Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I pat bottoms in a specific direction. "Let's go, babes, upstairs." It's time to get ready for bed. I'm mama-quiet, setting the tone for day's end with calm in my voice and love in my touch. I'm a walking waterfall of serenity.

They're having none of it.

Off they go in three different directions, human ricochets of movement and sound and that poor hall passage from the kitchen to the front of the house, it can only hold so much. Out one shrieks, up one protests, forward one boy screams EEEEEEEEEEEYYYAAAAHHH!!!! following his sisters in a rampage rampaged just for the joy in rampaging. Slowly I funnel their energy up the stairs.

Our hall upstairs is a squat rectangle, the width of the double doors that lead to the master bedroom. The north side has doors to L's room, the linen closet and the kids' bathroom. The south side has E's room, the gated stairwell, and G's room. West is the purple wall and east is our bedroom.

Every evening, I station myself in the corner of the hall between E's room and ours, under our wedding photos. I change G's diaper and wriggle him into pajamas and stage direct the girls' activities. Then G will join the girls in the bathroom because he hates to be apart from them and loves to suck toothpaste from the tube brush his teeth, and one girl will bounce out to put away a hair clip or find different pajamas and one girl will find pajamas for the first time and one girl will have to switch pajamas, urgently, because they got wet, and one girl will switch pajamas, urgently, because these are too tight, and back and forth the two girls weave, like dyspeptic constellations, like funhouse mirror doppelgangers infinitely bouncing, and only G is a steady force, resolutely sucking toothpaste clutching his toothbrush and tending to business. He tries so hard to keep up with their actions, carefully climbing the stool, tenaciously reaching for a stream of water, thoroughly washing his hands, all in imitation of his sisters who have performed other functions in lieu of the diaper that graces his bottom. A hundred times I say to the girl nearest his side: "help your brother!" so that he doesn't slip or fall or swallow the whole tube of toothpaste and because they both dote on him and because it buys more time before bed, they do so agreeably.

Do you know how the princess culture has invaded even our pajama drawers? The girls have these sets of pajamas, regular shirts and pants, that come with these sheer little tutus. Ostensibly one needs to look frilly even while sleeping. I think these PJ sets are ridiculous and have never bought them. Every time the girls receive them, I rip the tutus off the packaging and separate: actual pajamas up to second-floor drawers, silly tutus down to the basement dress-up bin. But once I wasn't fast enough to dispense with the frilly and L loves her pajama skirt.

I station myself at the center of the frenzy because the lovely husband isn't home, but the phone rings, and I turn my back on the orchestration.

One time when the girls were squabbling over spitters' rights, and tooth brushing, and making me generally crazy building a small dam in my waterfall of serenity, I told one kid to spit in the bathtub; I'd just run the water to rinse it, just stop yelling at each other already no big deal. That moment ignited a frenzy of delight and creativity because clearly conventional bedtime preparations can be made that much more exciting with alternative water sources.

So on this night, as I return from checking the number on the caller ID and ignoring it that phone call, I see a scene that makes more sense than it should: little man G is


His three-year-old sister occupies the entirety of the sink-reaching stool.

"What's going on, L?" I ask with a certain attention-getting non-serene tone as I gag hustle G away from the perfect-height water source and baby-wipe his mouth and hands like crazy.

What? L asks with wide-eyed innocence, ceding no territory on the stool. He wanted to wash his toothbrush but I'm not done! He pointed to the potty and said 'up! Up!' so I opened it for him. You always tell me to help my brother.

And fock but I do now recall hearing him calling for help in the back of my attention just moments earlier.

This is who I will tuck in first tonight, I decide, just so that I know exactly where she is and what she's doing. This is my sweet second child, a character-bursting three-year-old girl who unfailingly helps her much-adored toddler brother and insists on wearing her pajama skirt without its pants; and almost, almost always flushes after she poops.

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