This was a day I'd looked forward to for weeks: Miss Pace's fourth-grade end-of-the-year party. Miss Pace had kept a running countdown on the blackboard all that week, and our class of nine-year-olds had bordered on insurrection by the time the much-anticipated "party Friday" had arrived.
I had happily volunteered my mother when Miss Pace requested cookie volunteers. Mom's chocolate chips reigned supreme on our block, and I knew they'd be a hit with my classmates. But 2 o'clock passed, and there was no sign of her. Most of the other mothers had already come and gone, dropping off their offerings of punch and crackers, chips, cupcakes, and brownies. My mother was missing in action.
"Don't worry, Robbie, she'll be along soon," Miss Pace said as I gazed forlornly down at the street. I looked at the wall clock just in time to see its black minute hand shift to half-past.
Around me, the noisy party raged on, but I wouldn't budge from my window watch post. Miss Pace did her best to coax me away, but I stayed put, holding out hope that the familiar family car would round the corner, carrying my rightfully embarrassed mother with a tin of her famous cookies tucked under her arm.
The 3 o'clock bell soon jolted me from my thoughts, and I dejectedly grabbed my book bag from my desk and shuffled out the door for home.
On the four-block walk to our house, I plotted my revenge. I would slam the front door upon entering, refuse to return her hug when she rushed over to me, and vow never to speak to her again.
The house was empty when I arrived, and I looked for a note on the refrigerator that might explain my mother's absence, but found none. My chin quivered with a mixture of heartbreak and rage. For the first time in my life, my mother had let me down.
I was lying face-down on my bed upstairs when I heard her come through the front door.
"Robbie," she called out a bit urgently. "Where are you?"
I could then hear her darting frantically from room to room, wondering where I could be. I remained silent.
In a moment, she mounted the steps - the sounds of her footsteps quickening as she ascended the staircase.
When she entered my room and sat beside me on my bed, I didn't move but instead stared blankly into my pillow, refusing to acknowledge her presence.
"I'm so sorry, honey," she said. "I just forgot. I got busy and forgot - plain and simple."
I still didn't move. "Don't forgive her," I told myself. "She humiliated you. She forgot you. Make her pay."
Then my mother did something completely unexpected. She began to laugh. I could feel her shudder as the laughter shook her. It began quietly at first and then increased in its velocity and volume.
I WAS incredulous. How could she laugh at a time like this? I rolled over and faced her, ready to let her see the rage and disappointment in my eyes.
But my mother wasn't laughing at all. She was crying.
"I'm so sorry," she sobbed softly. "I let you down. I let my little boy down."
She sunk down on the bed and began to weep like a little girl. I was dumbstruck. I had never seen my mother cry. To my understanding, mothers weren't supposed to. I wondered if this was how I looked to her when I cried.
I desperately tried to recall her own soothing words from times past when I'd skinned knees, stubbed toes, or given in to disappointment. I strained to remember, for I knew that I needed just the right thing to say. But in that moment of tearful plight, words of profundity abandoned me like a worn-out shoe.
"It's OK, Mom," I stammered as I reached out and gently stroked her hair. "We didn't even need those cookies. There was plenty of stuff to eat. Don't cry. It's all right. Really."
My words, as inadequate as they sounded to me, prompted my mother to sit up. She wiped her eyes, and a slight smile began to crease her tear-stained cheeks. I smiled back awkwardly, and she pulled me to her.
We didn't say another word. We just held each other in a long, silent embrace. When we came to the point where I would usually pull away, I decided that, this time, I could hold on, perhaps, just a little bit longer.