I raised three kids, sort of. When we started having them every couple of years back in the ‘80s, Hugh said, “These kids are coming into our lives, not the other way around. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, and they’ll come along.”
I agreed with him, and this approach worked out pretty good until there were three of them under the age of five, and I could no longer handle the panic on people’s faces – that includes mine – when we were all out in public. I recall a person whispering behind me in the grocery store line-up as I madly threw things on the belt while my little darlings swung from every reachable bar (why are there so many reachable bars in grocery stores?) like The Flying Wallendas, except louder – “He did, she did, why can’t we have, Daddy lets us have . . .”
“Can’t she control her children?” is what I overheard.
So I looked that person right in the eye, brushed hair from my sweaty brow and said, “No. I can’t.”
Yesterday, when Jetanne was being forced into a public shopping expedition – Christmas, groceries – I said, enthusiastically, “Bring the little darlings over. I’d love to look after them.”
What grandparents need to remember, I think, is that when the little darlings come over it’s best to just do that: host the little darlings. It’s Christmastime, though, a busy time, and I thought, well, I want to make muffins for the girls because they’re allergic to everything. Simone – she calls herself “Mone”, refers to herself in third person – wanted to help.
“Mone do it, Mone help,” she said, over and over, when she saw me pouring things at the butcher block. I lifted her onto a stool, told her to be careful not to fall. She saw the gluten-free flour – flour is messy, isn’t it? – spilled on the countertop on my side and said, “Gia make a mess. Yes?” She nodded, up, down, up, down. “Mone make a mess too.” I tried to tell her no, but she was already sticking her fingers into the flour and spreading it all over the countertop.
Another thing about having toddlers around is that every task takes at least twice as long, due to interruptions – potty, diaper changes, nose wipes, cuddles, a bit of scribble-coloring, snacks. I looked at the time, calculated how long for the muffins to bake, how long to pick up B, get the girls to Nona and Nono’s and then back home to teach Jazzercise. I started speed-pouring ingredients and whisking and cramming batter into paper liners, all the while ignoring Mone’s pleas, “Mone do it, Mone help!” (I just realized this morning I used cinnamon instead of Chinese five spice powder. B actually likes them now. He doesn’t like Chinese five spice powder.)
I’ll be honest, I must have gone into a time warp, because I don’t recall what we did for the twenty-five minutes while the muffins were baking. Oh yes, Mone was at the butcher block still, with her purple plastic spoon, chowing down on the batter from the bowl, while I alternated between washing dishes and filling Naomi Lou’s orange plastic spoon with batter – which unfortunately kept mixing with what kept falling from her nose. She has a cold.
But it was this one particular moment that stands out. Time is supposed to be the thing that stops everything from happening all at once, right? Well, sometimes time is broken. Like when you’re home all the live-long day and someone comes to the door as the kettle starts whistling and then? Well, that phone, the thing that never rings anymore? It rings.
So, this is what happened. I was crouched on the kitchen floor changing Naomi, she was mad, screaming her head off, Dallas (I’m a grandmom to dogs as well. Jay’s dog was visiting and in the mudroom because Tan’s dog, Boris, a wee Boston, was visiting too and I was keeping them separated to keep the chaos level down.) started barking, like someone had driven in, but I couldn’t see out the windows from where I was and one minute Mone was beside me, saying, over and over, “Dallas is ruffing, Dallas is ruffing,” and then the next minute she was calling me from the other side of the bathroom door, scared, “Gia? Gia?” Omg, did she lock herself in? The oven timer went off. The muffins were done. The dogs were still barking, I didn’t know whether to run to Mone, run to the stove, run to the door or try to clean Naomi’s bum and slam a clean diaper on her, and in that moment of hesitation Naomi wriggled free and ran around, still screaming AND now peeing all over the kitchen floor. Tan had forgot to pack the wipes and I was using wet paper towel, but of course I was using the last square to spare as it was at the end of the roll!
Trust me, by then Gia was at the end of something too.
There was no one at the door, Mone did not lock herself in the bathroom and the muffins weren’t burned. Most of the pee got cleaned up, Naomi got all put back together again and stopped crying once she was in her car seat. Mone took some convincing to leave – we hadn’t played in the Bom Bom room yet – and once buckled into her seat wanted, “Different show, different show!” Frozen was playing on the DVD player for the umpteenth time. But it was Tan’s wheels and, really, does anyone know how to work anyone else’s electronics these days? I distracted her by looking for Christmas lights.
“The blue ones,” she said in awe, “and the white ones, and the green ones, and the red ones.”
Such a beautiful time of year.
Enjoy every precious moment – the chaotic and the peaceful – with your family and friends this Christmas.