LINCOLNVILLE, ME. — “Daddy!” shriek four voices. Children hurtle from every direction and slam into my husband. He is a food packet dropped from a humanitarian C-130, and we are the famished natives.
“Wow!” comes his laughing voice, a little muffled by someone’s arm.
“Mummy bought a Boston Cream Pie!” yells Paris.
Molly is madly jumping up and down. “Daddy, guess what? I’ve got: nine dollars!”
“Fwum, Daddy!” Phoebe shouts from underfoot.
My husband tries to resurface. “You want to go swimming?
“Follow me to the pie, Daddy!” cries Violet.
“Just a minute — “
“Granny gave me 30 dollars for my birthday and this is my change!”
“There’s a huge spider on the dock, he’s this big!” says Paris, holding up an invisible dinner plate.
“I have a cudgel and a net and I’ve caught him twice,” says Molly.
“Mummy says we get five dollars if we kill him,” says Paris.
“Okay, climb down girls and we’ll — Ooof!”
My husband has been hit from behind, hard. “See, Daddy? I can swing from the rafters!”
Having a man on the scene changes the family dynamic remarkably. We are all bathed in a gratifying sense of completeness. Four children no longer have to be strapped into the car for every little errand to the shop five miles down the road. And when in doubt, I can now say, “Go ask your father.”
When we are at home, “Go ask your father” is a fancy way of saying “no.” Up here in Maine, I am hoping the same phrase will deliver me from further exposing to the children the shocking gaps in my knowledge of the natural world. We brought a pile of books — a bowdlerized Moby Dick, Harold and the Purple Crayon, etc. — but no encyclopedia to supplement Mummy’s sieve-like memory.
“What kind of leaf is this?” a child will ask, trustingly.
Usually I haven’t a clue, but if by extraordinary chance I have the proper noun to hand, I find myself overcompensating by yammering on and on — rather as a magician waves his handkerchief around to distract from his sleight of hand.
“Why, that’s an oak leaf, darling. oak leaves come from oak trees, which also grow acorns, which Indians and pioneers pounded into a nutritious mush.”
But I’m not always so slick. The day my husband is due to arrive, we are poking around on a beach, collecting priceless mussel shells and decaying crab claws, when Paris waves a rock in the air and shouts, “Silver! I’ve found silver!”
“It’s mica,” I tell him, suddenly remembering that it is.
“As it happens, Paris,” I begin, pedagogically, “rocks fall into three major categories. Igneous, which means they were once molten, rocks from a volcano — “
“A volcano? Lava? Wow!”
“Then there’s sedimentary, those are rocks formed by layers of dirt and sand, pressing down over many years, and — and — “
What is it? I used to know this.
“… And there’s a third type of rock, too,” I finish feebly, “but I can’t remember what it’s called.” I make a note to ask my husband.
So what with warm family togetherness and my husband’s oracular powers of recollection, it’s nice to have him around — mostly. I probably shouldn’t mention it, but I’m not sleeping as well, now that he’s here. Several times, late at night, I’ve been innocently snoozing, minding my own business, when a distinctly unfriendly hand has levered me from my back (where I am comfortable), on to my side, (where I am not). Twice I am sure I felt a deliberate prod in the ribs.
This morning at breakfast there hangs about my husband an air of affectionate reproach.
“Last night I had a terrible dream,” he says.
“That’s too bad. Say, I’ve been meaning to ask: What are the three types of rock?”
“I dreamt that I was attacked by a ginger cat.”
“Oh, dear. But the rocks — there’s igneous, and sedimentary — “
“Yes, the noise was incredible. A yowling, rumbling, roaring noise.”
He looks at me meaningfully: “The dream woke me up, but the noise continued.”
“I can’t imagine what you mean,” I say, getting up and going into the kitchen.
“I had to earthquake you three times,” he calls, using an expression dating from our time in Japan. “To earthquake” is to shake a bed so violently that anyone making noise is jolted into temporary silence.
“I do not snore,” I say with dignity, and take my coffee outside.
The lake is glassy. Somewhere on the dock the giant spider lies in wait.
Through the screen door, I hear my husband say to no one in particular, “Metamorphic.”
— Meghan Cox Gurdon, who lives in Washington D.C., writes as much as her young family will permit. Watch for her new NRO column, “The Fever Swamp” starting this autumn. You can read her previous dispatches from summer vacation here, here, here, and here.