled his eyes as he reluctantly opened it back up.
Stefan sat quietly at the end of the table playing games on his phone. He knew he was free to go, but he enjoyed his mother’s company. Maurice rewrote his sentences with Melody looking over his shoulder making sure he did them correctly. When he finished, she patted him on the shoulder.
“I think you are the smartest boys in the world. I’m going to lay down for a while, ok? There is chili in the fridge when you get hungry.”
“I’m hungry now,” Maurice said.
“I could eat too,” Stefan added.
“Then eat! I’m going to bed.” She disappeared into the master bedroom while the boys heated up their food. No sooner than they sat down to eat, River arrived and followed suit.
“Hey guys! Staying out of trouble,” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Stefan said.
River thought his response was strange but continued making small talk. “Excited about the baby coming in a few months?”
“Why do we have to have another kid? Things are fine just how they are,” Maurice complained.
River turned to his other son and asked, “Stefan, do you feel the same way?”
“No. I don’t really care,” he said flatly.
River felt something was wrong. Between his son’s listlessness and the formality of how he answered him, something was definitely off with Stefan. He appreciated the respect, but it just wasn’t him. “Are you all right, son?”
“How come you’re not around anymore, dad? Don’t you like us?” Stefan’s face was honest and true…and sad.
River’s heart sank. “I love you guys! More than you know!”
“But…you’re never here anymore! Why can’t it be like it was when it was just you, me, and mom at the other house?”
River briefly recalled his own childhood and smiled. He was grateful to be able to teach these young men lessons no one ever taught him. Giving his sons opportunities he never had was one of the best parts of fatherhood, and he seized every moment to teach them valuable lessons.
“Stefan…Maurice…let me tell you about being a man…
“Men are leaders. We provide for our families, take responsibility for our actions, and protect what we love. Men are supposed to work hard to accomplish these things because there are people relying on us. Do you like it when mom is here when you get home?”
“Yeah,” Stefan said.
“Well, some kids’ moms aren’t home because they’re at work. It takes a lot of money to keep a household running, and in most households, both the parents work. When I was growing up, I only had my mom. She had a lot of jobs and worked all the time. She wasn’t at home when I got off the bus, and I had to grow up quickly and learn to be responsible on my own. I had to let myself in the house, cook my own food, wash my own clothes…I don’t want you guys to grow up like that!”
Although Melody’s body was tired, the little life inside of her was not, and she did not sleep as long as she had planned. She heard River talking to the boys and slipped out of the bedroom undetected. She tip toed to the living room and sat down to eaves drop.
“So,” River continued, “if I have to work a little extra and be gone from time to time to make sure you guys grow up in a good environment, that’s what I’ll do. I love you boys, and I want you to grow up to be big, strong men who are kind to others and do the right things… And, this is only temporary! I’m not gonna be gone like this forever. I just have some things I need to accomplish now so we can be together later, ok?”
“Ok,” the boys said.
I love this man, Melody thought. I’m being selfish! I’ll try to be more understanding. He works so hard. Of course he needs time to unwind with his friends, but…why so much?