My husband, Matthew, could not wait to go to work the other morning. The caterwauling, shouts, and war whoops, typical tribal noises of his children, were too much for him. When asked what he wanted to take for breakfast, he replied curtly, "Just give me whatever, so I can get out the door."
Yesterday I was the one who couldn't hack it, couldn't look the demands of the day in the face. By afternoon I had hurled a hamburger patty on the floor and demanded to know why I had to put up with so much drama. There was yelling, grabbing, crying, fights over blackberries. Blackberries! I eventually retrieved the hamburger, safe in its Ziploc bag, to prepare for my calm child, Ana.
You see, I'll tell you a wee secret. God gives every large family that one child, the dependable, even-tempered one, to guard their parents' sanity. Because He knows; oh, He knows.
As I was recounting my day to my husband last evening, detailing an argument-at-the-swimming-pool scene, the blackberries-and-hamburger incident, a hokey-pokey tragedy of immense proportion, a dog-tried-to-eat-hamster debacle, and a Danny-slap-Booey in the face mockery, I began to giggle, hands pressed into my glasses, releasing the day's stress with God's natural remedy.
"It's bad. It's...just...sooo bad," I gasped.
By golly, you have to have a since of humor in this business or you won't survive. You'll crack, and be the one that flew over the cuckoo's nest. I can't count the number of times my husband has been in a serious stare-off with one of the kids, boring his displeasure into their craniums, and I've broken just watching them, had to hide my face and snicker into my arm. The many, many times, when the level of bad behavior in this house was so ludicrous, so incredibly high that a volcano of naughtiness could have erupted and flooded the neighborhood, and I've stood in the middle of my home in a fit of mirthless, unbelieving laughter. Or the time, much nicer, when Booey (Ella) started knock-knock jokes at the dinner table, and they all joined in, the go-to punch line of the evening being "apple-lapple-orange juice". I burst out in real fits when Matthew cried out at last, "No more knock-knock jokes!", and Danny turned to him, sweet as pie, and said, "Papa? Ding-dong."
Ding-dong - Ha! Haha!
My husband thinks the craziness is too much, gets fed up, has to take a break, retreat and plan new tactical maneuvers.
The poor man called one day at lunchtime as I was cleaning a stream of juice off my dining room wall. While I was talking and cleaning, Danny just happened to push his leg through the slats of a dining room chair. His siblings and I attempted to maneuver his leg down or back or any way we could to gently pull it free. With every failed attempt Danny's panic and wails of woe escalated, and my cajoling voice increased in pitch. I finally cried into the phone, "I'm going to have to call the Fire Department!"
My brain had momentarily died from an overload of steadily increasing aggravation and distraction. When it finally hyperventilated back to life, I grabbed Vaseline and had my son's leg released in a moment. When I got back on the line, Matthew could barely speak to me; he was so disgusted by the mayhem. I cried, "What are you talking about? This is every day. This is life! That boy has got his elbow stuck in that chair at least a dozen times this week!"
I start singing at my kids when things get too bad, when I start seeing the cuckoo's nest on the horizon. I sing my frustration, my disappointment, my conditions for peace, my orders to be obeyed right now. Most of my songs are operatic songs of acute lamentation, more tragic than any aria.
The kids know what it means when Mama sings. Not being a qualified opera singer, I don't care about form or pitch, and it hurts the ears; they'll do anything to make it stop. Even behave. Even do what I asked them to do 15 minutes ago.
Sometimes it's so bad around here - so noisy, so theatrical, so tantrum and spat invested - that I worry about the neighbors and their uninformed opinions. I wish I had a megaphone that I could wedge out a bathroom window sometimes to alert them to the situation:
"We're alright...we're allriiiight! Listen: Danny - the golden-haired angel? - is pitching a ferocious fit in time-out...howling should die down in about, oh, twenty minutes. I am not beating him, really, though I'm sorely tempted! There's also a minor scuffle between the older ones. No broken bones, just hurt egos! The one keening like an old witch is me, trying to keep them all from leaping off the furniture. But don't worry! No need to call an ambulance, the police or fire department at this time. Uh...please stand by for further notifications, though. And thank you for your cooperation and your wonderful nonjudgmentalism!"
School will start soon, and thank heavens, because what I'll hear from their teachers I hear every year, applied like balm to my soul. It goes something like this:
"Berto/Ana/Ella is such a joy to have in our classroom! They're so helpful and respectful. So well-behaved! I know I never have to worry about him/her. Thank you for all you do to raise such wonderful kids."
I'll just nod, grin and say, "That's so great to hear. You know, I just keep at them, the little...uh, angels. They're like sugar on sugar fluffer, you know what I mean? But you can't let them get away with a thing. Not a blasted thing, the, uh, sweeties. It's battle, constant battle, but so darn rewarding, huh? Yes?"
And I'll walk away with a skip in my weary step and a twinkle in my eye above the permanent dark circles, resting proudly in the knowledge that they behave beautifully for other people and knowing full well that my husband and I get all the exhausting work and glorious credit in making sure of that.