After dinner I usually escape to my room. This is for a plethora of reasons, but mostly because I do not wish to be present while the big kids are doing kitchen clean up. I do not feel like I really need to be present for the inevitable bickering and drama. Somedays are worse than others, and there are the usual suspects for conflict incitation (Bert), and some conflicts do require me to open up my can of whoop-ass, but all in all it’s mostly just a bunch of sibling conflict that I’d rather not be present for.
Which is one reason why I do so love my bedroom: upstairs, a bright and peaceful blue, not really soundproof, but definitely the most removed room in the house, and lockable. Last night I felt a particular need to escape after dinner, not so much because the kids seemed bent on killing each other while cleaning up, but because it had a runaround afternoon and evening, and I felt the need for a small measure of quiet pressing upon me.
While the tub is filling I climb in and set our ice cream cups on the windowsill. The water is hot and soothing, and through the window I can see the Moon rising over Pine Ridge, the mist around it glowing. I lean back and watch Renee, who is trying to take off her shirt. It’s a cute little button down blouse that I got her for Christmas, and she’s trying to take it off without undoing the buttons. “Let me help you, honey,” I say, seeing that she is about to trap herself in her shirt.
“OK,” she says, and steps closer to me. As I unbutton the first few buttons a wide and laughing smile beams upon her face, revealing that first missing tooth, and she adds, “I don’t want to tear it, because it’s so beautiful and I love it and I want to take good care of it and give it to my daughter for Christmas!” She climbs into the tub and “aaahs” with every outgoing breath. We eat our ice cream with relish, and then fight about who gets what end of the tub. Renee doesn’t want to be near the faucet, which is still running, because it’s a little too hot, she thinks, and I’m telling her it’s all the same temperature, and that she’s squishing me over here at my end of the tub. Finally, once the tub is well-filled and the faucet is off, we are able to settle in our rightful places. But she still wants to lay next to me, and so I accommodate her, and we lay back in the water and wet our heads. We’ve forgotten the shampoo so we then playfully argue about who’s going to go out and get it.
“I can’t because I’m smaller!” she says.
“I can’t because I’m bigger!” I say.
Back and forth we go, till she finally agrees, and we lather our hair up with the sweet almond smell of Dr. Bronner’s Almond Soap, the lather lush and thick in my fingers. She rinses my hair by emptying the hot water bottle over my head in a long and steady stream. And I lay her back and rinse hers. I work the tangles out of my hair with conditioner, and then get out, wrap myself in my robe, and proceed with the more arduous task of working the tangles out of Renee’s hair. I pull her from the tub and then braid her hair, tying it with a bit of yarn (because I’m tired of buying hairbands, and the yarn seems to work better anyway). She then persuades me to let her climb in my bed so she can get really warm.
McKinley marches in, having been ordered to brush his teeth by his father. But he has his ukelele in his hands, and he wants to show me some trick he’s learned, probably from his uncle, who is downstairs playing his guitar amid the diminishing racket of kitchen clean-up. Then he remembers that there’s school tomorrow, that he got in trouble today, and his mood clouds. He rants passionately about some special class clock that he accidentally broke, about how all his friends were mean to him because of it, and then he draws a picture of this clock for me so that I can understand its specialness and also the tragedy of its breaking, and the even greater tragedy that he was the one who broke it. “I HATE school!” he says, nearly screaming. “I hate school and I want to stay home tomorrow! What if I break something else??? All my friends will hate me and my teacher will give me a Break and I won’t be able to play outside at all!” It’s nearly heartbreaking to listen to my son, so passionate at first, but now, energy expended, just sad and fearful. But its way past time for bed, and so off I send Miss Renee to get her pajamas on, while McKinley brushes his teeth.
Renee is in her room singing some little song, happily, and ever so slowly getting dressed for bed, when McKinley emerges from the bathroom. “Mom, can I snuggle in your bed?” he asks, so sweetly, so endearingly, how can I say no? My heart is a little broken for him already. So he climbs into his Dad’s place on the bed and I curl up on top of the covers next to him, still wrapped in my robe, but suddenly so tired, no doubt some sleep spell placed upon me by The Rascal. There we lay, curled up next to each other, McKinley grinning big, all his front teeth missing now, and his eyes lit with happy-fire again.
“Mom. When you die, are you going to be born again? When I die I want to be born again. Right away.”
Taken aback only slightly, for I am accustomed to the way that this child can switch gears and suddenly come up with the most surprising of comments and questions, I answer him, “When I die, McKInley, I will wait for you and Renee and your Dad and Bert and Rae and Alex so that we can all be together again.”
McKinley considers this for a moment. I can see that this changes something for him that he’s thought about a good bit. Then he says, “Yeah! First it will be Dad, and then you, and then Alex, and Rae, and Bert, then me, and then Renee. And then we’ll all have fun together in Heaven, and then I’ll be reborn.” And he smiles, totally and completely satisfied with this new future, and he goes to sleep. I decide it’s my turn to get dressed for bed.
Moments later Miss Renee comes sneaking in, as is her style, and clambers up the bed, waking up her brother with her cold feet and giggles. They rascal about, and then I climb in between them, steal both their pillows, and snuggle deep into warmth. There’s no need to die and go to heaven. I’m already there.