“Violet is bleeding!”
The voice streaks down through the air, straight to the maternal ear, where it fizzles out like a match dropped in eggnog. I can tell from the pitch that it’s nothing too terrible, but I head up the stairs to check, just in case.
Behind me, Molly and Phoebe are lying underneath the Christmas tree gazing at ornaments and lights and saying beatnicky things such as, “Sparkles,” and “Red ones,” and “Wow.” Twitchy hops around on the carpet beside their outstretched legs.
I get to the top of the house to find Violet standing in a tragic pose, her
eyes wide and her hand clasped theatrically to her mouth. There is a tiny smear of gore on her chin.
“Violet and I were playing a nice game,” Paris rushes to explain, “She stood like this–” his arms snap to his sides like a nutcracker’s–”and I threw pillows at her head and we were laughing and then suddenly she started bleeding!”
“Poor Violet,” I say, “Lie down and your cut lip will feel better.”
When Paris or Violet gets hurt, the other of them immediately resorts to something they call “The Bottom Dance.” The idea is to get the wounded party to laugh.
“Owie! My bum-bum!” Paris yelps, holding his backside and hopping around as if he’s sat on a campfire.
Violet, recumbent, stirs a lazy hand, “No, the Russian one,” she says.
Paris folds his arms and kicks his legs out like a Cossack. “Hey!” he shouts, “Hey! Hey!”
Downstairs, we hear yells of “Daddy!” and a tumult that rises as everyone
else comes up the stairs. Violet leaps up like Lazarus. Paris flings open all the doors on the top floor and he and his sister begin running madly on a circular track from room, to room, to room, through the hallway, and back again.
As Phoebe reaches the landing and sees them, she shrieks and starts running too. In her hand she holds a dismantled ornament made of green pipe cleaner, and she’s so tired her eyes are like raisins in a sugar-cookie face. The children rush into the nursery and crash on Violet’s bed, giggling and yipping.
“Let’s do the race again!” Violet cries, and off they zoom. Molly smiles at me demurely, and holds out her notebook for me to see. Lately she has taken to writing the opening passages of novels:
“Christmas was going to be tight this year, Hyacinth knew. She and Peter had had one of their secret counsels in the Fort. The Fort was a big empty low-ceilinged cupboard which the children used as their fort. They had found some old boxes in the attic containing Christmas lights, and yes, their mother had said that they could take one boxful, and only one.
Besides, she didn’t think that they were going to have such a big tree this year anyway, and did you feel like baking brownies or Christmas cookies, then, darlings? Hyacinth was worried.”
“Molly,” I say, “Someday you are going to write rings around everybody.”
“What a racket,” Daddy remarks agreeably, coming into the nursery. He hands me a festive invitation for a Christmas Eve party. Molly takes one look at it and scowls.
“We can’t spend Christmas Eve at a party,” she begins, tears gathering. “You and Daddy will have a wonderful time with your friends and we’ll get stuck in someone’s basement watching videos!”
She is quite right. That is what happens all too frequently when modern parents get together.
“What would you prefer, darling?” my husband asks.
“Supper, church, and a nice quiet Christmas at home,” Molly replies firmly. And who could disagree?
“Daddy, let’s wrestle!” Paris yells, racing into the room and whipping off
his belt. “Can’t have anything hard or spiky, because, you know–” he mimes whacking his head on the buckle, “If you hit something hard, Ow!”
“Okay,” my husband grins, and takes off his shoes.
Paris continues, “The rules are: No biting, no scratching, no kicking, no tickling–”
“Have a smelly sock,” says my husband, lying back on the floor and putting his foot in Paris’s face.
Paris chortles wildly. “Ha-ha-ha! Listen, if they’re not smelly it’s okay, but if they’re really smelly it’s against the rules.”
And BLAM! Paris launches himself into my husband’s airspace–
Rargh! Oof! Ugh!
“I’m an old lady,” says Violet, trundling past the wrestlers with a towel
tied babushka-like over her head.
“I’ve got you now, Captain!” grimaces the son and heir, but he doesn’t, really.
Biff! Yeoch! Ow!
“–And there’s no smacking butts, either, because I was just about to smack your bum,” Paris says hastily, “and I realized that wouldn’t be good, but I can be a bit tougher on you because you’re bigger and stronger–”
Phoebe climbs around behind me. She kisses my cheek, and tries to put her pipe cleaner in my nostril.
“Phoah!” Paris cries, and jumps onto my husband’s stomach with his knees balled up.
“Wowf,” my husband replies, suddenly compressed.
Violet is back, still in her towel: “I’m an ooold mother, walking around the streets to see some people fighting,” she explains.
“– And you’re not allowed to squeeze noses,” says the legalistic Paris.
Daddy suddenly wrinkles his nose, “And you can’t fart,” he retorts.
Paris considers for a moment. “Well, you are allowed to fart,” he reasons, “But not in people’s faces.”
“Haven’t we had enough wrestling yet?” my husband laughs, looking at me.
“Oh no!” Molly remembers suddenly, “Where’s Twitchy?”
“He was by the Christmas tree–”
“Twitchy Alert!” Paris bellows. The children tumble downstairs, loudly
speculating whether the rabbit has nibbled the Christmas lights, or chewed a leg of the piano, or left droppings under the tree, “instead of presents! Ew!”
We find Twitchy sitting calmly underneath the piano, having committed no obvious household crimes. He hops away as the children drop down on to the floor, and wriggle to get their heads underneath the Christmas tree. A Yuletide hush falls over the room.
“Which one is your favorite, Phoebe?” Paris says, after a moment.
“The cowboy one,” she replies, which is odd, since we don’t have a cowboy ornament.
“Mine is the purple sparkly one,” Violet volunteers.
“This is nice and quiet,” Molly says. There is rich silence.
Then Molly speaks: “Mummy? Can we watch a video?”
–Meghan Cox Gurdon is an NRO columnist. Gurdon lives in Washington, D.C. and writes as much as her young family will permit. Her NRO column, “The Fever Swamp” appears weekly.