The Brawn startles as I walk by. I look at him quizzically.
The Rose explains that he'd just been telling her he heard a ghost when I suddenly appeared, hence the jumpiness.
"I was standing in the hallway," he says breathlessly, "when I heard a creaking in the living room but when I looked, there was nobody there. It was a ghost."
Despite the supernatural being the only logical explanation, I start to explain about houses settling and how today was unusually windy and then I look at his big eyes and earnest eyebrows a little more closely and I say, "do you want me to explain what it really was? Or do you want to keep on thinking it was a ghost?"
He stares at me for a moment. Then, with a tiny smile, he says, "I want to keep on thinking it's a ghost."
It starts sprinkling. Here in SoCal this is unusual enough that the youngest kids always get excited. The Brawn runs in to grab a jacket and asks for help zipping it up. "It might be kinda hard," he warns.
I get it in one. "Like that?" I scoff. "See what I did there? You see that? Know why I was able to do that?"
He looks at me. "Because you're a master?" he suggests.
I blink. I'd thought I'd have to explain to him that it's because his dad's awesome, something he (like most people) probably didn't notice.
He watches me process what just happened, then nods and heads out into the drizzle.
One of the perils of working at home they never warn you about:
I'm finishing up the soup I've been working on for a few hours—can you ever really add too much black pepper? I'm on a quest to find out—when Top Management comes out of the office.
The moment she steps into the kitchen, she begins dancing, seemingly unaware she's doing so. (Such is the power of 70s southern rock even on not especially [to put it mildly] ardent fans.) We get into a brief discussion of arena v. progressive v. southern rock and where the sub-genres cross over and diverge and then she decides to have a bowl of soup even though it's an hour before dinner but what the heck it's ready and she's here and as she's picking through for the best pieces of chicken she suddenly says, "oh! I was totally in the middle of something and just came out here for a drink of water."
She frowns at her bowl of soup, which is clearly at least partially at fault, as I have to concede that this isn't a problem you encounter often while working at Target or IBM.
We've been in the car for well over 10 hours at this point, having driven up to the wonderful San Luis Obispo to see Max for Parents Weekend. The Rose, the Bean and the Golden Weasel all saw her apartment for the first time and then we had lunch downtown and are now on the way back down, just south of Los Angeles. It's nearly 10pm, and we left the house about 7:30am, so to say we're all a little punchy would be an understatement.
But none more so than the Golden Weasel. She's been amazing all day, a trooper and a half. But she's only 9, and driving five and a half hours, then walking around for about three hours, and then getting back in the car, is just not what she's wired for. She's uttered barely a peep of dissent, but she looks exhausted and, oddly, she barely has the strength to speak in more than a whisper.
We've been playing our family's modified version of 20 Questions, where the thing to be guessed is generally an abstract concept, such as "Thursday" or "the smell of the road after it's rained" or "the feeling of love you get when you look at a sleeping baby to whom you're closely related." Naturally, these usually not only take far more than 20 questions to figure out. But the answering of each question is nearly as difficult as figuring out what the concept in question is, and is rarely a straight "yes" or "no" but requires nuance and thoughts on the part of the person holding the answer. I mean, sure, you can taste "traffic," but is is a plain ol' "yes" really the right response there?
Anyhoozle, it's the Golden Weasel's turn to come up with something.
"Is it an abstract concept?" the Bean asks.
"No," the Weasel murmurs.
"Is it broccoli?" asks the Rose.
"Yes!" yells the Golden Weasel hoarsely but happily, and laughs for the next three minutes, before passing out.
So I take the Golden Weasel to pick up the pizza. She's delighted, because she's delightful, as am I, and because the pizza joint gives out little things of cookies to little kids. She chats nonstop the whole way home, nomming cookies as she does. As soon as we get in the house, she goes to throw the cookies wrapper away.
Instantly, the Brawn appears. "What is that?" he asks in a tone that makes it clear he knows it was some sort of Very Tasty Taste Sensation and that he had had none of it.
The Golden Weasel begins to hem and haw, a very, very unusual response for her. "It was cookies," I say bluntly.
They both look at me in surprise. "They give them to kids who never, ever fuss and are always cheerful," I explain. "Your sister hasn't fussed in years, so she gets cookies."
Her other sisters come in the kitchen. "The Rose here, for instance. She hasn't fussed in nearly three years, so every single night, she gets cookies."
The expression on Rose's face makes it clear this is news to her.
The Brawn looks astonished by this information. His face begins to cloud over, until he realizes that a Cloudy Face is not a Cheerful Face and he struggles.
"Dude," I say. "Has Rose fussed even once in the past three years?"
He shakes his head, then stops. "Yes," he says slowly. "She has."
"Exactly," I say. "I was just teasing. She doesn't really get cookies every night. She only wishes she did."
She confirms the accuracy of this statement. I then add, "The Weasel, on the other hand, really hasn't fussed in years. But she still doesn't get cookies every night."
Her big sisters are looking at me like I'm insane. "What?"
"She fusses all the time."
"She does not."
"She does so. She fusses every day."
"Yes. If we're drawing together and I get up to do something else, she gets all upset and makes that face."
"You know, that face."
"Oh," I say. "I didn't know."
And I didn't. I later relate the story to Top Management.
"Of course you haven't seen her in anything but a good mood," she patiently explains. "You're not the one who makes her do her math or clean the patio. You're the one who gives her cookies."
"Who is this?" asks the boy, who always wants to know the name and artist of every song.
"It's..." I pause. "Huh."
I can't remember.
I know every lyric. I know how to play it on the guitar. My college band played it, and being the drummer, I was the one to kick it off, and set the tempo way too damn fast. (Also, I forgot that we changed the setlist and was supposed to be starting an entirely different song. Whoops.) I've been listening to Natalie Imbruglia's new cover of it for days on end now. If I could draw, I could probably storyboard the video, even without having seen it in years. (Or at least that was the case before I wrote this post.) I was outraged when it was used in a fast food commercial. I loved it when it was used in Valley Girl.
I know this song.
But I cannot think of the name of the artist.
The hit was so pervasive that it's not like this is some arcane bit of music trivia, like who was the first major rock artist to use Paiste cymbals or something. I can picture where the artist's catalog was located in the record store I worked at in high school. The band was the very definition of "one hit wonder." I'm working my way there...but no. I can't quite do it.
I'm crushed. How can this be happening? And it's not a temporary glitch: the song's nearly over and I still can't came up with the artists' name.
I can't believe this. This is the most
"Modern English!" I yell.
I breathe a sigh of relief. And then I simply sigh.
"This is it," I tell the Rose. "I have passed my peak. This is like peak oil, only it's me. We have hit peak Scott. This is the exact moment at which I have started my long inevitable decline. It's all downhill from here."
The Rose pats my knee. "Remember, Daddy," she says. "Once you've crested the mountain and start going down the other side? Well, a mountain looks beautiful from the other side of the peak, too."
"Hey! Why's the carseat over on this side now?" asks The Brawn as he gets into the car. Almost all his trips are taken in the minivan, and apparently, at some point, in this vehicle his carseat got moved from the passenger side to behind the driver's seat.
"I dunno," I say. "The carseat goblins must've come in the middle of the night and moved it."
He pauses, mid-buckle. "Are there really carseat goblins?"
"No," I say, and take over buckling for him.
He stares into my eyes a long moment and then, very slowly, he smiles ever so slightly and nods almost imperceptibly, with what might have been an attempt at a sly wink.
Sorry for the radio silence. What can I say? Other than Comic-Con, a few sniffles and the Rose having abandoned the family, things have been perfect. Which is nice, but doesn't lead to having much to say. (Not that that's often stopped me.)
I'll be back with more when things fall apart again, as they're certain to.
"Did you know the low for today was 54?" the Rose asks in delighted disbelief. Given that it was in the high 90s just a few weeks ago and she blooms when it's cold and overcast and if it's rainy? oh my. This is her way of making it clear it was a good day.
The Golden Weasel looks perplexed. "What a loafer?" she asks. Clearly she didn't know me back in college.
The two boys are watching Dora the Explorer as I'm doing the dishes, the younger one enthusiastically, the older one considerably less so; he's not a huge fan of La Exploradora, for reasons I've never understood, possibly because they're utterly inexplicable.
I hear Dora instruct her faithful viewer to call Map and, instinctively, I yell "map!" as I always do and have ever since our oldest started watching television. We hoped, as did the makers of the programs, that it would encourage the kids to be more actively involved, rather than simply passive viewers. It never worked, no matter how many times or how loudly I tried.
(The show did, however, lead to one of our family's favorite sayings, thanks to a then-young daughter who couldn't pronounce the villainous Swiper's name correctly: "Fiper no fiping!")
Except I'm dimly aware I can hear The Brawn join me in yelling "map! Map!" from the other room as I start scrubbing the pasta pot.
A moment later, I realize he's now yelling, "Dad! Dad!"
I turn off the water. "What is it, buddy?"
"It worked," he politely informs me. "We got Map to come."
The 16-year-old, attempting to prove to the Golden Weasel that as her older sister she does, in fact, know all there is to know, confidently states the prime interest rate at the close of business (on a Sunday): "C2."
The final exchange rate for the yen against the euro at market close? "Cumulus."
The Golden Weasel looks suitably impressed. The Rose looks at me to see if I'm as proud of her as she deems I should be.
I'm not. I'm twice as proud. Or, as she might put it, "Schrödinger equation."
We've got those word magnets on our fridge. We have at least the basic starter kit and the Shakespeare expansion pack and maybe another. We've had them for nearly as long as we've had kids, or maybe even longer? We go through phases as a family where we'll be more active and then through dormant periods, and even some dark times where the fridge has been free of "besmirch" and "verily" for a few months, until the kids find them and dig them out again. We've gotten some great sentences and phrases over the years and more than a few that made no sense but amused the heck out of the younger contingent.
So I'm opening the fridge today and I knock one onto the floor. The Golden Weasel says, without looking up from the kitchen table where she's been drawing, "what word was that?"
"Um..." I say, bending down and picking it up. "To. Tee Oh."
"Mm," she murmurs, nodding, still not looking up. "That's what I thought. It sounded like that."
There is nothing quite like the feel of one of your kids falling asleep on you. The way they get heavier and heavier, the way their head slowly sinks further and further into a position you just know can't possibly be comfortable, the way their little body—normally stuffed full of so much energy they can't be still for a moment—grows more and more still, all tension leaving, until finally all that's left are those one or two full body muscle twitches that tell you your mission has been almost fully accomplished.
A few days ago I read something about how every person on earth, at some point, their parents put 'em down and never picked 'em up again. It happens to all of us—at some point, we simply get too big to be picked up by our parents. But rarely if ever does either parent or child know it—no one goes, "right, that's the last time I'll be picking up little Bobby then." The kid doesn't think, "well, that was a good long run; I guess I'm walking to bed from here on out for the rest of my life." It just...happens.
(Naturally, the moment I read that, I went and picked up every one of my children living at home, even the almost 17-year-old, who went along with it patiently, but who looked at me as though I'd lost my mind. Which means: yeah, you, up there—I know you're reading this, Max, and you know what's happening the next time you come home.)
Top Management and I went and met one of her best friends from college and his husband for drinks last night, and I mentioned this little revelation, and it hit both of them as hard as it had hit us. Unfortunately, shortly therefore, I found out that the husband had lost both his parents a few years earlier, making it that much more poignant. I mean, it's not likely my dad's going to pick me up any time soon, even if he weren't 3000 miles away...but, you know, at least in theory it's possible.
So tonight I had some work I hadn't finished and I was tempted to get it done after the boys were in bed and before Top Management finished her evening shift. But instead I put on a Springsteen concert DVD and turned off the lights and had The Golden Weasel cuddle up on top of me on the couch while she's still (just barely) small enough to fit. And as I felt her going, I thought, that last time may be approaching...but, at least for now, it's not here quite yet.
The Golden Weasel, uncharacteristically, grows weary of drawing and drifts over to the couch. She picks up a book and begins reading—and, characteristically, it's aloud. Which is fine, delightful, even; I'm going to be very sad when I one day realize she doesn't do that anymore.
I'm only dimly aware of her voice chirping away in the background, as I'm working on Important Things, and as I'm characteristically much closer to the speakers currently pumping out music at an uncharacteristically reasonable volume.
Max, uncharacteristically home from college but characteristically on her computer, IMs me from nine feet away.
what're we listening to? bc i'm really enjoying the contrast we've got going here between the music and the story we're being read.
I pause and listen.
This is what we're being read:
And this is what we're listening to:
Talk about worlds colliding or, perhaps, two great tastes that taste great together.
I turn and see a commercial for a furniture store. We have a family policy about fast-forwarding through commercials, since about 95% of what we watch is from the DVR, but this is one of those rare live shows.
"If you go to that store," says the six-year-old in wonder, "you get a dollar."
"Yeah. You could go to that store every day and get a dollar every day."
"Buttons can't talk," says the six-year-old with affectionate exasperation.
I look up at the television. Apparently there's either a talking button I missed, or someone is under the mistaken impression that buttons can converse? Something like that and, either way, it's obviously absurd.
Never mind that on screen at that exact moment, a cow and a chicken are learning to square dance. That's just fine. But talking buttons? A bridge too far.
Our freezer's malfunctioning a bit again. It won't stop making ice cubes, even though the bin into which the cubes fall is completely full, so when you open the freezer door, dozens of excess cubes spill out if you're carefully monitoring the inventory. It keeps doing this even though I've actually turned the setting to off. Some things just don't take "no" for an answer.
So I open the door this morning and see that it's now malfunctioning in another, at least more aesthetically pleasing, way. I reach up and snap off the result of the malfunction and hand it to the six-year-old, who happens to be standing right next to me, thinking he might like it.
The Brawn looks at the thing in his hand, puzzled. Then he picks it up and turns it this way and that, delighted by its shape and texture.
"Look!" he yells. "It's like a straight cold candy cane made out of water!"
Yes, buddy, it is. To those of us who didn't grow up in SoCal, we call such bizarre, foreign marvels "icicles."