‘That question is boring!” brays Tyler from the back seat. I have made the fatal parent/grandparent mistake of asking, “How was school today?” I thought I might have a grace period since they’re only in kindergarten. Wrong. They have bypassed elementary and gone straight to middle-school temperament. “It’s interesting to you but it’s boring to us,” Tyler explains.
Note to self: ask more interesting questions.
The boys are cranky when I pick them up from school. Potentially meltdown cranky. Go-to-war-with-my-brother cranky. But somewhere I read an article about kids and blood sugar. These two are in all-day kindergarten. They’re often too busy gabbing to eat their afternoon snack. Low blood sugar brings out the lesser angels of their nature.
So now I have a secret weapon: I hand them each a cereal bar after they buckle into their booster seats. So far it works like a charm.
Winter’s a tough time for kids after a long day at school. They come out tired but restless from being cooped up. Maybe that’s why their school offers a mindfulness meditation club. That surprised and impressed me. But I don’t think it’s open to kindergarteners. So we head home and run around the house for a while, pelting each other with snowballs. Thank God it snowed a couple of times recently.
It was overcast for about three weeks straight, which is a mood-downer. One day recently the clouds opened for a moment. I said, “Looks like the sun is trying to break through.” Tyler, as if noting something everyone obviously already knows, says, “The sun is always trying to break through,” then continues on with the imaginative narrative he and Bryce have cooked up. Tyler is a metaphor machine.
Bryce, meanwhile, is working on his own mystery. “Papa Ken,” he asks, “can you Google how zombies take people’s brains out of their head?” Not a question one hears every day. I don’t know how this will go over, but I inform him I don’t have access to Google on my phone. This is a far greater mystery than anything involving zombies.
Wednesday is library day for Bryce’s class and he gets to bring one book home. He chooses well. This one contains another mystifying phenomenon: Elephant pregnancies last 22 months. Almost two years! And when the baby is born, it almost immediately gets on its feet and starts walking!
Bryce considers this and says, “That’s because they have all that room inside the mom to practice.” We take a moment to visualize a baby elephant pacing back and forth inside Mama Elephant, impatiently counting down the days till birth.
Bryce asks, “How do babies get inside moms anyway?” Dad and I hem and harrumph and decide discretion is the better part of valor. We tell him it’s too complicated to explain and we’ll get back to him in a couple of years — like when he’s 13.
I heat up the dinner Mom has left for us and we sit around the table discussing table topics from Chick-Fil-A, such as “Where would you rather go this summer: a beach, a mountain, or a lake?” They choose the beach, which leads to a discussion about how many grains of sand there are in your average beach. Billions. Maybe trillions. Too many to count. They love big numbers that boggle the mind.
I email them Bing photos from my computer at home, including a sea turtle breaking out of its eggshell. Dad shows it to them on his phone and talks about their perilous race across the sand to the water and how humans sometimes protect them from predators. We also read a book about fish in the ocean and the food chain, starting with crill and plankton and moving up in size, the bigger fish eating the smaller fish, except for the biggest, the whales, which eat plankton and crill. We imagine how many plankton a whale has to eat to fill up. Billions. Maybe trillions.
What an amazing big-numbered world we live in.
Mom gets home and we sit around the kitchen table, and the boys can’t get enough of her. They do homework and make up excuses for why they didn’t eat their snack or all of their lunch. When life is good, it is a wondrous thing to behold, this blissful ordinariness, this all-rightness with the world. Tyler twirls around with delight like a mini-Nureyev. There is a comfort level with Mom that can’t be duplicated as they climb up and down from her lap. Moments like this are exactly why the human race continues on, why we reproduce and create families, why the circle stays unbroken.
The boys lobby for a post-dinner sweet and dawdle as much as they can to forestall bedtime, but Mama is no pushover. She keeps to a strict schedule and soon enough they’re in their pajamas and hugging us goodbye.
In the days that follow, when I miss them, I remind myself:
The sun is always trying to break through.