Heaven help us.
At the restaurant after the zoo this weekend, Scarlett wreaked havoc. When she was happy, she was climbing on the table and tossing bits of chicken over our booth onto another family’s seat. She was screeching and diving over our laps and busting her chin on the table with a noisy CLANK that got everyone’s attention and spilled water all over her dad. When she was unhappy, she was throwing silverware and spilling things on purpose and crying at the top of her lungs and falling again, making her tongue actually bleed this time. Mary and Matthew were hard to keep under control in all of the commotion and difficult to please even when they were perfectly poised. We were barely finished when we high-tailed it out of Famous Dave’s, complaining the whole way back about how we’ll never be able to eat out again until Scarlett is at LEAST two and a half.
When we got back to the house, I immediately scrubbed Matthew down, combed his hair to the side, packed him an overnight bag and very eagerly sent him down the street for what would be his very first sleepover at a friend’s house. Spencer and I made a big deal of it, hugging him and taking a few pictures and teasing with him about how he can’t be big enough to have sleepovers already -- he’s still our teeny-tiny baby boy! But secretly, as we held his hand up the sidewalk to their house, we were thrilled. When you have three kids, getting one of them safely out of your way for a little while every so often is big break. And we have no qualms about commemorating the occasion that someone throws us a bone and gifts us with a little time off.
Especially at a time like this. I don’t know if it’s three simultaneous growth spurts at once or what, but recently, the kids have just been running circles around us.
On Sunday the neighbor called saying that he was fine to just spend the whole day over there. Matthew knew that once he went home that the sleep-over would technically be “done,” so every time his friend’s mom asked if he was ready to walk home, he’d say “No, not yet.”
And that was fine with me. By noon, I’d raked two bags of old leaves out of the flowerbed, weeded it, watered it, and trimmed the hedges; I moved out hundreds of individual pond rocks from in front of the garden and pulled out the grass and clover patches growing up underneath; we’d gone shopping for new spring plants and lawn mower blades, filled the birdfeeder, then weed-whacked, trimmed and mowed the lawn. We hung out for a while with one set of neighbors who were painting their shutters black, and some others who were fixing their fence. Then Spencer got to work hacking off parts of one truck to add onto another in the backyard and I was literally left with nothing to do. Not one thing.
By one-thirty I realized I’d checked on the baby six times toward the end of her nap, just waiting for her to wake up. Every ten minutes I was back in the house to see if she was ready to eat lunch, and then come outside to play. She slept for an extra forty minutes than she usually does, which happens from time to time. The difference was that today, I wanted her up. For the first time in longer than I can remember, I was actually bored of not having to keep my kids in line and entertained -- even with “better” things to do, like sit out front and paint my nails.
The universe has kind of a natural tide to it that way. It tends to make things tougher, just when life's getting a little too easy, and then lets it up on you some when it's all starting to get too rough. Matthew’s already hanging out at his friend’s houses without us needing to follow him over and stay to chaperone. Half the time we’re having to coax Mary into spending more time with us instead of her friends and even when her friends are over here, they’re caught up in her bedroom the whole time, talking on the phone with even more friends. And Scarlett takes two long, solid naps a day. Get this: the other day she even ate an entire bowl of SOUP without spilling much more than a few small drops. In a ton of ways, each one of them is getting easier.
I missed Matthew so much that I almost cried when I carried him home. All of his weight was resting on my forearms; his lanky legs wrapped around my waist, arms draped over my shoulders and weary face pressed into my neck. It made the walk feel longer, but there wasn’t a fiber in my body willing to put him down.
That night after visiting friends, we ended up going out to eat again. We were all fed and completely finished when the waitress asked in broken English if we were ready for the check, probably looking forward to getting a little sanity back her section of the restaurant.
“No,” I said. “Not yet.” And instead of rushing out, we sat together -- while Scarlett begged for kiwi just to spit it back out onto the floor, and Matthew cried for more pizza even though he hadn’t finished what was on his plate because the very thought of someone else getting the last piece at the buffet was just too much for him, and Mary told him repeatedly to stop being things that we’ve told her a million and a half times are politically incorrect to say. We sat. And no, it wasn’t perfect, but it was worth hanging onto.