Monday, February 11, 2008

I'm nobody

Colm is pretty enamored with the idea of being terrifically strong which in many cases boils down to being stronger than me. He is always hurling himself into me, sometimes from a long way off, sometimes without warning, sometimes aiming his head at my most vulnerable areas. He loves to goad and taunt me into contests.
"I bet nobody can stop me."
(For those keeping score at home, I'm nobody.)
"Nobody is stronger than me!"
He will issue his challenges anywhere anytime, but lately Colm has discovered where his comparative advantage lies. He has taken to attacking me in bed. It's a shrewd strategy on his part. I'm typically groggy and not feeling especially competitive.
"Pretend you're stopping me but you can't."
Colm lifts up my limp arm and makes like he's going to trample my head. Instinctively I tense up and hold him off, exactly the response Colm's been hoping for. He pushes back with all his might. He's got me at an awkward angle, and it's my bad shoulder (rotator cuff problems). I hold him off, but just barely.
Of course I could repulse him, but, instead, I cave in. Colm bears down on my arm until he and it have collapsed on my head. I then grab Colm and tickle him, until he is laughing uncontrollably. As soon as I stop however, he's up on his feet wanting to repeat the entire sequence again. And so it goes some mornings. During one of these sessions, Colm suddenly turned pensive. He looked at me and said, "I'm stronger than you sometimes." He seemed to consider the dimensions of this boast because he quickly added, "In bed... I'm stronger... sometimes."
"I guess you bed." I grab him and tickle him into submission.
Unbeknown to me, Colm has been carrying on similar matches with his best friend's father. Unlike me, however, he always lets Colm win. He is a nicer man than I am. Fast forward to an evening where these friends are at our house for dinner. Colm rushes up to the man, stands between us and pointing at my friend he declares, "He is weak!"
I look at my friend a bit unsure of what to make of this. He is all smiles. He tells me how Colm takes him on and how he always wins. Before Colm runs away, he says, "I am stronger than my dad, too... but only sometimes... in bed."
This time it's my friend's turn to look quizzically at me.

Tess is becoming quite the scrapbook maker and diarist. She loves drawing, writing, cutting paper, pasting images to cards and pages. She is a headstrong girl with a pretty fiery temper so it's nice to see her settle in such pacific activities for extended periods. We've been trying to give her scope to feel her strong passions without being penalized simply for having them, especially anger and frustration. At the same time we're trying to convey to her that one can feel and express anger in ways that don't involve trampling all over other people's feelings. Just this afternoon Tess comes into my room crying loudly from having bumped her elbow. I hold her for awhile. Finally her crying subsides. I then try to cheer her up with the observation that the pain will be gone completely in just a little while. She seems recovered so I say, "You see it's nearly all gone now." My mistake.
Tess is not done feeling her pain. "No it's not! It still hurts!"
I try a different tack. "You know what is a very cool super power to have?"
Tess looks mildly interested so I continue, "The power to heal from injuries. Wouldn't that be great?"
Tess backs out of my embrace and frowns, theatrically folding her arms across her chest. "No!...I don't like that." The way she says it is very much what I imagine a spoiled and unappealing child might sound like. I turn away and with a wave of my hand, I say, "I don't feel like talking to you right now. Leave now. You can come back and try again if you want to."
Tess doesn't move. I say, "Go, now. Come back later if you want."
She turns and leaves, taking care to step more loudly than necessary. I take up something to read. My thoughts bend to my daughter though. I wonder whether I'm handling this well. Then I hear from off in another room of the house, "Daddy!"
"You can come in here if you want to talk to me sweetie."
She appears at my side and sweetly asks me, "How do you spell "angry?"
I grab a piece of paper and write it down. She takes the paper, looks at me with a Mona Lisa smile and disappears. A few minutes later she's back.
"Daddy? How do you spell "sometimes?"
Once again I help her; once again we exchange smiles.
I sit back and wait for her next visit. I hope there is one.
"Yeah Tess?"
"How do you spell "people?"
A while later, Beth comes home and my dance with Tess is subsumed by preparations for dinner. The kids help set the table while I wash the day's dishes. Beth is cooking pork chops, palenta, and roasted peppers. I absolutely love this dinner, but Colm hardly eats anything. After awhile we let him get down. Tess too is just pushing her food around, but then she asks, "Is there dessert?"
"We have some cookies," says Beth.
"But you have to eat some dinner." I add.
Tess goes to work on her plate.
When she's done, she asks for a cookie. Colm has been hanging around on the floor in the kitchen. He gets up and quietly asks, "Can I have a cookie?"
There is a moment of silence. Then I say, "You didn't eat anything Colm. Not any pork chops, not any carrots, not any peppers."
Beth is looking at me. I can't tell what she's thinking though I suspect disharmony. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying he didn't eat any dinner."
"What does that mean?"
I look at Beth. Is she calling me out, I wonder? Colm is standing in front of the fridge like someone on death row. I have just finished cleaning Colm's plate.
"No dinner, no dessert." I say.
Colm's head and shoulders droop, his chin hits his chest. Softly he begins to sob as he makes his way without even looking to his mother's lap. She strokes his hair gently and says, "You didn't eat any food Colmy."
Then Beth sees a few pieces of pork chop that Tess has left behind. I see them too. "Do you want to eat some dinner so you can have a cookie?" Colm lifts his head and nods gravely, his cheeks streaked by tears.
As our boy puts away the pieces of pork chop, Beth and I go back and forth over his head. Tess pretends not to listen.
"Why didn't you just say it?"
"What were those questions about?"
"I wanted to know what you were going for."
"I was trying to give you a chance to jump in there and support me."
"I sure didn't get that."
"Well you sure didn't jump at the chance did you?"
"I'm just glad you left some food on the table for him to eat."
Abashed, I say, "Me too...I thought he was finished."
"Can I have my cookie now?" says Tess.
Both Beth and I look at her and say almost in unison, "When Colm's finished."
Dessert happens. Spirits fly up again. I'm clearning the table when I'm accosted by Colm from behind. He plows into my legs, knocking my knees against the cabinet.
"Nobody is stronger than me." He is itching for a rematch. Tess too is looking at me expectantly.
"Lets play Nobody!" she says.
"Yeah! Nobody!" yells Colm.
"Okay." I say pretending to moan. The kids gleefully dash over the sofa where they crouch on the cushions. The sofa is safe. The game is simple. I stand a few feet from the sofa with my back turned to them. The sneak up and try to touch my butt without being captured by Nobody (me). Over and over again, I whirl and feint and roar and threaten while the kids full of daring scramble and screech as they elude my grasping hands.
All is golden, all is forgotten in these moments...I can do no wrong for this little while and it makes me very, very happy.
At length, we manage to turn everyone towards bed. It is a smooth transition. Beth reads to them on the sofa. She reads with tremendous aplomb, flanked on both sides by her babies, their heads pressed against her shoulders. Colm's head is destined to slide down onto her lap any minute.
Later, I'm in my room when I hear Beth send Tess in to say goodnight. She runs in and throws her arms around my neck. I get up with my long-limbed girl in my arms, Beth appears at the door with the journal that Tess is keeping. She has it open to today's entry. I look at it. There is a picture of a girl with a darkly frowning expression. On the opposite page is written:
Dear Mom and Dad
you make me
angry sometimes
you even
sometimes make me happy
I like people
And so it goes...what's it all mean? Nobody knows.


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