Ben has taken some time off work. It is glorious. Not only because I love his company - I do - but also because it brings the adult-child ration up to a fairly reasonable number. With two full-time parents we're just beginning to be able to cover everyone's needs.
It's been a week now. A week of sleeping until (could it be?) seven because, yes, though I still have to make lunches and breakfasts and beds, Ben's there with me corralling children into clothes, into shoes, into backpacks, and out the door. And if, per chance, I don't manage to reset every room of the house to its proper order by eight a.m., there's magically more opportunity to do it later in the day. Ben might be picking up Mihiretu, say, even taking that rascal to the beach. Loads of leisure time to properly plump pillows and fold quilts.
And at five, when everyone is tired and the wheels start coming off the wagon, when I'm elbow-deep in dinner preparation, Ben can read a story to our small restless natives or, like last night, google Chinese acrobats or world-record high dives, the four of them clustered around the dining table, their gaping mouths lit by the blue of the screen.
There's not a lot of room at the moment to be grumpy. My desperation, my overwhelm, my panic is at bay. I am well-slept, well-exercised and well-fed. The kids haven't sat in front of the TV in a week. There is another adult who can catch my mumbled asides or share a covert roll of the eyes when someone, and I'm not naming names here, puts on five different pairs of socks (some multiple times) before she finally places shoes on her feet and walks out the door to school.
Surprisingly, Mihiretu, though he's gotten hours of dedicated, sister-less, Dad-time and even some solo playtime with me, is still mostly mired in obstinance and defensiveness. A whiff of parental disapproval and he is screeching, intent on hearing-loss, he is throwing rather large metal toy trucks at whomever he perceives to be his enemy, he's proclaiming, "Okay, I no play den." (he believes we will be devastated if deprived of his company). Last night he left the dinner table in a fury because his soup was hot (god forbid). We had a half-hour of "Daddy's poo-poo" from under the table before we got him back on track. It's been two and a half months of terrible behavior, inspired by who know's what. It was easier, when Ben was working, to pin it on the stress his job puts on the family dynamic (he's working too hard, he's gone from the family, I'm on my own, the kids miss him and there isn't enough of me to go around). But now that he's here, now that we've glided into some calm water, now that we can devote our relaxed and patient selves to the kids and especially to Mihiretu, it's especially discouraging to watch him continue to flip out. I have many moments of wondering if it's ever going to get better. Wondering if our life with him is going to be like this, with age-appropriate variations, as long as we're alive.
After we'd finally gotten the kids in bed last night, after we'd settled on the couch and watched a Netflixed episode of the first season of "Lost" (we're regretfully behind on our pop culture), Ben, while the credits rolled, said, "What are we going to do about that guy?"
He was clearly absorbed in the challenges of Mihiretu and not, like me, still pondering who burned the partially constructed life-raft or the mysterious presence of the "others" in the jungle or the sexual tension seemingly between each and every castaway (with the hopeful exception of the ten-year-old boy).
I had no answer. But as I sat and held his hand, I thought of the five really good minutes I had with Mihiretu that evening. Because Ben's here more, he's now viewed by our small boy as the bad guy more often (hence this evening's "Daddy's poo-poo" and not the usual refrain of "Mommy's poo-poo"). Ben always says that scarcity breeds value. I'm more scarce for Mihiretu lately because Ben's more present. And so tonight, while he was busy being mad at Dad, he requested that I brush his teeth, that I help him into pajamas. It's a welcome departure to be the good cop, I have to say. The girls had turned on Toots and the Maytals in the other room and as I held his pajama pants out for him to step into, Mihiretu started to dance. He's got one hell of a funny dance. He sticks his butt behind him and shakes it, he grins maniacally, he half-closes his eyes, pokes his chin in the air and waggles it in opposition to his rear. Do I have to say it? He has rhythm.
And so he danced to "Funky Kingston" in his underwear and I laughed and for the moment I thought, it's worth it. It will get better. We just have to hang on. And at least in the short term, I have the company of my husband to ride the storm. We can only see three feet in front of us in the fog, where Mihiretu's concerned, but for the next three feet I have a hand to hold.