I am ready for them, sometimes. Sometimes I wish they'd sleep a little longer. Sometimes I fix them sippy cups of rice milk and pile some books in their beds and make them stay in their rooms a little longer. Sometimes we eat granola. Sometimes we eat fruit and I make muffins in the toaster oven. I cut them big slices of cantaloupe and little round pieces of banana and they coo like doves over them. Sometimes I stick some store bought cereal in a bowl and that's that. They always argue over who gets the red bowl. They take turns, but sometimes I forget who had it last, and that's never good. I usually have to urge them to eat, they are too excited about talking. The little girl climbs in and out of her chair seventeen times. They make silly faces at each other across the table. I suck coffee down like it's real energy and we're in a crisis.
We read together. We prefer the small couch, where we can sit in a pile. It's a loveseat, really, perfect for us. The baby changes his mind often about whether he'd like to sit with us and listen or not. They are still and quiet, breathing into my face, the girl sucking on her fingers. They laugh at the funny parts. They interrupt. They soak it in. We go to the library, and the librarians always smile at me. They love me for reading with my kids. I feel like I get points for doing something that I'm already addicted to, which is reading, myself. "A reading family," said one librarian last week, sighing happily.
They egg each other on. I am encouraging them to listen to me, and I am gaining ground until one of them sets the others into giggles and all sanity is lost. We sit on the floor in a circle and I explain to them that being good is really much more fun because time outs are not fun and being mean is not fun and fighting is not fun. "What things are fun?" I ask. "Being nice is fun," the older boy says. "And nice is nice!" the little girl adds, helpfully. "And inviting people over," I say. "And letting our friends play with our toys," the older boy says. "And kisses are love!" the little girl exclaims. We all agree.
Sometimes I am good at playing. It helps if I sit on the floor. We sit and play with small squares. "Get me five green ones," I say to the girl, and she does. The baby toddles over and snatches them and screaming ensues. Learning is always going on here. I am teaching them writing with the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum (which I love) and they wriggle themselves out of their chairs with excitement. They love the chalkboard. The older boy already knows how to write, but needs some help. The little girl doesn't know her letters yet, but wants to do whatever the boy is doing. "We're learning D", I say. Then I ask her what letter we are learning. She screws up her face and says "Ummmm." Then she draws a perfect D.
Sometimes I just lie down on the floor and let them swarm me. I have no energy for anything else. They lean their heads on my face and I smell their warm sweaty hair. We make ahhhhhhhhh noises. Then I pick myself up and start cleaning again.
We work together. They hand me clothes to put on the clothesline. They fight over who will get to give me the pair of purple pants. The purple pants become the Holy Grail. There is a meltdown. Nobody is giving me the purple pants. I will get the purple pants for myself. Dirt is thrown. Then they smile sweetly through dirty faces and hand me clothes again. We do dishes. The older boy carefully stacks them in the dish drainer. The girl moves them from the rinse water to the bleach water. I wash. The baby eats out of the scrap bucket and scavenges for food on the floor. I catch him and send him out of the kitchen, and he falls to the floor and cries.
We swim in the river. I put them in their swimsuits and we traipse down, my pale legs glowing. They are brown and sweet and nutty, and when we jump in the water they become incredibly weightless, like babies. Sometimes the older ones swim by themselves, with their life jackets, and I play with the baby as he floats in the inflatable hippo. Sometimes I hold on to them and we float down the "rapids" or the "rapins" as the girl calls them. We love this time of day best. The minnows nibble at us and the trees rustle above us, and they find me beautiful rocks to bring home for my beautiful rock "collection". There is usually another meltdown when we leave, usually by the little girl, we walk slowly home while she cries and pouts. It is nap time.
The younger two sleep. I make coffee and sit with it, nursing it. I take a minute, and then the older boy and I work together. Sometimes he plays outside with his friends. If he can't find them, he insists that he doesn't play by himself, so I get him to help me. If I don't mention the word "play" he usually starts playing with something. A couple of sticks. Some rocks. A truck. Sometimes he watches "Really Wild Animals" and sings along with the cheesy songs. I do office work or clean cabins or cook food or do all sorts of other odd piddly things until it is time to get the other kids.
We eat with everyone. We do more dishes. The Superstar Daddy takes photos or sings or does card tricks. We wander home (across the land) at some point. We have bonfires, with marshmallows. We read some more. I kiss them. I close their door and collapse on the couch. Then I get up and put a load of laundry on.
At some point they have become a force. We do everything together. They are my kids, there are three of them, and they take up 80% of my thoughts.
We don't own a lot of stuff. (Or maybe we do, have you ever seen that book where people around the world put all their belongings outside of their homes? We own a lot more than a lot of people.) We have this family of ours though, and they take and give more than I could have imagined.
We may be moving soon. We are thinking out of the country. Out of North America. And I keep thinking, over and over again, that I am just so glad that we move together, that this thing called family will come with me, now, where I go.