Umbrella Love Songs
creative nonfiction by Koji A. Dae
Umbrella Love Songs
Picking up my son from kindergarten is the usual blur. Change your shoes, find your hat, did you have fun, kisses and let's go. But today the heavens give us the treat of slow rain. The weather's warm enough to stroll slow while the wind kisses our bare necks. I give my son the small umbrella with purple orchids and teach him that the pattern on mine is called plaid.
The rain mutes the world. All I see beneath his umbrella is the occasional sneakered foot kicking at puddles. I call him my little mushroom when he has his umbrella—fast growing and delicate. Today I let him disappear beneath the fabric and pretend I'm alone.
The hard heels of my boots click against the cracked concrete like clattering river stones. Other people hurry along under umbrellas of their own. Some don't have umbrellas and pull their jackets close as they scurry towards shelter. Not having to scurry is a luxury to bask in. I lean back and try tucking my hips beneath me to lengthen my spine, drag blues style. It's a new posture for me, meant to help protect me from lower back pain while I learn the dance. A pinch along my sciatic nerve lets me know I don't have it right yet.
In four months I'll kiss my kids goodbye and fly to Italy for my first kid-free vacation. Ten days at a dance camp. I let my hips sway as I walk. Deeper, into figure eights. The way the pelvis changes to make room for a child… my fishtails will never swirl in the same shapes they carved before I gave birth.
A squee of glee pulls me back into the moment. I turn to see my son finish a brilliant spin and lash out with his umbrella as if it's a sword. The hood of the umbrella flips up on itself and his eyes go wide with delight.
A mix of emotions flies through me as if I'm the five-year-old: delight at his joy, anger at the ruined umbrella, and exhaustion from managing the two. I let the anger wash away in a stream of water, stifle the joy with a sigh, and fix the umbrella the best I can.
"I'm glad you enjoy walking with umbrellas, but they're not toys. They can get broken," I explain. "If you do that again, I'll have to take it from you." I'm tired of taking things from him.
I hold his hand to cross the street, and a gust of wind almost snatches his umbrella from his grip. He holds it tight to his chest with his chin and my heart swells with the desire to scoop him up, close to me, and protect him from his struggle. But he's a "big boy."
Safe on the next sidewalk, he does his amazing trick with the umbrella again. Wordlessly, I take it from him. I fold it up as he howls in protest.
"I want another chance."
I give him one. "After we get your sister, when we come outside, you can have your umbrella back."
His lips quiver. He doesn't like the deal, but he takes it. He refuses to walk under my umbrella. But the rain is light enough that his slouchy hat will keep him from catching a cold.
Pickup is the usual blur. Hugs and kisses, come get your shoes on, hat, jacket, say ciao to your teacher. Then we're a line of three mushrooms walking along the sidewalk. My daughter is delighted to have her own tiny umbrella for the first forty-five seconds. Then she wants me to up her, umbrella and all.
I cast a glance at the empty park behind our apartment. The rain makes it look wild. Most enticing is the lack of people. No other parents, no other children. It could be ours for a while. They are wild creatures at heart, and my social anxieties aren't their fault.
"Let's go for a walk in the park with our umbrellas," I suggest.
The five-year-old jumps on the offer. The two-year-old still wants me to hold her, her umbrella, and her stuffed elephant. I should have brought a purse. Or a touring backpack. But there's only a small battle of wills until she agrees to share her brother's umbrella and let me deal with the inanimate objects.
I tell them not to splash in the puddles, they don't have rain boots on and their shoes will be wet for school tomorrow. But when they ignore my warnings, I don't press the issue. Let them delight in the water. I try to find that muted peace again.
It doesn't come. Instead the rain falls harder and a chill wraps around me.
"Time to go in," I call, as if it might be that simple.
There's screaming on my end, then threats of taking away their frozen banana treat. I hate the frustration building in me. Why can't I be one of those mothers who calmly collects her children from the park, never raising her voice?
"I want an ice cream!" my son demands.
"I want a son who listens," I call back. No sooner are the words out than my anger and frustration melt into guilt.
"Mama," his voice is little but firm. "Don't be so upset. At least you have a brother who takes care of his sister."
He holds her hand and they stumble along beneath one umbrella, the picture of sibling perfection. I sigh. "Why can't I have a son who listens and takes care of his sister?"
"You can have one who listens or one who takes care of his little sister. But not both. Those only happen in books and movies."
I bite back laughter at his simple explanation. Maybe he's right, but at least today there's rain to wash away my exhaustion and frozen bananas upstairs. I dance a slow drag to warm myself as I wait for my kids to catch up.