It is mid-morning and the sun is slanting into our bookroom-turned-schoolroom, forcing Paris and me to press together into the one shady bit of the long table that serves as our desk, for the room is blessed with more windows than curtains.
The table is strewn with fine fat books (The Child’s History of the World by Virgil Hillyer, some Dorling Kindersley art and mythology volumes) and thinner, meaner ones (workbooks, chiefly), but right now Paris is engaged in a process known as squeezing blood from a stone.
“No, no, no,” I say, poking a pencil at him. “Wait, remember. Sentences always begin with what?”
“A capital,” he sighs, scrubbing out a lower-case “f” and starting over.
“And they always end with?”
“A question mark.”
“An explanation mark,” Violet pipes up from behind the easel.
“Ex-cla-mation mark, Violet,” her brother says witheringly, “and anyway, it’s none of your beeswax.”
“Let’s see what you’ve done so far,” I say gently, reaching for Paris’s composition book. This is the most grueling part of his new home-schooled day, when he must extract a series of words from deep within himself, organize them into sentences, and commit them in passable cursive to the page. It’s been three weeks and his writing is undeniably improving–fatally wobbly lines daily grow more stout and distinct; short, jerky sentences are slowly giving way to longer, livelier ones–but it cannot be said that he takes pleasure in it. The subject of today’s composition is our family’s mad new enthusiasm for taekwondo, the Korean martial art. Biffing and kicking? Now that is something Paris enjoys.
“Oh my,” I laugh out loud. “This is good work, but I think we’d better fix some of the spelling.” In his careful script, Paris has ended one sentence with: “Fling Kike!”
“Definitely no flinging kikes,” I murmur, hastily erasing the offending phrase, and explaining, “the name of the studio is spelled F-l-y-i-n-g K-i-c-k.” The tabletop around us is littered with scraps of paper bearing witness to our many conversations about spelling and pronunciation. On one it says, “ball, boll, bawl, Baal.” On another: “where, wear, were, werewolf,” and on a third, “astronaut, astronomer,” and “
pastrami.” (I have to have some fun.)
“Look, Paris,” Violet says, stepping away from the easel and pointing to a colorful feminine tableau. “Look at the belly-button showers.” She pronounces this ’show-ers,’ as in those who show.
“Oh Violet, that’s gross!”
Violet nods. “I hope Molly doesn’t grow up to be a boyfriend/girlfriend/belly-button-showing kind of girl,” she says, returning to her work.
“Me, too,” he seconds, shaking his head with disgust.
“Ack,” I say, waving helplessly at my pencil, which has fallen on the floor. With just days to go before the new baby arrives, there is not the slightest chance of my reaching the thing from beneath my chair. Paris jumps out of his seat, disappears under the table, and a moment later a hand drops the pencil in my lap.
Even as Senators bloviate about judicial nominees and hurricanes menace the southern states, the rest of the world seems curiously to have receded from our little book-lined island. My C-Span intake has dropped precipitously. Days in the schoolroom are succeeded by punishing nights trying to get comfortable with what feels like an antelope in my torso. Amid the fog of imminent maternity–maternity redux? express delivery?–there was a lovely afternoon featuring my “shower,” which Violet, confused, called my “baby wash.” And at some point Granny arrives–arrives, indeed, for a long-term stay–brandishing a fat paperback copy of “Nanny 911″ and a pair of handcuffs. The sight of these objects makes me laugh nervously.
“They were good-bye presents from my work colleagues!” Granny cries, jangling the handcuffs in jovial warning at the children.
“Cool!” says Paris, automatically reaching for the shiny things. Violet and Phoebe jump up and down in place. Molly’s eyes narrow and she takes a small step away, separating herself from the herd.
“So watch out!” Granny continues loudly. “There’s going to be order around here, or else!” I know she’s just having fun, I know this is just grandmotherly repartee; still, it is all I can do to keep from objecting that our household is plenty orderly without restraining devices or the intervention of fat TV nannies. Not to mention that, as ever in the breathless interval before a new baby arrives, the children’s unconscious anxieties are producing a bumper crop of nightmares, I myself am exhausted, unwieldy, and skittish of anything even remotely suggestive of a cruise director intent on leading a conga line.
“Don’t worry,” says my oracular husband, as Granny packs away her terrifying implements with another merry imprecation. “Just watch. Everyone is already settling down.”
And it is true: Within Granny is pitching in on household tasks such as the bathing of children and the packing of hated lunchboxes with such zeal as to make her something like an angel to the heavily pregnant among us.
Did I say “heavily pregnant?” Ha. In the past two weeks, acquaintances have suddenly gone from exclaiming, “Oh, but you’re so tiny! Why when I was about to have a baby I was the size of a–” to remarking ruefully, “Any day now, eh?” or grimly, “Still here, I see?”
On the whole I am able to meet these pleasantries with equanimity, or at least I was, until a well-intentioned friend e-mailed me with some advice he’d read once in a book about childbirth (written by a man who delivered his wife’s babies–at home) and had passed on previously to another expectant mother: “IMAGINE A FLOWER OPENING UP.”
Argh! In a passion, I wrote back: “I am not surprised that the author was a man. That metaphor was told to me, too, before I had my first child, and I was so outraged by the falsehood, once I had actually delivered a baby, that I wanted to find the person who told me and punch them in the nose. It is no more true than saying that having your leg amputated is like being a dandelion, letting go of your fluff!“
As you can tell, dear reader, I may be immobile, but I’m ready to pop.