By Ursula Hennessey
So, dear husband, it’s lonely there, is it? Not quite the bachelor beer-and-baseball frenzy you’d hoped for? Well, you’re a family guy now. I guess I’m happy about that. If you were out every night whooping it up in our absence, I’d wonder if you were really committed to this life we are living. The house is a little spooky without us? The night too quiet? Breakfast a bit boring? Let me give you a taste of what you’re missing up here in rural New Hampshire and maybe you’ll settle in and drink up the silence and freedom for both of us.
It’s 4:30 a.m. and I hear the bell jingle on the girls’ bedroom doorknob. It’s Magdalena. Half awake, she pad-slaps the wooden floors as she wanders out. She stands specter-like at my bedroom door, her limbs limp and her static-electricity hair standing straight out at the sides like a halo of straw. I bolt awake, my book from the night before tumbling to the floor. She’s not great with stairs, as you know, so when I hear that bell I’m certain she’s shuffling down the hall toward the stairway, about to tumble down in a bone-breaking heap. I leap out of bed ready to jump tall buildings, but there she is, just a moonpie face in the moonlight. I let her lie in bed with me. This gives her a burst of energy. Her arms flail as she tells me tales of “Dora Princess” and “Dora Pirate.” She’s also delighted to get an up-close look at my features. While I doze, she pokes my eyes, nose, and teeth without warning.
It’s 6 a.m. Paddy wakes and realizes something is amiss. Mommy. Isn’t. Right. Here. By. My. Side. The foot-thumping, crib-rattling session begins. It sounds like rolling thunder in the pre-dawn light. Why can’t he jibberjabber to his precious MoMo* and OiyNey** for a bit, like his sisters used to? He may be Mr. Laid Back Jolly Roger most of the day, but in the morning he’s Sergeant Piss Pot Jones.
It’s 6:15 and the day is now starting in earnest. It’s a flurry of new diapers, fresh clothes, and good morning hugs. Chi-Chi’s getting the oapy-dopey (oatmeal) going in the kitchen. Clara has already wolfed down her cereal and is now holding the vitamin jar in my face. She is shaking it impatiently. She also wants juice. Patrick is refusing to eat his oapy-dopey. He squeals as Clara, bored since she’s got no one to play with, tickles him through the chair rungs.
I’m calmly and politely requesting that they moderate the volume of their voices, when Magdalena throws her oapy-dopey on the floor. I feel like I’m going to explode. Chi-Chi, God bless her, is making coffee and cutting up fruit for me. Curious George is on. This buys me ten minutes to eat my breakfast. But it’s not long before the natives get restless.
It’s 7 a.m. I’m spent. I’m defeated. I gulp down five or six cups of coffee. I read books. I play cash register. I play store. I direct Big Wheel riding, Matchbox car races, and recorder practice. It’s time to go outside. What is it? 8 a.m.? How am I going to make it until 7 p.m.?
Chi-Chi takes one of them off my hands and we rotate stations. Outdoor vacation-stations include: sandbox, mini trampoline, bike riding, soccer. Each comes with some serious flaws. Sand can be thrown into the eyes. The trampoline toy makes spinejanglingly annoying electronic sounds. Clara can ride the bike on her own, but the other two need fulltime pushing. My back is tightening up after two hunched trips down the gravel driveway and back. Paddy loves soccer, but he insists on running into the flimsy little goal and his feet get tangled in the nets. After a “score!” he hops up only to be pulled right back down to the grass on his face by the rope that has tangled his ankles.
This day is testing my patience, deeply and variously. It takes some serious internal fortitude to hold a bottle still while three kids battle to dip their wands in and half-eat/half-blow bubbles. Over and over and over. It’s just plum boring. Watching paint dry? Whoever came up with that didn’t have toddlers awake for twelve straight hours. I’d love to watch paint dry. At least you can mentally check out.
Now, that I’ve got you sufficiently relieved that you’re not in my place, I’ll tell you some of the great things that are happening. Clara can read like a pro. Did you know that? I thought we’d killed all her brain cells with television, but she can read, and read well. I really do thank God for that one. When I see her independently curl up on the couch with her furrowed brow buried in a book, well that’s just about the best possible feeling a mom can have. Magdalena, whose goals have been the same for a few years now—eat independently, jump, interact with peers in a meaningful way—has reached some “mini-milestones”. We’re the only ones, really, who know how huge these achievements are.
And Paddy? Our little man? He’s great. He’s an easygoing, enthusiastic, loving little boy. Best of all? He doesn’t take much parenting. He’s carved a place in our family already.
They’re good eggs, I tell you, Daddy. And so are you. We miss you. When autumn comes I know that all I’ll remember is the looks on the kids’ faces as they tried to catch butterflies, their laughter as they rolled sideways down the grassy-hill, and their joy at spending so much time each day with their grandmother and uncle.
Maybe vacation won’t be so hard when we all do it together. 2020 maybe?