Politics & Policy

There Were Six in The Bed, and The Little One Said…

“Waaaa-hooooo! C’mon girlies, let’s jump!”

That–in case you are wondering–is the sound of an eight-year-old boy seeing the first new piece of furniture to appear in his parents’ room since he was born.

“Oi! You rascals! Don’t you dare!”

That–as you will have guessed–is the sound of the boy’s mother objecting as said boy and his little sisters prepare to launch themselves on to the virgin surface of the first actual grown-up bed she and her husband have had since their wedding. No, they weren’t sleeping on a dorm-room futon. No they weren’t sleeping on the floor. But for 13 years they did sleep on a Spartan mattress and box-spring while their friends graduated from Ikea to Ethan Allen to–well, sky’s the limit amongst one’s friends, and some of them, for all one knows, sleep in gold pavilions.

I know!” the boy yells, “Let’s play moles!”

Oh no,” the mother cries, rushing towards the stairs, “ohhhh, no!”

It is too late. With insubordinate squeals, the rascals burrow under the covers and start creeping around like small, furry mammals. Two subterranean heads butt, and from the tangled bedclothes come explosions of wild, muffled laughter.

“You children are–”

The mother does not complete her sentence. She stands there for a moment watching riotous wrestling taking place on the sacred surface of the matrimonial sleigh bed. She thinks unbidden of the parents whose children were wrenched out of their arms by surging tsunami waters.

“You rats had better tidy that bed up before I see it again,” she says loudly, with dignity, and goes back downstairs.

That is how things are, hereabouts, these days. No sooner do I get ready to fire off a reprimand, when from the larger world there comes some awful reminder of the fragility of it all and whatever it was that I was supposed to be cross about doesn’t matter any more. I haven’t managed to get properly irritated since the day after Christmas, what with the wreckage across southeast Asia, and now with the grim stories from California I probably won’t be able to shout at the children until after Easter.

“That is some bed,” Molly says, coming downstairs a little while later. “Did you really say Paris could do flips on it?”

From upstairs comes a desperate wail that apparently signals that the smallest mole has been crushed by a falling boy. Molly raises a wry eyebrow at me, woman-to-woman, and we go back up together.

“Mummy–” Paris says, his face red and his arms outstretched to ward off a burst of adult indignation. Phoebe is crumpled on the bed, weeping authentically, but I can’t help but see that she has one eye cocked to gauge my reaction. Violet, all tousled, stands ready to defend whoever needs protection.

“Don’t worry, sweethearts,” I say to everyone, “But probably best not to squish small sisters, okay? Now–”

“I’m not a sister,” Phoebe cries with the peevishness borne of tiredness, “I’m a baby rabbit.”

“Or rabbits. Now, off the bed everyone, and–no, Paris!”

For naturally the first thing he does after jumping off the bed is hoik himself over the foot of it–the bit with the graceful wooden curve–and catapult himself back on to the mattress. Where he grabbed the polished wood, there are now two long, streaky handprints. Of course that is what a boy does when he sees a sleigh bed. What could be more natural? Yet who among us, when contemplating the purchase of such a handsome durable good, thinks about its gymnastic potential?

Too late I remember the fellow at Home Depot who counseled me never to install a pedestal sink with a family like mine.

“M’am, believe me,” he said two years ago, when I was choosing the least bank-breaking sinks and fixtures possible for the ancient bathrooms in our new-to-us house. “A boy goes whump once,” he explained, performing a little mock leap and grunt to demonstrate someone like Paris hoisting himself on the edge of a fragile bit of porcelain, “and crash.” He shook his head, clearly a grizzled veteran of too many whumps and crashes.

“My goodness,” I said obediently, as a new vista of practicality opened before me–briefly, as it turned out. On that occasion I wisely selected a sink with a small vanity. Alas, I picked a cheapo version with a built-in soap dish that has the cunning appearance of being designed to drain water away from the soap, but which instead collects it.

That evening after supper, my husband and I are sitting on the edge of our massive new bed with an air of hypnosis.

“A real bed,” I say redundantly.

“Wow,” my husband says. “It’s so…solid.”

Suddenly our trance is shattered by a series of loud, sharp clicks. A desperado leaps through the doorway with a bandana pulled up over his nose and a red-state ten-gallon hat obscuring his vision.

“Howdy!” he yells, and fires his cap pistol repeatedly at the ceiling, like a guest at a Palestinian wedding.

“Howdy,” my husband returns mildly.

The outlaw moves towards the foot of the bed, drops his hobbyhorse, and puts two hands on–

Oh, no,” I begin.

The outlaw nods and picks up his hobbyhorse. “Giddyap, Gussie,” he shouts, “ride like the wind!” And he wheels away and is gone.

A moment later, Paris pops his head around the doorway.

Mummy, you’re supposed to say–”

“Oh, sorry.” I turn, awestruck, to my husband. “Mercy,” I say, as frontier dames have always said. “Who was that masked figure?”

Meghan Cox Gurdon writes regularly about children’s books for the Wall Street Journal.

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