Dark was arriving as I did, spilling from the cluttered eastern horizon in the mazy, distracted way the company truck turned onto our little street.
Amherst Street looked like it always does in late December; wet, grimy, sullen, waiting discontentedly for the arrival of the deep cold of January. My mood fit the weather; the nasty intestinal bug I was fighting was griping hard and I had just learned that I would have to cover some construction work the next day rather than lie in bed feeling sorry for myself. I trudged up the steps in a fairly foul mood.
Getting inside and warm helped. So did finding the house fairly tidy, and what wasn't I was able to neaten fairly quickly. I have a real aversion to dirty dishes in the sink, why, I have no idea. It may be the white-trashy-ness of it; I look at a heap of silverware and sticky plates and glasses and a line from an old Dan Jenkins book comes to mind - "What with all them dishes in the sink there weren't no place to piss."
So I emptied the dishwasher and put the dirty dishes in it.I started the water for pasta noodles. Even though I was on water-and-saltines I wanted to make some comfort food for the family, and home-made macaroni and cheese is the most comfortable comfort food I know. Mojo and the littlies came ramping up the steps as I was melting the sharp Tillamook cheddar and stirring in the little multicolored radiator noodles, The Peep all noisy and excited, Little Miss crying from a fall on the way to the door. So there had to be hugs and kisses for owies and ice and a bandaid before I could serve up the dinner and sit down to listen to the stories of the day.
(One of these being Mojo's dire tale of taxes owed. Honestly, how the hell do people make any money as "contractors"? But that's another story...)
Mojo sprawled, Peeper lept to the computer to play games, and Missy puttered about, fairly happily, I thought. Until...
She ran spraddlingly into the kitchen where I was making her some toast-and-peanut-butter (sharp cheddar having not tempted the preschool palate) and whined for juice. I informed her that she'd have to eat some dinner before she had more juice. She sat on the floor and drummed her feet. Juice! No juice, I replied. I want daddy! she whined; I'm right here, darlin', making your dinner, I replied.
And the crying started.
Who would have thought that such a little girl had such water in her?
She cried while I made her dinner. She cried while I picked her up and sat down with her at the table. She cried while she asked for her mommy, and then all the time her mommy held her. She cried as she said she felt sick, cried as I got her a little cup of children's tylenol, cried as she reluctantly sipped a smidget and made faces as the medicinal tast. She cried as, my head pounding, I went to lie down in the dark bedroom for a moment. She cried when, frustrated and feeling ill, I got up ten minutes later and emerged, snarling, to pick her up and take her into the bathtub.
And then she stopped.
She clambered happily into the tub, played delightedly with me, with the bubbles, with her toys. Crowed with joy as we played "Daddy's Hand Critter" that was poisoned when it touched the bubbles on her forearm and went into shrieks of laughter as the hand-monster writhed in it's toxined death throes.
Finally exhausted, no longer able to fight off the sick-tired I went to bed. But little girl was still chirping happily as her mom got her into her jammies, read her story and stumped down the hallway to her bedroom. She's sleeping quietly as I type this.
We live with these small people, these little appendages of ourselves, every day to where we think we know every bit of them. Not that we, if we're honest with ourselves, think that we control them - every waking moment is a game of put-and-take, an exercise of power versus craft, that mutates as they grow and learn. But I think we tend to fall into a sort of careless presumption that we understand these children and can figure out their thinking.
And then something like this happens.
I have no idea why that little girl cried for an hour. Perhaps she doesn't, either. But it just reminds me that the is and always will be a part inside of my children's heads that remains alien to me. Much as I love them, try as I do to understand and be part of their lives and thoughts; that there is a universe within that little girl's small head, under that raven-wing hair that tangles so quickly, that I can never fully share. When those bright eyes look out at the world, whether squinting with laughter or wet with tears, they open onto a world I can never completely enter.
We spend our lives trying to know and anticipate the world around us. And to a great extent we can and do. But the most important parts of that world - the people we live with and love - will always retain a central core where we cannot go and will not understand.I love my little alien child.
But I will never truly know her the way she knows herself.