Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On the other side of the one-child policy

"You have your hands full!" is the most frequently uttered comment when I'm out with my littles. We had three kids in four years and when you see us, you see a lot at once: typically someone is twirling, someone is walking away, someone is going backwards, I'm trying to steer us forwards, at least two of us are talking simultaneously, and then there's G in my arms or the basket of the shopping cart or, like Saturday, in his stroller – not even yet one of the bodies spinning independently out of my reach like so much centrifugal force.

Probably someone just dropped something: G, a piece of food from his mouth or one of his Robeez; or L, a toy she decided not to hold any longer or a shoe that she walked out of because it made her foot hot; or me, my keys or my phone. Probably someone is holding something s/he shouldn't: L, who likes to ruffle G's hair; or L, who if not watched carefully will inadvertently cause me, in my ignorance of her fisted possession, to shoplift candy; or L, who will pick up worms or ABC gum for the delight of textural exploration. Probably someone's talking loudly. We seem to talk loudly in our family, maybe because we're all always talking at once. E wants you to acknowledge each newly added detail of her inventing-as-she-goes tale of fairy princess unicorn rainbow mermaid goblin-capturing; L is telling you who peed in his pants at school today and who didn't; and G squeals because he likes the sound of his voice. I'm saying either "hold my hand or the stroller" or "don’t touch that!" or "yuck, put that back down" or "well, now that you touched it wipe your—not on your face!" or "yes, love, her dress had rubies AND diamonds. Very sparkly. Yes, but flat diamonds so they didn't get caught on the ivy when she climbed the castle walls. Good planning by her dressmaker." Less frequently, like every three minutes, I also say, "oh, G, don't eat your shoe."

And that's before you even watch me strap all three in a car. You know those signs at work sites lauding their safety records? 17 DAYS OF ACCIDENT-FREE CONSTRUCTION. And you read it and wonder what happened to that poor guy 18 days ago. Sometimes I think I should have an electric marquis on the top of my station wagon. ANOTHER DAY SHE GOT THEM ALL STRAPPED IN BEFORE SOMEONE DARTED INTO TRAFFIC AND GOT SQUISHED BY A METROBUS.

We celebrate the accomplishments here at Chez Noteverstill. Like, all the children are still bodily intact after another outing into the world, and surely there's nothing better for the development of herd immunity than tasting sidewalk chewing gum.

Sidenote: I know you think these stories about L's worldly curiosity are gross. She's a big believer in cleanliness, though. We've only once ever had to call the Poison Control hotline, and that was when we found her sucking Purel through the pump dispenser. "It's just alchohol. Watch her be drunk, don't let her hurt herself, watch for alcohol poisoning behavior, but most likely the worst will just be that you'll have to put up with the fabulous amplification of The Terrible Twos as Displayed Through a Hangover."

So: Saturday. We were walking up the walking path; they were walking down it. I had taken the three kids out for an extended walk on the trail that bisects our neighborhood, leaving the lovely husband home alone for some much-deserved solitude. "They" were a dad, a girl about E's age and a boy about L's, and a grandparent-ish-looking older couple. They converged upon us and split around us because my girls, blocking G's stroller, were bent over the middle of the path inspecting some catkins (I think) from a hazelnut (I think) tree. I smiled at them in my standard smile-and-a-sheepish-apologetic-shrug maneuver. The dad looked at my ruffians and said something other than what I expected:

"Ah, you have three kids. Very good!"

I smiled a little less sheepishly.

They continued downward and we continued upward. E whispered to me: are they Korean? I don't know, I told her. I think they're Korean, because they look like Ellie. Knowing she misses her friend Ellie, I agreed: maybe they're Korean.

We wandered at our pace while that family walked down to their turnaround point and back up, catching up to us after not very long at all. The grandparents waved at G until he smiled, and then they waved some more. The dad shrugged at his kids, who were watching my girls, who had forsaken the path to cavort like drunken loons in gyroscopic loops across the field. "Go," he said, and quickly his once-orderly path-walkers also looked like how a Poison Control operator describes a drunk toddler's expected behavior and lack of balance ("happy drunk").

They ran for a while and when L veered further away then I felt was a good idea I yelled her name and motioned for her to come back in a bit. The dad looked at me and smiled. "Oh! You know Chinese!"

No, I explained. Did that sound like Chinese? I was just yelling her name. He told me it sound like "Come!"

L ran back in, followed by her sister, followed by their new Chinese friends. The grandparents never spoke in English, and neither did the children. My girls didn't notice. They played on the playground for a bit, four neighbor kids swinging and G throwing woodchips, and then we went our two separate ways.

They walked quietly up the sidewalk. We walked downhill in the other direction, anything but quiet. But over G's babbling and L's questions about the landscaping crew we passed and E's new fascination with littered bottlecaps, I sized up our cacophany and reminded myself that this was more than my everyday crazy. This was very good. Pin It