I used to say I wanted a big, noisy family. Before I had a big, noisy family.
Now, I could do with a little less noise.
The children that I love and adore are difficult to love and adore when they're screaming at me and each other, throwing tantrums about stolen toys or hurt feelings, and clocking one another over the head with wooden blocks.
In unison. Volume cranked. At 5 o'clock when my patience is sapped.
Most days, we explode into the house about this time after big play at the park. We're sweaty and dirty. Need the toilet. Need a band-aid. Or two. Water cups need refilled. Tempers are strained and blood sugar is low. Everyone needs to eat.
It's happy hour at bars up and down the East coast but here in our home no one is happy. Especially me.
I bark orders to keep the meltdowns at bay and we haven't even made it into the house yet.
Four little people move in four different directions when we alight on the porch like cockroaches scurrying from the light. One digs into the chalk bucket. Another grabs the broom. One sticks her little feet into Papa's oversized flip-flops and marches off. The last battles the second for the broom.
"Into the house!" I say. I'm sharp but composed. There's patience left in the well but it's quickly running dry.
Once inside, the wheels start to wobble.
Desmond lays down inside the front door and blocks the others from entering. They climb over him. I do too. Josephine whines. Esme whines. They're all screaming at once and I can't distinguish between them.
I tap my inner drill seargeant.
"Shoes and socks off! Take them to your rooms!"
"To the potties. Josephine! Desmond! On the potties!"
I fill two pots of water and throw them on the burners because the baby must eat. NOW! I'm thinking pasta and peas. I thought the same thing yesterday. And the day before.
The baby is stalking me through the house. Crying! Screaming! Shrieking! If he were an ex-boyfriend, a judge would issue a restraining order.
He's burying his head into the back of my knees. He's banging his forehead on my calves. He's hungry. He's desperate.
And so am I.
I send an e-mail to Kent. He's constantly in meetings. Always busy. So I keep these missives short:
Translation: When are you coming home?
He doesn't immediately reply. He often doesn't immediately reply.
I fire off another after I remove two 2 year olds from portable potties, wipe bottoms, clean the potties, turn on the electronic babysitter, pick up the hysterical baby, pour pasta and peas into the roiling pots and let the dog in from the back porch where she's barking mercilessly:
Translation: COME HOME NOW. IT'S BEEN A LONG, DIFFICULT DAY. PLEASE. HELP ME!
Actually, a more accurate translation would include liberal use of the 'F' word, the one no responsible parent should say. The one my mother used just once in front of me. The shock of hearing my mother utter that word, at me, in anger, forced me to run from the house, hide beneath a tree and sob inconsolably.
Anyway, there's a response to the second desperate e-mail but it's maddeningly cryptic and entirely unhelpful:
Insert 'F' word here.
I get Tobias into his chair and feed him a respectable meal: whole wheat pasta with freshly grated parmesan, sliced peaches, peas. Then I get the pots and pans out for Dinner Round II: soba with sesame seeds and sea salt, baked salmon, corn on the cob, and a salad of cherry tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella balls.
I step back into the dining room after getting Round II started to find that Tobias has been chewing the peas but not eating them. So they're in various states of mush on his chest, in his hair, on the floor, deeply embedded in the cracks of his chair.
Miss Josephine is finished with the TV and is jumping around the house, shouting and demanding to draw.
I'm on my hands and knees, beneath Tobias' chair, picking up squashed peas and pasta and cursing Kent's decision to move the family from Raleigh to DC. Before we moved, he worked from home. We ate breakfast together. He came down from the office for lunch. We enjoyed dinner as a family.
I didn't want to leave my friends in Raleigh or the relaxed, slow lifestyle where people stopped to talk to one another and lingered. I didn't want to move to a city where people prioritized work over family and acquisitions over intimacies.
We moved anyway.
At first, we ate breakfast together and tried hard for dinner. We're lucky if we get either now. Work starts earlier and ends later here.
I'm stewing on this and mumbling in my head but the chaos only mounts:
-While I'm bathing the baby, Josephine taunts Esme and Desmond and a fistfight ensues.
-As I try to move Round II from the hot stove to the dining room table: Tobias stops the DVD player and the screen goes blue on an episode of "Charlie and Lola."
I finally get little people to the dinner table and start feeding them when Kent appears at the door. It's 6:45 and happy hour is in full swing at many drinking establishments. But instead of a cocktail, Kent gets a naked baby and a diaper.