Today is Ben's half-birthday. All hail two and a half! Half the time he's delightful, and the other half he's otherwise: deliberately provocative, gleefully obnoxious, perverse, or brittle as glass. Half the time I'm thinking, Oh, please stay two forever, and the other half I'm Googling "how to fake my own death."
I didn't expect the brotherly bickering to happen quite so soon. The "Charlie's looking out my window!" gambit is very much old hat now, and we've moved far beyond it. We hit a new low last night at the dinner table when Ben noticed nostrils for the very first time. "You have holes in your nose!" he breathed, wide-eyed with wonder. (It figures that he doesn't remember the nights of his babyhood when I'd sit rocking him, singing, relaxing in the quiet of the evening, and he'd reach up to pat my face lovingly, then surprise! like a sharp-nailed bolt of lightning, jamming his index finger in all the way up to the knuckle. I love my children but let me be clear: some holes are simply off limits.)
So each of us at the table preened for a moment, flaring for his approval in kind of a nostril pageant. (My left one twirled the baton in the talent competition.) But when Paul presented for Ben's inspection, apparently something was amiss. One thing led to another -- words were exchanged, aspersions cast, respective mothers insulted, which made no sense at all -- and all of a sudden I found myself presiding over a noisy argument between my two children about whether my spouse has nostrils. "No! Dad have no nose hole! No!"
And as the bickering escalated, there I was hissing at Charlie, "Ignore him. You don't need to tell Ben he's wrong. We all know your father has nostrils." In theory I appreciate the notion of speaking of truth to power. Just not when power turns quite so purple screaming in thwarted rage.
The other side, though, the good part, comes at three in the morning when you go in to soothe his crying. "Sank you, Mama," he says, and readily lies back down, glad to be covered and patted. That puts things into perspective, the spontaneous word of gratitude, the humble acknowledgement of need. It makes it all seem worthwhile (except to Paul, who's not Mama, when it's he who's gone in).
I've started volunteering at Charlie's school, working in his kindergarten classroom once a week. I'm thinking this is what people mean when they warn you that being a parent entails sacrifice and pain, because, lordy, can I think of about fifty things I'd superficially rather be doing. And yet I guess I really do want to be there, and for good reasons as well as bad. The good ones: Sincerely wanting to get a full picture of the setting in which Charlie now spends...some biggish fraction...of his waking hours. (I'm sure I'll have a more accurate estimate later in the year, but we haven't gotten that far in class yet. We are still working on using our math hands. They're like jazz hands, only numbery...er.) Wanting to make the day even marginally easier for Charlie's teacher, who handles the class well but who has been forbidden, so far as I know, the use of a Taser and could probably use the help. And making sure that at least one day a week Charlie brings home his goddamn snow pants.
The bad reasons: The other families all do it, and I don't want to be thought any less engaged in my child's education. I don't get enough information from the teacher or the support staff about how Charlie's doing with the various (and, okay, numerous) challenges we've identified. And I eventually plan to smack the art teacher who gave Charlie straight 1s -- the lowest score -- on his report card. That is, if I can figure out how to convert these math hands into palms of stinging raaaaaage. How dare that jackass say my son can't draw? (I'd have sought out the teacher before now, but I'm having a little trouble picking him out from the portrait Charlie thoughtfully provided. Which is crazy. You'd think a nine-legged hunchback cyclops would be pretty easy to spot.)
I just have such questions about Charlie, virtually all of which boil down to Are we doing right by him? I keep hoping something -- occupational therapy, striving for understanding through observing him in his natural habitat, endless fine-tuning of our approach to him as parents -- will answer them. All useless for that purpose, of course, because the only question that really matters is He'll be a happy man, won't he? And the answer is probably yes, because of and in spite of us. But the only thing that will tell us that is time.
Tonight we started reading The Long Winter. It seemed appropriate given the weather forecast: ACCUMULATIONS... 8 TO 13 INCHES ACROSS FAR NORTHERN NEW YORK AND VERMONT... AND 11 TO 18 INCHES ACROSS THE ADIRONDACKS... CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN VERMONT... WAIT, YOU JUST TOTALLY WENT AND CHECKED THE CABINET FOR TOILET PAPER, DIDN'T YOU?... HA HA HA... AND MILK... NOW DO BREAD... GO ON... HA HA... WE'LL WAIT...
The weather forecast is kind of a jerk.
Speaking of jerks, I was thinking about what some of y'all said about Ma, how you admired her fortitude and were inclined to excuse her humorlessness, given Pa's flagrant irresponsibility. You praised her determination to keep her daughters marriageable, when marriage was, after all, the only chance they had at a good life. And in a way, you're absolutely right: I salute Caroline Ingalls -- the real Caroline Ingalls -- for not cramming Pa's fiddle straight up his dugout and for doing what had to be done. But Ma as written, Ma the character, Ma whose daughter, let's face it, didn't do her too many favors in the telling, still just makes me want to say words. Loudly.
Anyway, we are anticipating a snow day tomorrow, and I wouldn't be surprised if school were also out on Thursday, so in preparation we did, in fact, go for assorted staples. Except while other people were buying cat food and flashlight batteries, I bought...two pairs of snowshoes.
I can't explain it. Mostly I hate being out in the snow. I guess I just figured if the supply train can't get through the Tracy cut and the Wilder brothers won't share their seed -- "Laura," Ma said reprovingly -- why, Pa and I will walk the town's wheat home.
Are you snowed in? Getting a little desperate? Already done the housework? Memorized the Bible? Proved it several times over? Finished listlessly paging through Ma's autograph book while she tells you which of her school friends died horribly in childbirth? Sick of eating bean water? Have you started Googling Carrie recipes?
Check in if you get a few minutes' break from twisting hay for the fire.