I’ve been sick (bronchitis), but that’s no excuse for not writing. Today is Sophie’s last day of school – sort of. It’s more like a half day composed of field games. If I was feeling better I’d be there, enjoying the bittersweetness of the event and working one of the activities. Yesterday minorly prophetically I said my goodbyes and brought flowers to my daughter’s teachers on their last real full day of school. I didn’t say goodbye to the children because they were all trickling out to recess. I’ve been now and then crying small batches of sweet, sad tears about it – how much I’d miss time in that classroom. It was convenient being ill I didn’t have to face up to it yet one more time on the today.
Yesterday evening after dropping off some donations for the preschool garage sale Ralph told us the carnival was at the mall. You know – one of those traveling events with ridiculously priced poisonous food, all sorts of fun rides put together by junkies, and a ticket system that works out to an average of $4 each ride. I had misgivings about just “driving by” the carnival without having the children expressly informed in sober, repetitive detail that tomorrow we’d be going to the carnival: tonight was merely a look-see. However instead of voicing my concerns to my husband I brushed them aside and instead indulged myself in attempting to discuss my day’s ideas and feelings with my adult male partner – something I crave and get so little of when our children are in tow.
I pull around the carnival lot and yes, it is mighty and huge. The kids grow excited. We tell them we’re “just checking it out”. They ask if we can participate tonight, now. We say no, Daddy didn’t bring his wallet, and anyway we’re going tomorrow. Their anxiety becomes palpable, their pleas increasingly frantic. I try the firm but casually friendly “no”. It doesn’t go over as friendly or casual. They have wound themselves up: I couldn’t have predicted the intensity of their reaction. They throw their heads back and howl. Instantly their faces are streaked, sunburned, disbelieving, tortured. I can hear the tears flying in huge arcs out of their squeezed-shut eyes and raining on the car upholstery.
Ralph and I are laughing in front – hiding our laughter, because we don’t want to be cruel. It’s just – you can’t imagine how much fuss they are making! And for the two of them to both set up wails of protest makes the noise and drama of the event truly impressive (usually it’s one or the other: Nels more unflappable, Sophie much more likely to set up a “fussdown” as she calls it). It turns out – as Ralph tells me later – the drive-by was just about the worse idea we’ve had (he had, I was merely an accessory). Of course I know the kids are going to be fine but I simultaneously am remembering how horrid these sorts of feelings were as a child. Powerless, the glittering brass ring vanishing before my eyes, the adults able to grant me my one desperate wish refusing out of sadism or caprice. Unfair, tragic, horrible.
On the drive home Sophie spits out dire statements (“I’ll never get to go to a carnival again! It will never be OK!”) while Nels alternates between firm and emphatic commands (“Mom, Dad – take us to the carnival now, please!”) to declarations of punitive action (“OK – no treats for Mama or Daddy – no maclairs for you!”*) and then back again. I feel clumsy, bad as a parent. Best to let those moments just slip through as quickly as possible.
At 11:45 this morning my children and husband return from the school event; Nels sporting rather unusual glittery pink and striped makeup. “I’m a princess and a tiger,” he tells me.
* By “maclairs” being my son’s pronunciation for our favorite breakfast pastries, eclairs.
Ralph and the kids return from