Whenever I lose all reason and think how adorable babies are, I remember what happens a couple of years later: It turns two.
When Merrick was 2 1/2, Scarlett (then 7) sniffs twice and proclaims herself too sick to attend school. We both know otherwise, but I'm a big believer in hooky. Plus, I am secretly thrilled. Scarlett is Merrick's best wind-up toy. He'll be occupied! I make a list: kitchen floor, bathroom, laundry, pile in Stryker's room. I will whip through everything! A clean house momentarily appeases the demons within: how much use are you getting out of that P-H-D, hmmm?
Scarlett has other plans. Home without Stryker evaluating her every move, she spends the entire day moving from one electronic devise to another. Game Boy, DS Lite, TV, Computer. Her eyes glaze and she grows surly. Merrick wails in her wake, begging Scarlett to play with him, begging to 'pway' the Game Boy, and begging me to intervene.
"But this is my day off!" She whines. Cough, cough.
They fight the entire morning. Thurston, our 13 year old dog, throws up twice. I clean up everyone's messes. Forget that list.
Nearly too late, I remember Merrick's 1 pm dental appointment. He had fallen a couple of weeks ago and hit a front tooth; the tooth turned gray, then white and now gray again.
Scarlett shuffles to the van, cleverly remembering to bring the Game Boy so they could continue fighting. Merrick inquires about our destination. Lying is an excellent parenting tool which I stupidly forget.
"To the dentist." They both scream.
"No, no, no--just for Merrick!"
Putting those years of graduate school to use after all, this is the stimulating dialectic I enjoy for the next 20 minutes:
Merrick: "I go to dentist?"
Me: "Yes! It'll be okay."
Merrick (wailing): "Please no make me, please no make me."
The dentist's office is jam-packed. There's one big room with four dental chairs and everybody is in the same mood as Merrick. One child screams. And screams and screams. Merrick collapses.
"I want ki-ki!" These words should mean my milk lets down but instead it's sweat. The whole weaning thing is about one year behind schedule.
"I want ki-ki!!" He goes from firm to frantic. 'KI KI. KI KI."
The dental assistant's horror is palpable. You'd think something slimy had crawled up her shirt. If only. "Oh my God, you're not still nursing him, are you? That's the worst thing. You should see the teeth rot we get here."
I am the most agreeable mother she will see all month. "No, no, no. Of course not! Yes, ugh! Awful. He just remembers, isn't that funny!" Merrick tears at my shirt, looking for an angle in. He weeps and claws. Thank GOD the dentist arrives for further humiliation.
"Why are you even here?" she demands, like I crashed her party.
"Well, I called. The woman on the phone said to come right in."
"But teeth bruise and change colors all the time. It's no big deal. Everybody knows that."
Except me, it appears. I take my thoroughly scolded self back to the van where Merrick gets his ki-ki in hiding. Scarlett wakes up from the Game Boy long enough to ask if we can go to Creative Kidstuff. There are 40 minutes to kill before picking up Stryker from school. I toss in the towel. Why not?
They bounce through the store, which exists as a unique kind of parental torture. Your kids get to fall in love in twenty different ways, with gym-scale race tracks or $100 dolls-- and you get to be the ogre who says "No" to every last thing they adore. "No, no, no. I'm sorry, no." Suddenly, I hear Scarlett scream: Daddy! John (whose office is across the street) saw us and surprised his darlings. He throws each child up in turn. They're rescued. It's Mr. Fun! They beam.
A white-haired grandmother sighs. "What a good father. Isn't it wonderful how they do so much work these days?" An ugly animal growls within me. Aren't there stairs she can be pushed down?
After Mr. Fun leaves, Scarlett begs for a $3. hot chocolate at Woullets Bakery. I am firm, absolutely not. We have a bucket of Nestles at home.
Scarlett looks up from the screen. "Isn't that one of those mean big corporations doing bad things to children? Don't they use dirty water for babies or something?"
We sit at a tall table with our hot chocolate and Merrick reaches over for a napkin. The spill is truly spectacular. An explosion, really. Cocoa on the windows, the walls, streaming down the floor, covering Scarlett's white pants, pouring on Merrick's tummy.
"What a bad thing to do! Look at this mess!" I hiss. Good job, Mary! Merrick wails. The person behind the counter doesn't helpfully jump in: she hands me a towel. I wipe up the best I can through the din. When I shove the cocoa and the coffee into the waste container, it all spills again. I am sweating. Again.
A woman and her young daughter carefully avoid me on their way out. "What's wrong with those people?" asks the child, anxious. The mother dispenses wisdom. "They're messy. Some people just are that way."
My urge to scold Merrick into a pulp of shame is replaced with despair when he lifts up his tiny t-shirt to show big red burn marks. "It hurts." He blinks new tears.
We stagger to the van, wet, Scarlett limping dramatically with those two legs of hot cocoa--and still able to play the Game Boy! Boy, my children have talent. People stare. I settle in Merrick and must step on the paper towel roll we keep in the van (because we're so messy). A sheet sticks to my sticky cocoa-sodden sole and the roll flies, arcing up and across Grand Avenue -- miraculously, one sheet still stuck to my foot as the roll playfully bounces through traffic to the other curb. What a trick. Maybe all that education will pay off in unimagined ways.
Weren't those the good old days!