Sunday, January 20, 2008

In Just Sixteen Years

It started out as a simple act of service. Deliver peanut butter blossom cookies to my sister Page and her children this holiday weekend. I doubled the recipe while I made the dough and packed a paper bakery box full of cookies.

We knocked on the door. Dan, the German exchange student answered.

"I don't know where anyone is." He said in his thick accent after we exchanged our Guten Tags.

I put the box on the kitchen counter. It looked like lunch had just occurred. A bag of organic corn chips was half full and homemade salsa sat next to it in a jar. The house was uncharacteristically soundless. And still.

Out of my eye I could see down the hall where two children were on a leather couch jumping up and down. It was Seth and Mery. Mery has the type of floppy hair that suspends in the air with each bounce.

We walk down the hall.

"Hello?" I ask in their direction.

"It's Conan!" Seth yells back and comes running, Mery not far behind. Page turns the corner.

"Oh! When did you get here?" She asks me as we head back to the kitchen.

"Oh just . . ." I start, and then remember that in Page's house you don't really answer questions because there isn't time. In a matter of minutes there were children jumping up and down for our attention. Cheering. Hugging from more children. When we introduce the cookies I am reminded of that scene in Lord of the Rings when the orcs come racing out of the shadows of the mines of Moria.

Ten seconds and our cookies were gone. Like that. Clark is the first to descend on the box, a tribute to his athleticism. Winnie was licking her cookie, as Chup observed, "Winnie licks everything." Page somehow sneaks one cookie for herself. I give her a nod of respect.

"Come sit by the fire!" Page says with enthusiasm as she leads me by my arm, past the darling vultures, into her lovely living room. "Let's see your baby!" she asks once we've chosen seats.

"Well, I'm . . ." I start to curve my hands around my bump but Page is now trying to nurse Mery's disappointment that she--second to the littlest--only got one cookie in the Fight for a Treat 2008.

"I only got one too, but I am trying to be happy anyway!" Page convincingly smiles at her three-year-old. Someone points out that Layton (who turns sixteen tomorrow!) had four cookies. Ah! The advantage of being the oldest.

Page sits in between Chup and I and asks us questions about our respective lives. But before she can get an answer, her head is turned in the other direction like a spectator at a tennis match.

Clark and Olivia are fighting over who gets to pluck the strings on Winnie's violin. ("Winnie, you play the violin?" I asked astonished). Meanwhile Winnie is trying to explain her idea for her Inuit diorama project for school. Something about broken plates, glue and grout. Chup suggests sugar cubes. Winnie is way to artistic for the ordinary. The violin is screaming out in ear piercing notes.

Seth is pulling and pushing on Chup like he's Uncle Gumby. Emma starts quoting me movie lines. There is talk about "who should Layton ask to the Valentine's dance?" Dan lounges on the couch eating marshmallows. Half of the living room is covered in Seth's Lego. Winnie leaves and comes back with a stuffed puppy. Dixie (the dog) has the Nerf ball in his mouth. Page is singing for someone to "Get the ball out of the dog's mouth!" Mery has a new complaint, it requires a whine. Clark hurdles a chair to escape the vindication of Olivia. Vivian wakes up from her nap AND SHE NEEDS HER DIAPER CHANGED! And this all occurs in three minutes (or less.)

"Where is your dad?" I yell out to Emma across the room as the volume increases.

"Oh, he left for Boston this morning!" She yells back, using cupped hands.

At one point I have to slightly cover my ear holes with the tip of my finger. There is so much energy in one concentrated spot it completely overwhelms. This sort of experience isn't new to me, it's just that my ability to absorb it is weak. I have been in my quiet house for too long.

"PAGE?" I ask loudly, huffing, grabbing her hand. "CONCENTRATE!" I demand.

Her head whips in my direction. Her spunky-little self freezes for a millisecond, a slight grin on her mouth.

"WHEN . . ." I huff, "WHEN DID YOU HAVE SO MANY CHILDREN?"

I mean, I knew when. I can tell you where I was with when all of their births occurred. For two of them I was even present. For most of them I was the Relief Mother who came into make dinner and soldier on with the laundry while Page nursed and rocked. But when did this all add up to a huge house with huge noises and huge demands and huge laughs and a German exchange student on the couch?

Of course my question was never answered. By the time it left my lips Page had time to laugh, put her index finger to my nose, and scoop up the baby before Seth knocked the high chair over.

But now, hours later, I've realized that I am not so concerned with when. Given my situation at this moment I now want to ask, how. How did it all come about?

Does it really just start with one?