Quinlan, age 11, is on the couch, playing a game on her new Nintendo. I’ve just asked Cian, newly age 9, to start a load of his laundry. “What?!” he says. “How do I do that??” Me, calm: “Cian. You do laundry all the time. …
Quinlan had to write a letter Monday for her language arts class, in which she described to an imaginary other student her first month under stay-at-home orders. “MOM. Mommy. MOM.” Quinn said this as she walked from the dining room, where she’d set up her …
In the evening after the first day of school, Cian made an announcement.
“I’m going to be very well-behaved this year.”
He stopped and took a look around the table at each of us. A brief look of self-doubt passed over his face. “Well,” he clarified, “at least while I’m in school.”
This, my friends, is my third-born. He came home last week all sorts of worked up. We were in the car after I’d picked them up from school, and he said, “I don’t know about this first grade. My teacher wants us to RAISE our HANDS before we talk. That doesn’t make any sense. If she’s close enough, I should just talk. She answered me the first time I did it. But after that? She didn’t pay attention to me!”
I didn’t have to say anything because both of his sisters rolled their eyes and jumped in for me. Quinlan just sighed. “Cian.” Saoirse told him, “Cian. You’re in elementary school now. That’s how it is in ALL of the classes. Everybody has to raise his hand.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” he repeated. “If she’s right there, why do I have to raise my hand?” We got the gist that it was a matter of time management for him–it was so much more efficient to just speak out, so why not cut the middle man (middle hand?) and just talk?
There followed a brief instructional discussion about how raising hands keeps order in a classroom and teaches respect for the teacher’s authority. I didn’t have to say most of this stuff—Cian’s well-formed big sisters took care of it for me. Cian, at the end of it, was still not very happy about this enforced establishment of unfortunate rules (though, didn’t he have to raise his hand in kindergarten? Did the summer turn him into some sort of primal nonconformist?), but was very proud to tell me a few days later that he has been very well-behaved, and has so kept his clip firmly in place on the top of the class behavior chart.
So, we’re acclimating. He comes by the intellectual rebellion naturally, I’ll admit (David will definitely back me up on this one). A few days ago, the kids were asking us if we’d ever considered joining the military—they’ve friends whose father is in the reserves, and they know that both my dad and my mom’s dad had been Air Force retirees. I told them the story about how, when I was getting ready to go to college, I told my dad that I was considering joining the Air Force after graduation. I think it’s a natural inclination for anyone who’s grown up around the military, but my dad laughed—actually laughed outright—and shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he’d told me. I was indignant and demanded to know why (see where Cian gets it?). “I don’t think,” my father said, “that you could handle anyone repeatedly telling you what to do.”
Aye. Okay. So, Dad was right. And apparently that part of the bloodline runs thickest in my son. But, in our defense, a little questioning of the rules is healthy, don’t you think?
Except maybe when you’re in first grade. I’ll give you that. If Cian’s about to state any more new objections, I’ll make sure he at least raises his hand first.
Note: I’ve been struggling a lot with writing about my kids as they get older. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to post something similar to what I’ve written below only to cringe and delete the whole thing because…well, I don’t want …
Saoirse was home sick from school today, which meant no basketball practice for her tonight. David was off to Connecticut for work for a couple of days, so I held court at home, getting water and making eggs-in-a-nest and kissing warm foreheads. I snuck in some writing, but today, I did a lot of…sitting. And it was okay.We picked up Quinlan from school later this afternoon, and the ride home along the cold, wet streets was calm. Even Cian was quiet, for the most part, and Quinlan and Saoirse were tucked into the books they keep in the car. Back home, the simplicity continued: homework was out of the way early and kid pajamas were on by four. By 4:30 I’d abandoned plans to cook a chicken soup and placed an order for Panera delivery (one upside to living within walking distance to allllll of the chains). By 5:30, the kids had eaten, dinner had been cleaned up, and we were all under blankets in the living room, with a fire roaring and a candle lit and Ella Enchanted playing on the TV. Like Quinlan said, it was easy to forget it was a school night.
It was the absolute most perfect afternoon. We needed this today. We needed time to slow down. We needed, frankly, time to stop. We’ve been hurtling along, and lately we haven’t had much of a chance to figure out why we’re in such a hurry.
What I noticed, though, tonight, was a change in me. In my almost 10 years of parenting, I’ve never been able to slow down without feeling the low drumming of anxiety coursing through me–the chores not being done, the to-do list not being checked off. I feel that if I’m not on top of everything, it will all shift out from under me. But do you want to know the truth? It does all shift. Of course it does. I am not, nor ever will be, on top of everything: my to-do list has a backlog. The house gets–and stays–messy even when we’re trying our hardest. Paperwork still piles up, dirty laundry still makes its way to the kids’ floors and bathrooms and hardly ever the hampers. The writing–the writing–is always, always there, waiting for me to pick up pen and paper again and get back to it. It’s never finished.There’s always a mountain to climb.
But for the first time, this week, I’ve just stood at the base of it and said, okay. The mountain will still be there tomorrow. And I went about my day with these children of mine, mindful of its presence, but not worried by it.
That has never happened before with my honest acceptance.My kids are so tall now. The girls’ hair is growing long, which makes both of them ridiculously happy. When they curl up on the couch, their limbs go everywhere, spilling out over the cushions like spaghetti noodles falling out of the bowl. Quinlan talked my ear off today: asking about romance, asking about knitting, telling me about braiding and her friend Natalie’s cartwheels. Quinlan is always overshadowed by Saoirse’s first-born dominance and Cian’s, well, four-year-oldness. Meanwhile, she’s pulling in perfect test scores and building friendships and reading everything in sight. I heard her today. Without the drumming.
My kitchen island is covered with papers and catalogs and school worksheets right now. I still have dishes I have to put into the dishwasher–it’s 9:08 p.m.–and I need to do all the nighttime chores that David usually takes on without complaint (looking at you, taking out the dog in 38-degree temperatures). The house is not exactly Visitor Ready, which is how we try to leave it at night. I look at my schedule for tomorrow, and it’s… a lot. And I’m forging ahead with a new approach to Book 3, which is exciting and time-consuming and, as always, pulls me away from the regular rhythm of “normal” life.
But I type that without the usual panic. I don’t know why it’s so. But we took a break today. It was a good break. The mountain is still there and I’m standing at the base of it, but it doesn’t seem to scare me at this moment.
We’re in the car (again, always), heading home from school. Saoirse asks me what we’re having for dinner.“Quesadillas,” I say. “Tomatoes. Avocados.” They don’t need to know that I’m going to gourmet the shit out of those quesadillas. Or that those beautiful red and orange …