Sometimes you can gauge the exact tenor of how your kids' behavior registered with others by the nature of the comments they make to you upon parting. Today, I departed amide a barrage of, "Kids can be really hard, but you are so good with them!" and "We just want to whisk you away to a cabin the the woods for a few days when that baby is weaned!" and "My friend who has three kids would like to be mildly injured in an automobile accident so that she can spend a few days of peace in the hospital," a fantasy with which I am well-acquainted.
Not that I really needed a scientific form of measurement; I was there, too. I was witness to all the couch jumping, decorative-ball throwing, screaming contests (literally) and, for the grand finale, kid-ese for "it is time to go," the wadding up of magazine pages and for game of throwing them at my host and her tiny baby.
I know that our visits to the homes of others is like a home invasion from the local street gang. Brigham and I have tried to console ourselves with jokes about how we need to take back the night (and day) from the neighborhood gang (that lives in our home) and in whom we live in fear. I will never forget the look of sad defeat in Brigham's face during that Sunday School Meeting when one of the boys snatched Brigham's new iphone away from him and cackled, truly cackled, in his face the way a bully would to a small victim. That was the day I realized that the kids were like a street gang, only without the drugs and guns. I think. Even a visit to a store or the pool will rapidly deteriorate into an amphibeous assault upon enemy territory. I know that people often feel embarrassed for me, but the worst part is that they don't need to because I gave up any hopeful aspirations that would bridge me over to the disappointment that would make embarrassment even possible a really long time ago.
I do not mean to say that they are bad kids. They aren't (usually). They are wonderful. They are my favorite people. They are just wild and uncivilized. They are little boys. I feel boys need a better spokesman to act as an agent for them to the world. The planet doesn't seem to understand little boys. Mothers of boys understand them, but only for the years during which their kids are young, and then the same magic that enables children to hear the tinkling of Santa's sleighbell evaporates and those mothers, too, turn into the tone deaf Unbelievers in What Little Boys are Capable Of.
"Run them," my friend agreed sympathetically after I told her that I thought maybe prebreakfast laps would be advisory. "Run them like dogs." A small trampoline in the basement is not a bad idea, either. Nor is a much larger house with a fenced yard.
Yes, our home life is chaotic. We do descend upon each and every room in it the way we descend upon you in your homes, in your church meetings, in your classrooms, in your stores and restaurants, parks and pool: like a pack of animals, like a platoon of crazed marines, like a hurricane.
"In three years," I told my friends today "my life will be a lot quieter." Maybe this isn't true, but it is certainly the case that I am on a trajectory that will lead ultimately to more and more calm moments and fewer and fewer wild ones. Realizing this reminded me of a short story I read recently about an empty-nester divorced woman attending a small family gathering in the home of her ex-husband and his new family, complete with teenage girls. The ex-wife is sad to see that his new family--the one he trader her in for--treats him poorly; he indicates by expression that he regrets his choice. The entire duration of the story you feel sort of sorry for the exhusband, but in the final sentence the author turns all your feelings upside down.
I include that because, at the end of my 15 minutes of peaceful ruminations during the drive home, I came to a similar conclusion. I do feel like I exist in the middle of a living, breathing hurricane. But it is a hurricane that brings me life and meaning and all the best things human existence has to offer. And when it subsides, years and years from now but we all know how quickly those slip through our fingers, I am afraid that my heart will be left in the empty crater carved out by those wild little beasts of boys, and silent.