Monday, March 17, 2008
If we could bottle the first twenty minutes of our children's waking hours today, we'd have a hot new birth control product on our hands.
The house is quiet. Fresh snow carpets the ground outside, powdery and delicate. Our angels sleep in heavenly peace. Rachelle and I are dressed for the day, and at 6:00, it's time to get the angels up and ready for preschool.
I decide to take a gentle approach to waking Brielle, hoping to sneak jeans on her before she is awake enough to know she's not going to get a skirt. I slide the covers up from her feet to keep her torso warm, pull off her jammies and pull on the Dora the Explorer undies. She begins a squeaking protest, barely registering on the Richter scale. On go the jeans--lacking even sparkles or flowers to atone for their nonskirthood--and she is still half asleep, only conscious enough to crescendo the squeaking a bit. Socks are next, and she only kicks a little, but is clearly building momentum.
As if it would help stem the rising tidal wave of angst I saw on the horizon, I begin sweet-talking Brielle. "I love you, big sweet Brie. Buenos días, niñita. Te quiero mucho. You get to go to school today!"
"I don't WANT to go to school!" she whines, wriggling away from the second sock.
So much for sweet talk. I change my tack from gentle to swift and pull a shirt over her head. She screams and spins over to avoid it, but I grab a wrist and poke it through the armhole, and do the same on the other side before she can pull the first arm out. I repeat the feat with the brown pullover sweater to a soundtrack of fierce screaming protest.
Awake now, she takes her vociferous petition about the inadequacy of our wardrobe choice into the bathroom, where Mommy is finishing her hair. After a couple minutes of loud fussing, I relocate her to timeout in the rocking chair in the dark front room corner. "Brielle, you do not need to fuss like that. You are on timeout until you choose to be flexible about your clothes." I walk back to the hallway. "Some little girls don't have ANY clothes to wear." I can't resist the hackneyed guilt trip.
I begin a similar process with Melía, who is always the last one asleep, and in my favor this morning, slowest to wake. I get almost her whole outfit on before she begins to stir, and she fails to begin crying until she is out of bed and walking out of the room. At that point, she makes up for lost time, beseeching Mommy to hold her, complaining of her sorry state, lamenting woes too woeful for words and only expressible by pitiful shrieks.
Ashlyn, meanwhile, begins the wrestling, squawking and thrashing the moment Rachelle begins to dress her. Always the passionate one, she puts her strong little soul into the outcry against the injustice of these predawn exercises. (Ashlyn, that is. Rachelle manages to keep her outcries under her breath for now.) She bucks and curls and beats the bed against the cruelty of being dressed for school by her mother.
The chorus of agony echoes through the house. Hell hath no fury like preschoolers being dressed for school, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth are an infernal three-part harmony. On behalf of the neighbors, I give thanks for our new double-pane windows' ability to not only keep cold out, but to keep sound in.
Back in the front room, Brielle has had enough time to calm down, but has spent it instead getting riled up. "I HATE these clothes!" she screams. I remind her at close range in my authoritative voice that she will be on timeout until she chooses to be flexible about the clothes she wears--and that she will never be off time out while she talks like that. She avoids my gaze, squirming on the rocking chair and falling out of it. She knocks over a glass pot of stylishly dead twigs.
"I'm sorry, Daddy!" she says through her torment.
"It's OK, Brielle. They didn't break. They're dead already anyway." I hope this is the break we needed, that chink in the armor of her strong will, the blue patch between thunderheads that signals the end of the storm.
It is not.
The chaos continues until it moves mercifully out into the minivan to be delivered down the mountain, a journey during which it metamorphoses into the beauty and joy that are the Bennie babes' hallmark. They pass for the next nine hours into the care of people who would never suspect that our angels greeted the day with such fury.
Only a parent gets so thoroughly chastised so early in the morning for so routine a process. "I'm only trying to love them, to get them ready to learn today! They love school once they get there! What am I supposed to do here?" I ask myself.
I make many mistakes every day. But never, until I became a father of three, was I made so audibly aware of them in the day's first twenty minutes.
This, my friends, is birth control at its finest. Candlelight, soft music and champagne notwithstanding, any prescience of this morning could stop the most ardent husband from making advances on his wife.
If I were God, looking ahead at any given day of our whiny, ungrateful lives, I'd find birth control enough to skip Day 6 of Creation. Somehow, He did not. I am glad.
I am also glad that I didn't see this morning coming back when we chose to have a family, because at the point in my journey, I would not have seen the blessings of parenthood clearly enough to take the plunge. Ignorance is bliss. It is also good for the survival of the species.
I still wonder how a God who saw it all before it happened could be wild enough a lover to bear children on a silent, snow-blanketed planet that once slept in heavenly peace.