By Ken Trainor
How are you coping with "The Madness"? It's everywhere in our media-soaked culture (with more ways to access it than ever). We can't ignore it, but we can wrestle it into perspective. The sight of a full moon makes me forget about it for a moment, though the moon eventually brings to mind Himself's lunacy. The sight of Venus or Jupiter shining Bethlehem-like in the night sky reminds me of the awe-inducing fact that planets, which would take us several years to reach traveling at several times the speed of a bullet, are visible to our unaided eye — located just down the planetary pathway in our galactic neighborhood.
We live in a universe of marvels on a planet of great beauty, but soon enough I'm thinking of the cosmic forces that alternate between hellacious chaos and heavenly order, whereas we Earthlings seem only to alternate between chaos and more chaos in the new world disorder, and that the natural world's beauty is greatly imperiled by our human-made neglect and disrespect. I'm reminded of the latter every time I pass the Metra embankment murals at Oak Park Avenue, which, just a few short years ago, showed a pristine image of Earth against a sea of black beneath the large "350," indicating the parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere that we could not afford to exceed in our determined march toward planetary oblivion. Now that we've blown past 400, the faded image of Earth has acquired a hazy sheen that looks eerily prophetic.
It's a challenge to take my mind off "The Madness," but my main antidote is a weekly mid-week play date with a couple of adorable 3-year-olds, who have a marvelous way of focusing an old man's mind on what's most important. And what's important, as all grandparents know, is Play-Doh and Brio train sets and Legos and finger paints and pancakes at George's and the trains passing on the Metra embankment over the cloudy images of Earth and reading Curious George books and mid-afternoon treats of blueberries and goldfish cinnamon cookies and making sure they go to the bathroom and intervening when they morph into monkeys jumping on the bed and putting in the Play-Doh "cake" birthday candles, which they blow out halfway through the song, sung to whoever's birthday was most recent or soonest to come.
Not a lot of room for "The Madman" with all that going on, but if he somehow manages to elbow his way momentarily into my consciousness, I take solace in the fact that when these two reach the age of 30, The Madman will be dead and gone — unless he lives to be 100, God forbid — though we'll still be cleaning up his God-forsaken mess.
But that thought doesn't last long because hanging out with 3-year-old twins brings its own form of "madness" — the good kind — and it's good to be reminded that there's a good kind. Well, the comic kind anyway because 3-year-old boys are natural comedians (I assume girls are too, though my family clearly favors the XY chromosome combo).
Adults who don't know better, or have forgotten, have a tendency to view children as "blank slates" and though they are learning at a prodigious rate, they are more "themselves" than most adults and instantly know how they feel about things, and strongly too, and have no hesitation about making their opinions and wishes known. Their verbalization is as voluminous as their enunciation is inexact. One wishes for subtitles beneath the running commentary — to avert moments such as Bryce suddenly writhing on the floor in heartbroken agony because (we later divined), I had committed the unforgivable sin of cutting his pickle spear into pieces.
Minding twins is inherently chaotic, but I wouldn't want it any other way. The required multitasking is mind-boggling and if I make the mistake of asking their preference on something, they will give radically different answers every time, but I love the differentiation, the fact that one will be serene while the other goes off half-cocked. It's strangely reassuring.
Of course, when they both go off at the same time, it's hard to remain the Rock of Gibraltar they have come to count on, but it's still an infinitely better madness than "The Madness" of emotionally-arrested children in D.C.
Soon enough the storm passes and they morph into kittens curling up on my lap for cuddles or piggies riding my back or shoulders.
I do have help. Daddy and Grandma are often on hand, which leads to a different kind of chaos, such as the time Grandma pulled a kaleidoscope out of her magic handbag of delights, and I was showing Bryce how to use it when I noticed the ink on my hands — from the inkpad that had come open in the magic handbag of delights. It was all over Bryce's hands, too, and all over the kaleidoscope (but did not leave ink circles around our eyes, I'm happy to report). Daddy whisked Bryce into my very tiny bathroom to wash the ink off his hands, which, as always, were roaming. I wiped off the kaleidoscope, then joined them in the (very tiny) bathroom to report on the cause of the ink outbreak, and just then Tyler rushed in announcing he had to "go peepee" with the kind of urgency that causes caretakers to spring into action. So I picked him up (with ink-stained hands) and plopped him on the "big-boy" (ink-stained) toilet seat, making sure he didn't fall in. That's when Grandma joined us (did I mention how tiny my bathroom is?) brandishing a bottle of dishwashing liquid, assuring us it would "cut through the ink." She was right.
I looked around and thought, "Ah, there's nothing like family togetherness!"
And I didn't think about The Madman or The Madness even once.