I tell my four-year-old on the way home, “Johnny, you have to calm down at Grandma’s: you can’t jump on her sleep-number bed or track mud on the floor, or look at the pork roast and then comment that the gravy smells like poop, or sit on the windshield of her car, and when we have to leave, you can’t cry behind the standing antique mirror you always almost break in your fervor, because she will stop inviting us over.”
I know she won’t. She smiles baring all teeth, shaking her head, she says, “They’re boys.” I smile, bearing anything at all. How does my mother not mind?
Who doesn’t like gravy?
Sammy is two and threw my mother’s butter potatoes to the floor, swept them clear off her table before he began jamming out with his spoon on her new slate-tiled kitchen set.
Last week, a little girl ahead of us in line at Wegmans said, “My name’s Angelina.”
Johnny said, “My little brother’s name is Sam, and he’s not an angel.” We all laughed, but he didn’t understand what was so funny.
My sons are not devils. They are ragamuffins. They are toughies, my mom says. My mother-in-law says God only gives you what you need. He forgot to give me muscles. And many days, patience.
I did imagine that Angelina went home and combed her Monster High doll’s hair calmly and smoothly with attention to snarls and then smelled her doll’s hair and then cuddled her like a good Monster High doll’s mother would. I imagine Angelina potty trained in two days. She ate everything her parents put on her plate, with gravy. She took ballet classes and tiptoed down the stairs after waking, never before 8 a.m. I imagined.
I have to exert all my power to hold two boys down with force enough to put their shoes on while they spin like tornadoes, but not enough force to hurt them. It is a hard practice, like yoga, this strict control of muscles.
And yet I see the same restraint in Johnny when he wants to wallop Sammy in return for the bite on his forearm.
They love as hard as they live.
We get home, and Johnny says, “I don’t like to come home.”
So I tell him that makes me sad, that I want him to love our home, to want to be here. He starts crying and tells me he doesn’t want to leave this house, to move, that he wants to take the “for sale” sign down.
When I am almost in tears, Sammy says, “It’s okay, Mommy.”
At night, we are finally settled, the three of us on the couch, watching Chicken Little, and I’ve finally stopped holding my breath long enough to remind them how much I love them. We share popsicles. And if they fight by pushing hard and leaning against each other, growling, it’s over the space on my lap–which is my space, and I don’t mind if they each take it all.