Chalkboard Declarations

First, let me begin by saying that I believe in self-expression via writing. Words are the most effective means of communicating how we feel, right? It’s kind of a no-brainer that I, of all people, would encourage my children to write.

So with that in mind, I painted an entire wall in Joe’s room with chalkboard paint.

It’s been fun to find their silly little drawings. Joe’s nearly perfect attempts to recreate Chomp from Super Mario World. Gwen’s weird-looking princess people with something resembling an antenna springing forth from their heads. A series of wobbly lines drawn by Kate and placed directly over the artwork of her siblings thus eliciting screams of protest and angry pleas for me to make her stop.

Sometimes Gwen is permitted to sleep on the top bunk in Joe’s room. These are the nights when her heart swells with joy and she beams with giddy delight at his invitation for a sleepover. We know that giggles and fake farts sounds are part of the deal. Dave and I accept that we’ll be required to stand at the bottom of the stairs and issue several warnings to settle down. Of course we know this, but boy, do those two children share a special bond. We love to see them loving each other.

So last week, during one of their sleepovers, Dave and I let them giggle and make fart sounds for a bit too long. Mostly because the giggles had turned to uncontrollable belly laughs. The deep and uncontrollable kind that can be so rare for Joe as he struggles with ADHD and anxiety and emotions. He’s a serious guy. So when he laughs so hard that he’s gasping for air, we let him and we share a glance and a chuckle before finally issuing the “that’s enough now” statement.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t give those belly laughs much thought the next morning. They had become a warm memory, filed away for use at some future date when I attempt to recall what Joe and Gwen sounded like at ages 7 and 5. When I need to pull that memory out because I’m pining for these days. The very days we are experiencing right now. The ones that parents of grown children tell me I will miss. I believe them. I do. But when you’re in the thick of it, it is hard to embrace that sentiment. Despite the wistful expression that washes over the face of a stranger when they see me herding my noisy flock through the grocery store, the look that comes right before they say, “I remember those days.” They say things like this as they stare at my children, not really seeing them at all, but traveling back in time to spend just a moment with their little ones courtesy of a warm memory filed away long ago.

When a complete stranger remarks that they miss their little ones, I pause. I do. I pause because I know I’ll feel the same way one day. Mostly because my naughty little brood makes me laugh. Despite their decidedly fresh behavior and inappropriate language, I will miss them terribly when they become pimply and gangly-limbed humans.

However, I will not miss finding the messages of self-expression that make it abundantly clear what those sibling slumber party belly laughs were all about.

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The Bad Finger

Right around the time that she began walking and babbling, I had Cookie’s number. She quickly made it clear that she was a mischievous tease when at 12 months of age, she toddled over to Joe and swiped his favorite monkey. She dangled the monkey in front of him and then with an impish glint in her eyes, she took off as fast as her tiny legs would carry her. I sat back in awe and observed my little Cookie as she ran laps through our tiny apartment, maniacally laughing as Joe followed in hot pursuit. He was screaming too, but evidently his opinion of Gwen’s game wasn’t quite so high. Unfortunately for Joe, his protests only fed Gwen’s good time and encouraged future monkey swiping. It was right around that stage of her growth when I predicted that Gwen was destined to be our lightening rod for trouble.

The girl has no filter. She can swear like a sailor and on a few occasions, she has let a word or two fly. Thankfully, up to now any profanity-laced indiscretions have been reserved to the confines of the house or car. That is, until today. This afternoon I was slightly early for pre-school pickup which provided me with the opportunity to spy. (Don’t you love those “fly on the wall” moments when they have no idea that you are there and watching?) I stood outside of the preschool peering in through the big glass window, trying to remain unseen. I covertly scanned the roomful of noisy children until my eyes finally came to rest on a small group in the corner. They were oddly subdued in comparison to the rest of the kids. Of course, I was immediately suspicious and even more so when I realized that it was Gwen who was holding court. A group of boys sat in a semi-circle around her. Nothing good comes from an unchaperoned, silent and barely-moving brood of preschoolers.

I squinted through the glare on the window trying to figure out what they were doing. The boys were enrapt as they watched Gwen perform some trick with her hand. My angle was bad, casting a glare on the window. For the life of me I couldn’t see, not to mention that one of the kids was blocking my view to Gwen’s hands. I saw her mouth moving and she shook her head ‘no’ at the boy in front of her. I thought I saw her roll her eyes and sigh with impatience as she shifted to the left. Finally, Cookie was in full view and to my horror I realized that my sweet little Cookie, the girl wearing a fancy dress and a big red bow in her hair, was teaching a group of boys how one properly ‘flips the bird’.

Right about now you’re thinking, “Well, who in the world taught that sweet little girl how to give someone the finger?” Joe did it. He came home last week with a long and sordid tale about how “So and So” from his first grade class was sent to the Principal’s office for “showing his bad finger.” He sternly proceeded to demonstrate the bad finger for Dave and me in precise detail and inquired as to its meaning. We barely attempted to hide our laughter at his solemn display, but then explained that using “the bad finger” is akin to saying the “F” word. His eyes widened and he immediately dropped his bad finger, but not before looking at it with horror. It appears that Gwen simultaneously absorbed the conversation and missed the message that The Finger is BAD.

I recalled that moment of parental failure today in the seconds it took me to lunge toward the door. I was still helplessly mid-lunge as I watched Gwen demonstrate her new found expertise to the group of followers. While I was I still turning the doorknob, she held her right hand up and began closing her little fingers one by one. She even pushed the disagreeable stragglers down, allowing her middle finger to stand proud and tall. I saw a boy giggle and raise his hand to his mouth to stifle his laugh at her naughty ability. Finally, I was able to jerk the glass door open and call, “Hey, Cookie!” She gave a startled jump at my interruption and gazed at me blankly for a half second. A happy look of recognition washed over her features but almost instantaneously, fear flickered through her eyes. She knows my “I saw what you were doing” glare well. She stood up slowly and stepped away from the boys who were now wearing expressions of wide-eyed terror. I pulled Cookie to me and gave her a giant hug while whispering, “I saw that!” in her ear. She pulled her face away and peered into my eyes with that mischievous glint I know so well. I made sure her entourage overheard the stern reprimand that followed before they ran for the hills.

I’m sitting here expecting a phone call from an angry mother. Something tells me that if it comes, it will be the first of many in Gwen’s school career.

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