“We are going to get an apartment together,” my son announces, looking up from the pie tin he’s getting the second half of dinner from. He and Ralph have this plan. It’s all fun and games now while Nels is nine and only about sixty-six pounds. When he’s fifteen, he and his father will be fighting over leftovers in earnest.
Nels is either laughing and running, or running and scowling. Or he’s sleeping. Perhaps the time before Nels sleeps is one of my favorite things, because I’m with him and have been his whole life. His clear, bright voice asks me questions – “What’s the opposite of aqua?” “How do you spell ‘dungeon’?” His voice is musical in my ears, a silvery, tumbling stream. But it’s late, and I’m very tired. I try to answer. Sometimes the questions get existential and confusing, or intense. We watch a little movie and finally I’ll turn the tablet off and he and I lie together, the only two awake anymore. Eventually I’m listening to him breathe and he is damp and so surprisingly warm, scalding to the touch. A tiny bread loaf. A wee hot little frog buried under the covers. For a very long time he had to cover himself all the way up to sleep. He was afraid of something. He no longer does this. I hope he is healing from whatever frightened him.
Ralph and I have been working very hard; and because we have, our children have too – especially the eldest. She attends a long day at school, comes home, completes homework, and cheerfully enough attends to household chores and of course, playdates with friends. I worry she’s overworked, but she seems very happy all the time – unless she’s trying to work with her brother on a bit of housework. She talks to him in such a harsh tone sometimes, made only a bit embarrassing as I know exactly where she learned that tone.
At night I read to her and she falls asleep in her own bed. She only sleeps with her parents now on the weekend, when she can sleep in. In the morning, without fail, she comes in and kisses me goodbye before Ralph takes her to the bus stop. Finicky as we are, her wee rural school setting means we drive 9.4 miles just to get to the bus stop. And so far, mysteriously, neither Ralph nor I have been late on the pickup or dropoff.
It’s almost like we’re grownups for realz.