Mornings for our family of six were hugely chaotic when we were all younger. I don’t miss the chaos, but rather all that energy. My husband and I, and our daughter, Lily, developed a routine when the three older kids moved out. Will left the house just before I had to haul Lily’s skinny butt out of bed, and Lily ate her cereal in the car while I drove her to school. After her Cheerio’s she brushed her teeth, and spat her toothpaste out the car window, ready (late) to do algebra with a fresh smile.
It was less organized when they were little kids, though there was a predictable rhythm to our chaos. Will and I would lie in our warm bed, allowing the alarm to go into snooze mode. “We’ve got to get up. We’ve got to get up,” he always grumbled. Motionless and on cue, there would be our little Hudson at the bedroom door.
“Is it a school day?” he would ask, wiping away the water rolling down his forehead from his saturated cow lick. Back then Hudson was our morning child. I would assure him that it was a school day, swinging on my bathrobe and plodding downstairs, without even splashing water over my squinched up face. Cole would have hauled his quilt off the top bunk and hunkered down in front of the T.V. I would go into automatic pilot – new day, same words. “Cole TV off. Clothes on, please.” He’d roll off the couch and stagger into his room while I rushed off to Zoë’s room.
“Come on, sweetie,” I’d urge, lifting the covers, and just as I would be about to give Zoë’s shoulders a gentle rocking, the veil of sleep would lift and she would get ready to join the din that was fast enveloping the house. Cole, the son created in his father’s image, would be calling for me to find him socks, while his dad, who denies he’s ever made such a request, would be banging the dryer door and stomping about trying to locate the laundry basket. My bladder would demand that I pay attention to it but there were not enough wheels rolling. Everything had to be in motion before I could afford to pause.
Upstairs Hudson would already have a bowl of Cheerio’s. My legs would circle like the Roadrunner’s as I located the socks for Will, who would be ready to make his exit, barefoot in his suit and tie. (He’s not a breakfast eater or brown bagger. Thank God.) I’d lay Cole’s socks on the table and grab a cereal bowl just as Cole asked for a grapefruit. My morning aerobic routine would move into full swing. Slice the grapefruit, spin and deliver. Bend to the refrigerator for the ham and mustard. Long stretch to the top of the stairs, “Zoë, are you coming up? You should be up here.” Do the ham sandwich for Cole. Count – one lunch down, two breakfasts, no kindergarten snack. Zoë would come up, and I’d shove the Rice Krispees box in front of her. With everyone in motion I’d race upstairs to use the bathroom, consider my disheveled state in the mirror for a split second, and run back down to the short order station to slap together a peanut butter and jam sandwich for Zoë’s lunch.
Ready before all of us, Hudson would suddenly be missing a school library book that he’d urgently tell me the teacher said he would have to pay for. “What’s on the cover?” I’d ask and looking uncomfortably warm in his jacket, toque and mittens, waiting for the others at the door, he’d say, “A green pig maybe.”
“It’s under Lily’s bed,” Zoë would tell us.
“Don’t wake, Lily,” I’d warn Hudson, but of course he would and she would be down making some unreasonable demand on me, like a bit of food tossed her way for breakfast.
Hudson would request an apple for his kindergarten snack, instead of the orange I was about to pop into the pack he was already wearing on his back. I’d take the stairs to the basement two at a time and find the apples were wrinkled, but would decide if I approached from the back I could get one into Hudson’s pack unseen, and throw in some cookies to compensate.
One of Cole’s friends often phoned to offer him a ride with his mother. Theirs was a two kid family – I’d attempt to hustle all of mine out together so they could stuff themselves into that neighbor’s compact car. But then Cole would have lost a glove and someone else wouldn’t be able to locate her vinyl lunch bag, and on cue I’d say in an exasperated but determined voice, “I’ve had it. This is crazy. From now on you find all these things at night.” Cole loved this particular pair of gloves so he would wear the one he had and put his other hand in his pocket.
“I hate taking paper. It’s so wasteful.” Zoe would protest, long before paper became taboo.
“Bring it back and I promise to use it over and over and over again.”
By then Lily, would have joined our merry clan, asking for toast and jelly. “Not now,” I’d tell her too abruptly, and she’d start to wail.
The neighbor would beep a friendly sort of ‘we’re here’ beep. Zoë was usually last out, and always just about to pull her hat over a coiffure that looked like small animals had burrowed in it during the night, before I noticed and raced for the kitchen comb (once there were even kitchen toothpaste and toothbrushes in my endless attempts to do this better). Keeping the door open with one foot and hoping I wasn’t exposing myself with my sloppy bathrobe, I’d tug the comb through her hair, one eye on the fully clothed and carefully groomed neighbor behind the wheel of the car she probably had time to heat up, before she loaded the dishes from her boy’s omelets into the dishwasher.
If the perfect neighbor weren’t picking them up they would all make it out to the steps and ask, “Can we walk?” – meaning do we have time? And I would say in a determined voice, “No, we have to change our ways,” and then urge them on with, “Now, run, run, run,” following up, in as calm a tone as I could muster, “Bye, have a good day,” because I felt strongly that something should be calm about their send off. Still I’d have to direct them, “Go, go, you three,” like a shepherd, blocking off the stairways into the nether regions of the house, shooing them along.
I’d see that poor Lily had again been forced into self reliance and had made herself toast, dripping with blueberry jam, so I’d collapse on the couch, bundling her onto my lap for a bit of the one-on-one attention that we both craved, while I allowed her to feed me.
I did miss all that action years later – alone in the house, home from driving Lily to high school, lecturing her on being late and telling her that her toothpaste spit would still be frozen on the corner of Elbow Drive when she walked by on her way back home. Weird – but I did miss it.