Lately there has been an eerie air of sedation around our house. The children are their normal bouncy selves, and my husband is in fine form, but everyone’s ebullience has been at least partially subdued by the strange, slow, tranquility of the lady of the house.
One morning, the children are seated around the dining table after my husband has left for the office. We have cleared away the breakfast things, and each child is now embarked on a small project (handwriting practice, multiplication tables, math, coloring) for an hour or so until we go swimming. The children intermittently fizz, chatter quietly, adjust themselves on their chairs, or poke each other good-naturedly with pencils. And in their midst sits an alabaster figure of impressive, unmoving dignity.
“Done with that page! Now what do I–?”
“May I color–?“
“What time are we going–?”
“Do I have to finish–?”
“Children, children,” says the alabaster figure in low, soothing tones. “One. At. A. Time. Why don’t you all raise your hands–”
I pause and smile serenely around the table at them, and four arms shoot up.
“– and I will answer your questions in turn. Now: Phoebe?”
“May I color in this?” She holds up a fat black permanent pen and what appears to be my husband’s passport.
“No, darling, that would not be a good idea.” She opens her mouth to protest, but I override her with the impassivity of a monster truck crushing a Toyota. “In fact, no one may use these permanent pens, ever. Please give it to… thank you. We will find you another coloring book, and you may color in that. Now: Molly?
“What time are we going swimming?”
“Ah.” I consult my watch carefully, deliberately. “We will leave in two hours. After we have all finished our work, and we have eaten lunch.
“What’re we having for–?”
“Aw, you’re not doing work, I’m the one doing pluttifica–”
“Mummy, are you feeling all right?” Molly is looking at me with an amused, quizzical eye.
“Why, whatever do you mean?” says the voice from the invisible sarcophagus.
“It’s just–did you not have coffee this morning or something? You’re talking so slowly.”
I burst out laughing. “I suppose I am especially relaxed these days.” The truth is that due to my expanded circumference and weightier tread, I find it pleasantest to walk only at a stately pace, so no more dashing up the stairs. Immobility has a pacifying effect. It has also been beastly hot, so there’s no temptation to make sudden moves. More to the point, with the advent of our home schooling, I feel I must, must maintain glacial calmness in order to promote the scholarly concentration of my pupils. It also helps forestall any snippiness on my part if the curlicues on someone’s cursive aren’t quite perfect.
“I like it better when you’re loud,” Paris says. “Well, not yelling-at-us-loud, but, you know, more lively-noisy.”
Later that morning, at the pool, my friend Charlotte and I are sitting in the shade watching our children gamboling about and doing cannonballs into the water.
“Six months already,” Charlotte reflects. “How are your emotions? Are you getting any of those surges? My goodness, when I was pregnant–”
“Oh, not at all,” I demur placidly, “It’s been very even keel. I find it keeps the whole household more peaceful when I am not rushing around trying to do too many things at once.”
“I know what you mean,” she agrees ruefully, “But it’s hard, isn’t it, always having to set an example?”
“I suppose,” I say, but I don’t really mean it. Such is the smugness borne of keeping one’s cool for, oh, a couple of weeks.
And it seems that the new, self-soothing me is coping easily with the many happy demands of household, husband, children, self, and the growing child within, until that very night at nine o’clock, 45 minutes after a thunderstorm wakes Violet and Phoebe, which disrupts my reading-aloud session with Molly and Paris, which postpones my supper of bacon and eggs (readers who have been pregnant know what that desperation feels like), which means I am famished and suddenly agitated and the children are still not in bed when I remember the pile of bills on my desk that I really must–
With the consequence those five minutes after my husband walks in from work, shortly after nine, Little Miss Alabaster flings her gasping and sobbing at his chest.
” …I don’t… I don’t… I don’t…!”
“What? Sweetheart, what is it?” he says worriedly. “Meg, why are you crying? What’s wrong?”
“Because… because… because…!”
Through my sobs I dimly wonder if my hysteria has been brought on by having to forswear all sugars and carbohydrates and for this one day eat an unspeakably wearisome cycle of cheese, bacon, eggs, bacon, cheese, and eggs so as to pass the glucose tolerance test I have to take in the morning. The test is a prenatal necessity involving needles and blood-letting and the most revolting sugary beverage ever woman has drunk in service of the next generation.
“I’m ju–ju– just going to keep talking from here,” I tell the damp front of my husband’s shirt. Finally, in between gusts of weeping, I try describe the because of it all: “… I don’t know how I can do everything, how I can take proper care of the children and give everyone nice meals and carry every bit of the food into the house when I have to take all four children to the gro–gro–grocery store when I am so tired and I can’t take a nap and get the children to their swimming lessons and back again in time to make sure Paris and Violet get at least an hour and a half of home schoo–schoo–schooling in and I’ve got two articles due this week and for one of them I haven’t written a word and it’s due tomorrow morning when I’m having my glu–glu–glucose tolerance test and the other one is terrible, the worst thing I’ve ever written, and my desk is full of bills and I haven’t even seen my–my–”
I think the word that eludes me is “feet.”
Reader, you will not be surprised to learn that the next morning, after guzzling my glucose, giving my blood, and being released to seek the tender mercies of abundant carbohydrates, I became my new unruffled self again. I drove home from the doctor’s office filled with pity for people on the Atkins diet, and with renewed zest for domestic life. The door burst open as my car pulled in, and out tumbled the children.
“Yet! She’s home!”
“Can we go swimming?”
“How was your jocose test?”
“Did you pass?”
“Children, children,” I said calmly. Then I glanced at my watch, gleefully pushed past them towards the place where we keep swimsuits and towels, and yelled back over my shoulder, “Quick! Get in the car! Let’s go to the pool now!”
As I disappeared into the utility room, I heard Violet remark to her brother, “Yay, I guess she’s feeling better.”