We were in the kitchen, Persistence and I. We'd just gotten home from the store and I was unpacking groceries, cold things first. Yogurt, milk, cheese, cream cheese, butter...all dairy, all real, all organic. All packed in my eco-friendly reusable net bag. Persistence was sitting at the table, happily eating yogurt, one of the new ones.
We were both happy. I was happy to see the healthy food and know we made good choices for under budget, yes, self-satisfied and congratulatory, not to mention pleased and relieved that Persistence had been so well-behaved (in fact a delight) at the store, garnering rare comments of approval and adoration...instead of the usual narrow-eyed glances of annoyance. Persistence was happy because she loves to eat, especially fresh food just home from the store, all the things she saw us load into the cart, that perhaps she herself chose, but has only been able to look at and long for, until now, at home, when I served her a bowl of fresh whole milk vanilla yogurt, with the cream on top.
I was setting the pantry items on the counter to be loaded into the glass storage jars. Of course here we can't leave food in boxes. Crackers, cereal, fig newtons (raspberry flavored) (whole grain) all go into sealed jars. Millet and flax banana bread. I regretfully laid that in the refrigerator, too. I prefer fresh bread, room temperature, but unless we can finish it in under three days, it must be preserved in the cold.
Outside it was 75 and sunny, with a nice breeze from the north. This means cool and dry rather than hot and humid. Breezes from the south come straight in from the water, which is still hotter than the air around us. The dueling weather patterns from the north and south have created some crazy weather. That morning we'd ridden our bikes to school as usual, and after dropping off Patience, my two neighbors and I had stood gabbing at the end of the bike path. The younger children, 3, like Persistence, had raced in silly circles shrieking just for the fun of it. Suddenly, the sky and air changed and we were caught unaware and unprepared by a downpour. We had scattered, laughing and calling out, and all got home drenched, just in time for it to clear up. Persistence, in the bike stroller, kept warm and dry.
Now, I was humming along with Persistence, who was singing another one of her nonsense songs to the tune of Jingle Bells. This afternoon was going to be another kid party, I knew. The weather was too good for it not to be.
Each afternoon when Persistence and I go to school to pick up Patience, the neighborhood girls are busily organizing which house they will all go to. Four of them live in a square by our cul-de-sac, and they frequently come to our house because we have the biggest yard and a play structure.
As I rinsed out storage jars to dry, I considered what snack to serve and how to "close the kitchen" from the incessant food demands of a half a dozen children. The store trip we'd just returned from was unplanned but necessary because my supplies have been cleaned out by the children. Running and unstructured play burns a lot of calories, you know, and every half hour one to four of them hurtle themselves towards me with a plaintive cry of, "I'm hungry!" My own children usually lead the charge.
I sound annoyed, but the truth is, underneath it all I know this is idyllic. I relish the knowledge that every afternoon both children have a gang of friends to run and play with. Patience will probably remember something of this her entire life; I know I remember the couple of halcyon years in a similar neighborhood before my parents divorced and we moved, and kept moving. This is the time when she will make some of her best memories that do not include me. I realize now the reason I am so sanguine about this is because they will be my memories, too, and I will know I created the space for her to make the memories. All of this brings me joy.
As I dried the cracker jar, and considered that a baggie of four crackers, slice of cheese and raspberry fig newton would be a reasonable snack and as Persistence stirred and sang to her yogurt, the phone rang.
I ran through the kitchen and living room to the office to answer it, because the kitchen phone crackles and we haven't cared enough to replace it. It was a vendor, returning my call about an erroneous charge on my credit card. I answered it, eager to clear up the problem and get a refund of the hefty-to-me charge. I knew Persistence was happily occupied eating and it had been such a good day.
It didn't take long for the customer care agent to pull up my account and see why the error occurred. She promised to clear things up right away. I hung up pleased, another matter taken care of successfully and in only a couple of minutes. As I walked back to the kitchen I heard Persistence, still singing.
When I entered, I saw what had happened while I was on the phone: Persistence had taken every single yogurt carton out of the refrigerator, opened it, and dumped it on her table. She was happily mixing the flavors together into one great messy pile.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Not again. I am catastrophe and mess fatigued. There is at least one major disaster every day. I felt a wave of anger and irritation crush over and through me. That's nearly $6 of yogurt, my mind cried, and I just bought it! I can't afford to replace it, I added to myself, and now she'll cry for a week every day about wanting yogurt. And what a mess! Oh no and it's time to leave right now to get Patience from school!
"Oh Persistence!" I cried, frustration, anger, and a tinge of despair lacing my tone, "What have you done! Oh no! What have you done?" The words poured out before I could stop myself, before I could consider how else to go about this. I crouched down beside her, eye-to-eye, "Why? Why would you do this? Hasn't Mom said not to get things out of the refrigerator, to please ask? I was only gone for a few minute! Why? Why did you do this?"
She stared at me, startled from her happy play, surprised to learn she had made another bad choice. It's hard for me to comprehend her surprise, since we discuss this every day, and yet, there it is: surprise.
Her bottom lip quivered, and she remained silent. I didn't really expect an answer; my questions were rhetorical, pulled out of me by anguish and stress.
I pursed and clenched my own lips, at a loss.
I pulled her to me, as she bravely tried to not cry. I hugged her and said, "I love you. I don't know what to do with you but I love you." Then I took her to time out and did my best to salvage the peach-raspberry-vanilla yogurt, and clean up quickly so we could leave. I muttered to myself nonsensically as I did so, and I didn't even calculate how long Persistence was in time out. She could stay there until it was time to go. And for once, perhaps realizing the edge we both teetered on, she stayed put without a fight.
Kitchen clean and yogurt put away, I took her hand and lead her outside to the bike. We were both silent, and took little pleasure in the perfect day just then. Our fragile trust and peace was shattered.
I hated my anger and so did she; I think we both thought I shouldn't have any, but I didn't know any other way to feel.
We rode down the street, me with my iPod in my ears, listening to soothing music, she in the stroller. When we arrived at the school, she begged me to carry her up the path, the path she normally insists on walking down by herself.
I picked her up and hugged her little body, reassuring her that even in my annoyance, I loved her. I hope it is enough.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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