ruth and i recently attended a birthday party of one of the Mother Goose regulars: without naming names, i will simply say that this particular attendant was turning two. gift-wrapped mr. potato head in hand, we entered their house and i was quickly struck by something. this house was more me than my own house. the walls in the living room were bright red, there were knick knacks on every available space, the kitchen sink was stacked with dirty dishes and the refrigerator door was papered with photos. i physically relaxed as soon as i saw the messy bins of toys. here was a house made for living in. our house is in some kind of purgatory especially reserved for houses that are legally owned by more than one person, and that are emotionally owned by even more than that. a lot of the things in the house are not able to be evicted. i think they pay rent or have squatters rights or something. the paint color is lost somewhere between brown and gray, and relics from other lifetimes peek out at you from cabinets and glare at you as though you are disturbing their privacy.
the two hours we spent at the party i spent observing things, not just of the characteristics of the house, but the people in it. there was a woman there who had four adopted children. observing her neat wardrobe, thin physique and friendly face, i felt a bit sluggish. she did everything a mile a minute. it was not long after arriving, that she was organizing all four of her kids (plus two neighbor kids that she apparently baby sits as well) for eating, barking out short directions regarding silverware, beverages, and seating arrangements. i felt myself straightening up in my chair and furtively wiping some food off of ruth’s face. afterwards, her kids jaunted about the living room, occasionally falling over or breaking something and then getting back up to move onto the next toy. she asked me where i was from, and how long i had been married. she was trying to figure me out, the same way that i was trying to figure her out, i suppose. what i gleaned from her was that she was very much into children as she asked, to my shocked amazement, to hold ruth. i guess i shouldn’t have been shocked, but it struck me then that very few people ask to hold ruth. especially other parents who are obviously preoccupied with their own children. ruth looked at her with skepticism, but it was clear that this woman had everything under control, so she allowed it.
the guest of honor awoke from a nap sometime after dinner and groggily took her place on her mother’s lap. she looked over the table, taking it all in and it seemed to meet with her approval. we all sang a mosaic, out-of-tune happy birthday to her as she sat calmly staring at the platter of mini cupcakes before her. the song ended and with a pregnant pause, we all waited for the candle to be blown out. instead, she continued her steady gaze up at her encouraging parents and the other party-goers until her older sister stepped in to get the job done. dessert was devoured by the other children who then quickly left the table to continue reeking havoc in the basement. the little birthday girl proceeded to calmly unwrap each and every mini cupcake from its wrapper as delicately as you like. her mother looked at her and exclaimed with a quiet amusement, “What is she doing?” i could just picture my own mother swooping in with a scold and rescuing the cupcakes from my greasy fingers.
i was then offered a tour of the rest of the house. never one to pass up tours of houses, ruth and i wandered after our hostess as she pointed out different things. i was pleased to see that they had a porch similar to ours in the back of the house. that is to say, it was not quite indoor and not quite outdoor. the older sister caught up with us on the stairs, pointing out some ants on the wall. her mother said simply, “Leave them alone, they are not hurting you.” to which i held my jaw up from dropping. my own mother would go after any form of insect fervently brandishing her shoe.
i left shortly after with an appreciation of how narrow i had allowed my own view of parenting to become. my new mission is to observe as many parents as possible and how they go about daily activities. i have my note pad ready.