By Jennifer Eyre White
It's 5:15 in the morning and Kennard and I are awakened by a noise that sounds like it's coming from our kitchen downstairs.
I roll over and nudge Kennard and whisper, "Did you hear that?"
"Yeah, it's probably just Ben getting some cereal," Kennard mumbles, and goes back to sleep.
Ben is five years old and he's perfectly capable of getting his own cereal--in fact, we've told him to do exactly that if he wakes up before six. So I close my eyes and pull the covers up over my ears. But I keep hearing odd noises, metallic noises, noises that sound like someone is rearranging the cutlery. Or tinkering on a Buick.
I go downstairs to investigate. I discover that it's not Ben, it's 27-month-old Kirby making all that noise. He has never gone downstairs alone before. But now, at 5:15 in the morning, he is standing on a stool at the kitchen counter and using a knife to coat a whole kiwi with butter. He's got about a half-inch layer on it and apparently this isn't thick enough. A bunch of forks and spoons are on the floor around the stool.
When he sees me he smiles and says, "I puttin' butter on da kiwi!"
"Yes," I say, "Yes, you are." I have no idea what possessed him to do this, but I'm not really surprised. These days, there isn't much that surprises me. The kitchen is a mess, with butter all over the counter and cabinets. I briefly consider writing a children's book, a book I'd call: "Guess How Much I Wish You'd Stop Buttering the Kiwi."
I should probably discipline him, but my heart's not in it. Instead I put the buttered kiwi on a plate, where it looks like an art project, and Kirby and I have breakfast together.
At 6:30 Ben wakes up and comes downstairs looking for his brother.
"Where's Kirby?" he says.
"He got up early to butter some kiwi," I explain.
"Oh. Can I have buttered kiwi, too?"
I'm about to say no, but then I think, do I really want to argue that it's better to have butter on bread?
"Umm, sure, you can have some buttered kiwi." This is not a sentence I thought I would be saying this morning.
At 7:00 I send the boys into eleven-year-old Riley's room to wake her up. They climb all over her and she squeals and giggles and finally yells at them to get off. She comes downstairs muttering, "Brothers."
Last year she asked me if she could take them to school for Show and Tell. This year she's in middle school, and they probably don't even have Show and Tell. At least, not the kind that's sanctioned by the teachers. She's a bit moody in the mornings lately because she's totally stressed about having six classes and a stack of textbooks that weighs as much as a small pony. Also, she's entering puberty. It seems unfair to have to deal with puberty and middle school at the same time--it's too bad I can't get her a temporary puberty waiver. I get her a rolling backpack instead.
This year Ben entered kindergarten at the school that Riley just finished. He worried all summer that he wouldn't know the rules and that the teacher wouldn't like him. Kennard and I were astounded to find that our brash, rowdy little guy--who's so different from Riley in most ways--was acting exactly like she did before kindergarten. Since he's always been the kind of kid who beats the crap out of inanimate objects, makes incredibly realistic weapon noises, and careens around the house like a human pinball, I did wonder what his first year in a classroom would be like.
But a few weeks ago I realized that Ben had changed. He had become calmer, more reasonable, less likely to need an exorcism. And it wasn't Ben, after all, who was down in the kitchen causing trouble this morning. Suddenly it dawns on me that Riley has passed her torch to Ben, who has passed his torch to Kirby--who will probably torch the whole house.
Our morning proceeds apace. This is one of the two days a week that I go to work, so all three kids have to get ready for school or daycare. Riley does a pretty good job of getting herself ready and Ben is intermittently cooperative. Kirby, however, has to be coerced. Don't get me wrong, sometimes he's angelic, sometimes he doesn't get apoplectic when we tell him that he has to wear his socks and shoes, again. Sometimes he opens his mouth for teeth brushing without complaint. (This happened once, last March.) The rest of the time he is incredibly mulish and balks at everything--yet Kennard and I persevere. And when I say "persevere," mostly what I mean is "yell."
One of the great things about having three kids is that you get to watch three different developmental stages, all unfolding in parallel. The only down side is that often, someone's in a stage that sucks.
I pack lunches, Kennard wrangles the boys, and Riley searches for her clarinet. By 8:15 we're all headed out the door. On his way out Kirby grabs a few bucks off the kitchen table, stuffs them in his pocket, and announces, "I ready now." What, is he planning on buying a double latte? Or a pack of cigarettes? When I was pregnant with Kirby I worried that he might get lost in the shuffle. Now I see that we're all just speed bumps on his race to world domination.
In the car he demands that I play "Let's Get It Started," by the Black Eyed Peas. This strikes me as redundant since with three kids, it never stops.
Having spent the morning with my own kids, I'm spending the evening with someone else's. Some friends of mine asked me to come over and hold their month-old baby for a few hours so they could sleep. When they opened their front door for me I felt like the Avon lady calling on the undead--clearly, they are a people badly in need of rest.
People often assume that, if you have three kids, you're too busy or exhausted to be of use to anyone else. Sometimes that's true, but not always. I told my friends to call me if they needed help and I was pleased and flattered when they did. I took it as an implicit vote of confidence in my sanity. Not to mention the fact that it's a lot more relaxing to sit with one little newborn than to deal with the frenzy of three bedtimes at my house, which is what Kennard is currently doing.
My friends' baby is a little bit hairy, not unlike a kiwi. She has a dark thatch on her head and downy fur on her ears and temples--but her eyebrows are feminine and delicately arched. She's dreaming in my arms, and I watch as every expression, every emotion she'll ever feel plays across her face. It looks like she's warming up for quite a life. I see what her first smile will look like, but it won't be for me.
Every now and again she starts to wake up, but like most newborns, she's equipped with a snooze button in the roof of her mouth. I slide my pinkie in her mouth and press the pad up against the roof. She immediately starts sucking and goes back to sleep.
Her room is dimly lit, and she feels so warm and familiar in my arms, and somehow four hours slip by. It's surprisingly hard to leave her when I go home at midnight. For just a minute--right before I put her down--I have this crazy urge to take her home with me and start everything over again.
Boy, that would piss her parents off.