Friday afternoon, 4 pm, at my house is predictably chaotic. This has been a particularly brutal week, and it’s still a long-ass time until dinner. It is my last day of babysitting, and Addie has just gotten home from school, so everyone is underfoot. One kid is overtired and on day five of the constant unhappiness in the life of a four year old (“I don’t like how my life has turned out!”). The other kid, lacking in physical activity for the day, is running wild laps and jumping off the couch (standard issue two year old crazies). I am getting worn out from the baby’s game of pulling up to stand on my legs, swaying unsteadily with wild eyes and arms for 1-2 minutes, and then crashing into my massively pregnant belly, laughing like a tiny psycho. Addie and Owen are making up for the time they spent apart by cramming all of the screaming and hitting they can into each second.
I am suddenly saved by my handsome husband getting home from work. He is exhausted –meetings and back to school night this week have left him fried. Maybe it’s because of this that Owen quickly talks him into a scooter ride. With the dog.
So that’s one tiny human and a dog occupied, out of my line of sight.
My little sprite, Addie, needs some downtime to unwind from the work of preschool and gear up for the evening (including having family friends over for a pizza party). I toss out my first suggestion for a quiet activity, bracing for the usual battle: me offering six to ten choices, her screaming at the ludicrousness of each one, and then an argument in which she says “I never have anything to do. Life is so boring.” and I say “We can throw out all the toys then! You can just sit in silence.”
This day, though, the occasionally reasonable side she has developed since turning four kicks in, and the fight never happens. I say “Sweetie, why don’t you take some time to relax in your room. Please go sit down quietly and read all of your new library books.” She says (drumroll please) “Okay Mommy”. What just happened? Never mind, don’t question it.
And then she does it; she walks into her room without whining, growling, or stomping, and is silent (save for a little rustling of paper).
That makes two small people, and the dog, out of my personal space.
Jacob gets a bottle and a snuggle. I get as deep of a breath as the baby pushing on my diaphragm from the inside will allow. We may survive the witching hour.
My amazing little book lover stays in her room quietly for a full twenty minutes. She emerges with calm, renewed energy that shows in her smile and lack of screaming or flailing. She sits next to me on the floor and hugs Jacob, asking again “Is this our last day babysitting? Will we still get to see him?” Yes it is, but of course we will. Answers which previously caused her to melt down in tears and anger make her hug him a little tighter, telling him what a sweet and clever baby he is.
I ask how quiet reading time was and she says (I don’t even need to embellish here – I swear – because the phrases are now engrained in my memory forever): “Mommy, there are two books that you picked that we read before, and I love them so much. Thank you Mommy, for picking such good books. You’re the best Mommy.”
It’s a fleeting moment of peace, wrapped in a feeling of relief, and rolled into a four year old who is turning out to be more perfect all the time.
I offer to read her the two she loves so much, and she leaps at the chance. She snuggles next to me on the floor, with her funny way of wrapping her little arm around my shoulders, as though she is the adult. We read Poppleton in Fall, and PJ FunnyBunny Camps Out. Jacob starts his wild standing and flopping game again, and we laugh. The guys and the pup get home.
Chaos resumes and grows as our friends arrive. The house is full of wild kid noises, pizza and countless interrupted adult conversations until the evening ends and we ruin the tiny humans’ lives by making them say goodbye to each other. Kevin and I have a quick bedtime strategy conference: definitely no baths, just wipe them down; which one do you want?; what kind of bribe can we offer for cooperation? We do the bare minimum, roll them into bed, make the rare decision to leave the house messy, and drag our tired old selves to the TV.
These are the things (the only things) to hold onto from today. The beauty in all that chaos; the fact that we survived another week; that calm moment when I soaked in my girl with pride; the last day with Jacob going smoothly and culminating in a perfectly crazy dinner with both of our families; the quiet after the storm and the short chunk of time with my husband before another wild day begins.
Rylant, Cynthis. Poppleton in Fall. The Blue Sky Press, 1999.
Sadler, Marilyn. P.J. Funnybunny Camps Out. Random House, 1993.