When we first moved to our giant house in the suburbs, it was spring break. Kids #1 and 2 were in public school (second grade and kindergarten). We’d barely gotten all the furniture and boxes moved into the new place when school resumed.
For those who don’t know, kindergarten is practically a career for whichever parent is most responsible for supervising the offspring. At that time, kindergarten was an approximately half day venture, with either a different start time or end time than the rest of the grades, or both a different start and end time. This could result in a lot of back and forth to drop off and pick up multiple children.
And kid #3 was about 10 months old, so I finessed naptimes more often than not.
One of the first moms I met at kindergarten pick-up was Teresa. She had a toddler daughter, Hannah, and a kindergarten son, Tommy, in #2’s class. Teresa and I spent a fair amount of time together hanging around outside the kindergarten classroom, coaxing our daughters to just hang in there a few more minutes, quietly please, until their siblings were set free for the day. Later, Tommy and #2 were in the same first and second grade classes; Teresa and I, Hannah and #3 ended up spending a whole lot of time together chillin’ on the playground.
Tommy and #2 became friends, too. Teresa and her family bought a house just a few doors down our street and all the kids would play together. They ran between the houses, playing with whichever kids were available.
Tommy was a tow-headed, solidly-built little boy with a disconcertingly deep voice. He was open and curious, always kind, often blunt. He was a kid I never minded having underfoot, easy-going and just mischievous enough to be interesting.
After #2 left public school in the third grade, Tommy was still a playmate, but the older the kids got, the less we saw of him. Yet every Halloween without fail, he’d trick or treat at our house and ask after #2. He was truly interested in what she was doing and how she was.
Last St Patrick’s Day in the mid-afternoon, there was a terrible cacophony of sirens racing down the hill to our suburb’s community pool. I spared a quick hope that all would be well and forgot about it. Until two days later when I saw the obituary in the newspaper.
Tommy had been at the pool with his girlfriend, both seniors in high school, enjoying the warm spring day. He’d climbed out of the pool and simply collapsed, not breathing. The paramedics were unable to revive him. He died in the sunshine, by the side of the pool.
He’d played football and lacrosse in high school, had received a partial athletic scholarship to college. Had the physical for that college just weeks before his collapse. A week before his death, his parents’ divorce had become final. I never heard the results of the mandatory autopsy, not that it would change the unexpected tragedy of his passing.
I think of his mother often and wish her love and happy memories of her son. I’m acutely aware of just how close I came to losing a child. I don’t know how she carries on. I can barely breathe just remembering.
For me, in my mind’s eye, Tommy remains the tow-headed little boy with the very deep voice and the sparkle in his eyes. Forever seven years old, running up the sidewalk, laughing.