The plan was simple really. Make a few Valentine cards and chocolate’s the day before, package them and deliver after lunch and leave the cards made for family and their chocolates as place markers for a comfort food meal of chicken stew and dumplings. A tip of the hat, slight homage if you will to the hallmark tradition, and the guy who was one heck of a letter writer.
At 11:30 I had yet to bathe. I crawled back into bed at 7am because no one else was awake yet and I was tired. Woke up late and had to rush through the morning.
Cranky baby finally went to sleep, and I slipped into the shower. Halfway through I look up to see a man’s face staring at me over the curtain rod. It was familiar though, so I didn’t scream. much. The GH doesn’t usually come home mid afternoon. He was done for the day and took himself and a splitting headache that’s kept him awake for 3 nights or so to bed.
The children have taken every pillow in the house and laid a trail from one end of the house to the other and are jumping from one to the next. Every single toy they own is on the floor. I set them to tidying. I set them to Tidying faster when I hear that my MIL is on her way over. They don’t get to finish the Valentine’s for her until they have finished cleaning up.
I tie ribbon around countless chocolate wrappers. They look so pretty, I wish I had a picture.
And then the phone rings.
“I know this is really bad manners to ask, but I am so sick. Would you mind watching my kids for me until their dad gets home from work, I just can’t shake this fever.” (Their dad is no longer married to her, and lives less than 100 yards away.)
I tell her to give me an hour. Fortunately, my kids have already made cards for her kids, I plan to squeeze in two more place settings.
MIL arrives then leaves. Small children arrive and stay. Their mom borrows my thermometer, she’s at 102.2F. I tell her to go home to a hot bath and sleep.
Small girl likes to test the limits, to see if I am really in charge, if she can play me. But I am usually wise to her ways, though she keeps me on my toes. I usually send her home if she breaks the rules, I’ll have to use time outs instead. I hate time outs. I rarely use them with my kids.
I make stew. Other friend arrives for a while, first to ask me to look at her baby’s rash, and then when I tell her I’m pretty sure it isn’t the measles, she stays for a while to visit. It’s good to have another grownup around for a little while with all these kids. The GH remains firmly locked in the bedroom, he’s dizzy when he stands up and looks a little green. Small boy needs to go potty. He needs help. He needs to poo.
“Oh, this toiwet is too big fo me.”
“It’s okay. I’ll hold you up so you don’t fall in.”
“No, I can do it. See my hands? I’m goin’ ina big toiwet.”
I wipe his bottom and help him with his pants in that brisk, impersonal way that is perfected by doctors and nurses, and day care workers, and moms.
I make dumplings. I forget shortening, but don’t notice until much later when we are eating.
Small boy, he’s 3, says he smells poo. Then he’s cold and wants a blanket.
At dinner he needs to puke. Well, he thinks he does. I put a bowl next to him just in case. I don’t bother giving him any food.
His dad’s wife comes to get them. It’s three hours sooner than I was expecting. Her Valentine’s Day plans are going up in smoke too as I offer her some stew and small boy writhes on the floor crying, “I want to go home.”
Out comes the thermometer again. 102.6F
She has no idea what to do with a sick baby, a moaning toddler, these things that are learned on the job. Does she keep him hot or cold? When should she take him in? Should she take him in now?
We tell her to push liquids, keep him comfortable, water, broth, hot lemon drink, you know.
“No I don’t know” she reminds me and I experience a slight moment of disorientation as I realize again that not everyone in the world knows how to mother. It’s just so normal for me. I’m grateful for the way that statement reminds me to not make assumptions. I tell her how to make hot lemon drink and they go home.
The GH tries the thermometer. 97F One whole degree lower than normal. What’s with that? He takes himself off to bed without dinner.
I softly carry the sleeping Baby into the bedroom to put her down. On her tiny bed to the left of ours, the Girl lays on her back. Her arms stick out straight on either side, her head hangs a little to the right. A golden haired angel faced crucifix.
The baby now lays in our bed. Arms spread out straight to the sides as well. Her little mouth hangs open and the soft skin pulls across delicate cheekbones.
To the right, the GH lays sprawled beneath the blankets, one arm straight out, the other tucked under his head.
Identical long dark curly lashes adorn three pairs of cheeks, three beloved profiles slumber in unison as I tiptoe quietly out of the room.
We are at peace.