I wave goodbye to my sons from the front step.
"Hold hands," I tell them. "Be careful crossing the street, especially when you get to Osco. That's a busy parking lot."
"Have a good time," I add as they begin their trek. I'm nervous about this venture, but I want them to think I have nothing but confidence in their abilities to take care of themselves.
Mike is in charge. He turned 9 last month and this shopping trip is his idea. It's Mother's Day; he's leading his little brothers on a shopping expedition to buy me a gift. Just the three of them. By themselves. With their own money and all the way to Osco Drug, four blocks away if they follow the back way to the parking lot.
Mike takes Pat's hand. Pat is 5 – "and a half" he informs anyone who asks. Pat takes Luke's hand. Luke won't be 4 until summer; he still has his toddler belly and chubby cheeks and baby-plump hands.
They turn at the end of the drive for one last wave. I watch until they march around the corner, tripping over their feet as they attempt to keep their hands connected without pushing one another off the sidewalk. I don't cry.
I pace. From front step to kitchen. From kitchen to back yard. To basement, to garage, to front step again.
It's warm. I pace until I sense my deodorant is losing oomph. Now I have an excuse to pour a glass of iced tea and plant myself in the shade of the front step where I can first glimpse three little boys rounding the corner for home. I'm not hovering. I'm cooling off.
I wait. I pour another glass of tea. I think about the possibility of lost or kidnapped children. I go to the fridge and drain the last of the iced tea into my glass. I wait.
They round the corner still holding hands, Mike carrying a large brown grocery bag. Spying home, they run, banging into one another, hollering.
"We got you a present, Mom! It's for Mother's Day! You'll like it!"
Their hairlines ooze sweat pearls. They smell of damp puppy. Their cheeks shine overheated plum pink. They have smudges of chocolate about their mouths. They step on my toes and elbow one another for premium viewing position as Mike dumps the sack into my lap.
"The lady at the store asked us if this was a present for our mother,"
Mike says. "She said you'd like it! We had some money left so we had baby Tootsie Rolls. We shared."
"Yuuuhah, we had candy," Pat chimes in.
"Candy," adds Luke, important, a big boy just like his brothers.
"It sure is a big sack," I say, giving each child my best wow-am-I-excited look. They squeeze closer as I unfold its top, moist and softly creased by Mike's protective clutch.
I pull from its depth an arrangement of pink and lavender plastic flowers, encompassed in a flare of plastic greenery on a plastic spray equipped with prongs to decorate a grave for upcoming Memorial Day. I clasp it to my chest.
"They're beautiful," I say. "I love them. I think they'll look really pretty on the kitchen table, don't you?"
They wriggle. They hop. They clasp their hands and bounce.
"The lady asked if we picked 'em out ourselves. We did! All by ourselves!" Mike exclaims. "She said you'd like 'em a whole bunch. Do ya? Do ya?"
"I love them a whole bunch."
"We ate the Tootsie Rolls already. That was OK, huh?" Mike covers all the bases.
"Absolutely OK! Were they delicious?" I swallow tears of tenderness that threaten to blow my cover. "You guys get over here so I can give you all a big thank-you hug!" They smear melted Tootsie Roll on my shirt.
I get phone calls on Mother's Day now. Masculine voices, settled and calm, greet me.
"Happy Mother's Day," each says before moving on to recount the recent adventures of his own children. It's enough.