If you asked me what I liked best about being a parent, I might reply that it’s incredible seeing these beings who Nick and I created turning into actual, amazing humans. Or maybe something about what fun it is to watch them be sisters together. Or how great it is to have an excuse to watch Aladdin any time I want.
But, really, one of the best things about being a parent is the ability to tease my offspring, give them a hard time, and generally pester them all day long. As Ella’s embarrassment threshold has lowered, with instant looks of shock and horror the moment Nick or I do something that doesn’t suit her, we have become all the more determined to dance in public, call her by her code name (Vanessa Stinkbottom), and kiss one another when other people are watching (oh mah gah).
Lest you worry that we’re causing permanent damage, a) we never act up for too long, b) she plays along gamely, and c) she always knows that we’re kidding. We talk about it with her and make sure that we’re not actually torturing her. Plus, we’ve volunteered to pay for her future therapy, so it all evens out in the end.
As we were driving home from the lake on Labor Day, both girls were in rare form. They’d been at the lake for five days visiting with their Grandma and Pops, as well as their Uncle Taylor and my grandma, Phoofsy, while Nick and I were out of town, and they’d had a marvelous time. The end-of-summer festivities had filled them to the brim, and they were melancholy about returning home and starting school a couple of days later. That melancholy met up with their general apprehension about new classes and teachers, and created a delightful combination that might be described as complete and utter freakishness.
Hands could not be kept to selves. Feet could not be kept to selves. Voices were impossible to lower. It was just too much, this end of summer nonsense, and they were not to be contained.
At first, we ignored them, understanding how they were feeling and appreciating that they couldn’t just kick back with a glass of wine and let it all out. But as their tomfoolery gave way to pokes and kicks and pinches and screams, we could feel the change in the air, and knew that if we didn’t do something fast, one of them wasn’t getting out alive. To get their attention, I told them about a friend’s Facebook post: her sons had been playing the Quiet Game at bedtime, and had been silent for a good ten minutes when she checked on them (hoping they were asleep)… heard one brother fart… and other say, “You lose!”
Annie and Ella thought this was maybe the most hilarious story ever, and were intrigued with the Quiet Game. This isn’t something we’ve played with them too much, in part because we really haven’t needed to, and in part because I, personally, hate losing, and keeping my mouth shut is not exactly one of my strengths (in case you hadn’t noticed). Given their level of bat-shit-craziness, however, Nick suggested that we play right there in the car and see who could be the quietest for the remainder of our drive. Thrilled that we’d be playing with them (thanks so much, Nick), the girls were immediately sold, and the game began.
For the first minute or so, everyone just sat still, which was lovely and all, but pretty boring, quite frankly. I knew that my chances of winning would increase dramatically if I could do something to get the girls to make sound, so I decided to do what typically elicits the loudest protests: make a fool out of myself and embarrass them. And so the seat dancing began. With gusto.
I looked back in the rearview mirror to see Ella’s eyes widen with horror, then flash with indignation as she realized that if she told me to knock it off, she’d be out of the game. Nick immediately picked up on what I was doing and began epically rocking out in his seat as well.
Not ones to let us get the upper hand, the girls quickly upped their ante. Feet were pressed against the backs of seats, knowing that we couldn’t tell them to put them down. Spare car socks were plucked from their little pockets and chucked in our direction. They made faces at one another and stuck their tongues out at us.
Windows were lowered and feet were waved out of the car. I honked at every house we passed (including several where we knew the occupants, thereby exponentially increasing the embarrassment potential). I raised the stereo volume to deafening and opened all of the windows. Nick removed his shirt and hung his bare torso out the window. When I came to a stop sign, he leaned over and we locked lips for an absurd amount of time.
By the time we arrived home, the car was a complete disaster… but no one had uttered a word. It had probably been the rowdiest version of the Quiet Game, like, ever, which was kind of the opposite of what we’d originally intended, but which wound up being just what all of us needed — Nick and me, especially.
This past week has been incredibly difficult, to say the very least. Everything is surreal; it is simply impossible that Bill is gone, and that we are going on without him. There are moments when it’s hard to breathe, when the crushing sadness of it all threatens to overcome me, and I wonder how anyone survives a loss like this. And I know that Nick is feeling it so much more deeply than I am, and his sadness makes my heart ache and my stomach hurt.
But, with kids, you cannot wallow in your sadness. That’s not to say that we feel the need to completely stifle our emotions – we don’t, and we’re real and honest with them when we’re feeling sad – but we also don’t want to scare them or make them sad. And also, I don’t want to be sad around them. I want to enjoy them, to laugh with them, to be with them – really with them – and not lost in a surreal cloud of grief.
At times, having Ella and Annie makes all of this more difficult. Frankly, it’d be nice to occasionally have the chance to just stay in bed, or to not stop my tears because I hear them coming down the stairs. Grieving and parenting are not good bedfellows.
But, on the other hand, Annie and Ella make all of this so very much easier. They’re not bogged down with sadness, and seeing them continue to laugh and live and just be kids makes my spirits lift every time. When they’re around, I pull myself out of my sadness and focus on them…
… on Annie taking my hand and skipping with me through Target…
I know the picture is wicked blurry, but that’s what happens when you take a photo while giddily skipping through Target.
Bonus points for our skipping embarrassing Ella to no end.
… on Ella finally deciding to have me change her earrings (five months after she got her ears pierced), and flashing the most enormous grin ever – after crying about it for a good twenty minutes – on the night before third grade…
Mickey Mouse earrings FTW!
… on Annie losing her first tooth on the first day of first grade…
Well timed, kiddo.
… on the final boat ride before school begins, and jumping gleefully off the back of the boat…
I know these coming weeks will be far from easy, but with these girls around, I know that I’ll have something to smile about every single day.