The other day my husband called to tell me he’d be home at 5 p.m. sharp. To say that I experienced a twinge of ecstasy might be an understatement.
After my 2-year-old and I picked up her twin siblings from half-day kindergarten, we’d have a mere five hours to kill until daddy arrived. And they promised to be a delightful 300 minutes. My twins’ fighting-to-playing quotient had been listing toward the battlefield; Jane was stomping her foot whenever I mentioned the potty; my neck and shoulders, as usual, were aching; and I was wrestling an unpleasant virus that I’d self-diagnosed as croup.
So at my husband’s unexpected announcement, I decided to treat myself to a massage. I guess it had been a long time since my last one, because when I called the place I used to go, the lady said, “You know we moved, right?”
“When?” I asked.
“About three years ago,” she said. “I’ll call you back if I can get someone.”
I slapped peanut butter and jelly onto bread and enforced a cease-fire long enough for my kids to gobble sandwiches, while I anxiously waited until the woman called back, victorious. “I got you JoAnn,” she said and delivered a series of intricate directions that I neglected to transcribe.
The rest of the afternoon passed in slow motion. Pushing my 2-year-old on the swing and watching my twins hurdle over lacrosse sticks in our yard, I also watched the clock. I felt like Tom Cruise in that scene from “Risky Business” where he sits in class, fretting about the prostitutes back home, cursing loudly when the schoolroom timepiece ticks backward instead of forward.
My husband, a chronic under-estimator, arrived not at 5 p.m. sharp but at 5:21. After I stormed out of the house, I indulged in an additional, irrational moment in my parked car to shoot him a text. “Why r u never on time?” I wrote. “Now I’m 2 b late 4 massage!”
Friday evening rush hour also conspired against me. I’d chosen the only massage place I knew – one 30 minutes from our house under the best of circumstances – such as if every light magically turned green and every driver politely pulled aside upon my approach. At the 17th stoplight, waiting for a snaking line of cars to turn left, I thought I’d better call. “I’ll be there in five minutes,” I lied, knowing it’d be at least 15.
I turned down several sooty alleys and finally asked a kindly gentleman, clutching a bottle in a paper bag, if he knew of Morton Road. “I think it’s there,” he said and pointed me in the wrong direction. When I rolled down my window in front of a purple-trimmed twin and asked the woman on the sagging porch if she knew of Helping Hands, she cried, “You’ve found it!” (I’ve changed the name of the business not only because I’m litigation averse but also because JoAnn did forgive me for being 37 minutes late.)
On a desk in the front room, a vanilla-scented candle vied with the distinct musk of mold. “Do you have any trouble spots?” JoAnn asked me as we walked down a lopsided hallway to a cubicle-sized room. “I have twin 5-year-olds and a 2-year-old, and my neck is killing me,” I lamented. JoAnn disclosed that she knew what I meant; she had five kids, most of them now in their teens. ‘There goes my pity party,’ I thought, as I settled onto the table and into a parenting seminar with my masseuse.
“Sometimes, I would fill up the tub with a bunch of bubbles and toys and let them play,” JoAnn said. I made a mental note to replace the mildewed, foam letters my toddler likes to gnaw on in the bath. “Or have you tried centers?” JoAnn asked. “I used to set up centers in my basement, you know like a kitchen one, an art one, a trucks and cars one.”
“What you need is to find something for you,” she continued, “before it’s too late.” JoAnn went on to confide how she went for 12 hours every Saturday, when her youngest was 3, to get certified in massage therapy.
“I have a blog,” I offered, lamely.
“That’s a good start,” JoAnn said, but I could tell that she thought my undertaking woefully inadequate. Then she handed me a towel she’d laundered herself, at home, and I felt compelled to tip her $20. I’d been so late – and the lady did have five kids, for Chrissake.
In many ways, I felt worse after my massage than before it. I’d dropped nearly 100 bones on some kneading that brought me, not relaxation, but the knowledge that my parenting lacked creativity and that it might be too late to reignite my writing career. I’d yelled, via text, at my lovely, patient husband.
But, then again, the experience wasn’t a total loss.
“Do you need your sinuses cleared?” JoAnn delicately whispered before leaving the room. At my nod, she gently manipulated some pressure points on my face – and I could breathe again.
I took that as my happy ending.