On Saturday evening, we had Kieren, Dayden and Kiersi over for the evening, complete with Papa Murphy's pizza, brownies, fruit juice, about a gallon of soda pop and those really yummy little Stouffer's frosted animal cookies that I don't think I've had since Meelyn and Aisling were about six and four. They are still good. The cookies, I mean. Meelyn and Aisling are middling.
Pat was going to take Angie out for her birthday, to dinner and a movie. Since her birthday is so close to Kiersi's (as Aisling's is to mine) she sensibly adopted my idea of having her own private festival the weekend following their joint family birthday celebration. And as much as you love your kids, you know they just aren't all that fun to take along on a romantic dinner (which would invariably involve french fries and chicken fingers and a cup of milk spilled across the table and into your purse) or to a movie, where someone always has to be taken to the potty just as something exciting happens.
So the kids came over. I had explained to Dayden and Kiersi that their uncle, who wrestles with Dayden and who chases Kiersi while growling like a bear as she screams with delight, was not yet home from work, but that didn't stop them from calling his name all over the house.
"We're finally here!" Dayden shouted, shrugging his coat off and dropping it on the kitchen floor. "Hey! Where are you?"
"We is here!" Kiersi called in her piping voice. "Here I am! I am me! Where is you?"
Hastily, I said, "Let's get out some toys and things. Your uncle will be here really, really soon."
"Soon? He be here soon?" Kiersi asked wistfully. "He come see me?"
"Yup," I answered.
Meelyn and Aisling brought down their baby dolls that I have never managed to convince them to pack away; the babies, which look very, very real, sleep in little cribs in their room, sitting right in a place where they're sure to catch an unwary piggie toe.* Kiersi was delighted with the wee cribs, the real diaper bags stuffed with real preemie-sized clothes I bought for chicken feed on e-Bay and the tiny little car seats.
"You dress this baby, Aunt Sheldy?" Kiersi asked, holding up a naked baby doll by the leg and proffering a ruffled party dress and a pair of tiny pink sweat pants. "She wear this and this and this today? Right now?" She held out an infant's knitted cap with a pompom and one red sock. I complied and she wandered off happily to put the baby in bed, holding it by the top of its head and swinging it at her side.
Kieren sat down at the dining room table and began shuffling a deck of cards. Dayden wandered off upstairs to play PS2. Meelyn and Aisling got drinks for us all while I slid a pan of brownies into the oven.
"What should we listen to?" asked Aisling when we were finally all seated around the table, getting ready to deal out our first hand of Pounce.
"How about Frank?" Meelyn suggested. "His music is always so cheerful."
"Do you like Frank Sinatra?" I asked Kieren, wondering. I already knew that card-and-game playing appears to be handed down genetically, but could a love for Frank Sinatra be the same?
"I do," he said. Kieren is a man of few words (until he starts trash-talking while playing cards).
So Meelyn put one of my Frank Sinatra CDs on and we all played cards and sang along. To my chagrin, I noted that I am no longer coordinated enough to sing and play cards well enough to beat any of them; their teenage reflexes are much, much sharper than mine.
My husband came home bearing pizzas to a warm welcome from all of us at the table, commenting on the delicious smell of brownies that was permeating the air downstairs. Kiersi came running to greet him, throwing her arms around his knees and somewhat impeding his progess since he didn't know she was with us.
"Whoaaaa! A curtain climber! A crumb snatcher! A rug rat!" he said, swinging her up into his arms.
"Hi!" she said. "Here's my dolly. Chase me? Dress baby?"
"Do you mind if I change my own clothes first?" My husband set Kiersi on the floor and began to loosen his tie.
"I don't know," Kiersi said, deliberating. Her face brightened. "Hey!" she said in a voice full of sunshine. "You have a cookie and I have a cookie!" She gestured with fulsome generosity towards the table where a big bowl of cookies was sitting far too near my right hand. My husband chose two cookies and handed her one, putting his cookie into his mouth, chewing and swallowing in one gulp.
Kiersi's eyes were wide. "That cookie good?" she asked, awestruck at his amazing cookie-eating powers. I thought fondly that if she was amazed by that, she should stick around and see what he can do to a longneck Bud. He defies description! Bear witness to his mighty powers! Ladies and gents, he is the wondrous beer-guzzling man!
My husband and Dayden came downstairs. Dayden sat down at the computer and my husband helped me get the pizza unwrapped and into the oven before flopping into his chair and clicking the TV remote onto Notre Dame basketball.
Just then, Frank's sweet classic, "The Way You Look Tonight" came on. We all kind of sang and hummed along with the words.
Some day, when I'm awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you...
And the way you look tonight.
Yes, you're lovely,
with your smile so warm,
and your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
and the way you look tonight.
With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart...
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart.
Lovely ... Never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won't you please arrange it ?
'Cause I love you ...
Just the way you look tonight.
As Frank sang, I looked around at the people around me -- Kieren and Meelyn fighting for elbow territory while Meelyn squealed "Foul!" and Kieren laughed at her; Dayden sitting engrossed in Webkinz World, talking to his pet frog and telling him, "You need to eat this. It's good for you"; Aisling shuffling her cards and flipping most of them onto the floor in a shower of pasteboard; Kiersi singing to her babies and putting one hapless plastic infant in the car seat head first; my husband shouting, "Run! Go! Run!" at the television while putting another doll's legs into a sleeper suit...
They are six of the people I love best in the world, and I am helplessly, totally, head-over-heels in love with them all. They will change over the years, especially the kids, but I believe it will always be for the better. Their bright young faces are so full of happiness and hope, and my husband, whose beard gets a little grayer each year, is always the one I want to grow old with.
Later on that evening, Kiersi (who was up later than any just-turned-three year old ought to have been) was chasing Hershey, saying imperiously, "Herssie! You come here! I hug you now, bad bad boy!" He was too wily for her and slipped his tail out of her grasp and went under the dining room table, defeating all her efforts to corner him by hiding behind different sets of legs, both human and table. Somewhere in the process, she fell down and began to cry. When I picked her up, she looked at me and said with perfect clarily, in a voice that could have shattered glass, "I WAAAAAAANT MY MOOOOOOOOOMMMMMY!"
If she were older, I probably would have tried to distract her, maybe handing her to her uncle, who was watching an old movie and placidly rocking in his chair so that she could fall asleep on his lap, since she was already wearing pajamas and a Pull-Up. But she's so little, and I'm determined that Aunt Shelley's house is not going to be a place where a small girl is scared and sad and needing her mom, so I hastily dialed Pat and Angie's number.
"Hello?" said Pat.
"We've got a pretty sad little girl here," I said, raising my voice to be heard above her howls. "Do you want to meet me halfway?"
"Yep," he answered.
There's a convenient Taco Bell halfway between our house and theirs that makes a nice drop off point; it takes about fifteen minutes to get there. The girls rounded up all of Kiersi's belongings and Kieren reassured me while I bundled her into her coat.
"I feel bad for calling," I said worriedly. "I don't want to ruin their night, but it doesn't seem like she's going to calm down."
"Once she gets started, she doesn't stop," Kieren said. "It's better this way."
Kiersi was somewhat placated by the news that we were going to go see Mommy and Daddy and she sniffled and hiccuped as I buckled her into her car seat, right side up. She looked at me through wet lashes, her big blue eyes brimming with tears, a tremulous smile on her wee face.
"Aunt Sheldy," she asked me hopefully, "you take me to see my Mommy and Daddy?"
"I sure am!" I said cheerfully, climbing into the driver's seat and buckling my own seatbelt. I put a Sarah Vaughan CD, a lovely collection of George Gershwin songs. I began to sing "Bidin' My Time" as I pulled out of the driveway onto the deserted street.
"You sing, Aunt Sheldy?" Kiersi said, sounding happier than she'd sounded for the past half hour.
"Yep," I said. "Do you like to sing, honey?"
There was no answer.
"Kiersi?" I looked into the rear view mirror. Kiersi was fast asleep, head tipped back, mouth wide open, snoring gently.
The next day, my husband told me that when he went upstairs to change his clothes, he saw Dayden in the playroom, thumbs busily working. "Hey, Daydie!" he said.
According to my husband, who was extremely touched and pleased, Dayden paused his video game, got up from the couch and came over and gave my husband a huge, tight squeeze around the middle.
"He loves me," said my husband in a wondering voice. "That's really.....awesome."
"You're a loveable guy," I said, and put my head on his shoulder, humming a few bars of Frank.
*"Can't we store these things in a Rubbermaid container?" I've groaned a thousand times, rubbing my foot and strenuously avoiding the urge to wail every cuss word I know (and some I just invented for the occasion) at the top of my lungs because, as Aisling told me severely, "sweet dollies might hear."
"Mom, look at these dolls," said Meelyn, holding up her two, which were cradled in her arms. "They look REAL. When Aisling and I used to carry them around, people thought they WERE real. Can you tell me how we are suppoed to put real-looking baby dolls in a Rubbermaid container without feeling like some kind of vile abuser?"
"I could do it," I grumbled crossly.
"No, you couldn't," said Aisling definitively. "These are your little plastic grandchildren. What kind of Nana are you?"
"I don't know. Let me think..." I mused bitterly. "How about a PARTIALLY CRIPPLED ONE?")
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