I’ve got all four boys to myself and I’m trying to plot a course halfway across America, a course that doesn’t entail careening off an icy highway to our deaths. They are, meanwhile, chasing one another about upstairs, with occasional crashes that sound to me, hunkered in front of a computer below, like they are near to breaking through the floor and landing on my head. They smell bad, and they need baths, and now that I have plotted our course I must engage in a kind of geographic sudoku, wherein I endeavor to find a hotel somewhere near our first night’s stopping place that will take some of my tens of thousands of points and yield up a room with two clean beds and a pull-out couch. I am not in the mood for silliness.
This is when they are silliest.
I put the youngest two in a full, warm tub of water, and warn them on pain of death not to play while I finish up the trip arranging downstairs. I don’t know why this sounds reasonable to me, leaving a six and three year-old in a perfectly good tub of splashy water and expecting them not to play. I tell the ten and eight year-olds, meanwhile, to stay in their room and be utterly silent. Might as well double down on the stupid demands, after all.
Complex trip planning completed, a quick prayer uttered that somehow we’ll actually leave on time in the morning and complete our first leg before midnight, I go back upstairs.
The tub is completely empty. Isaac and Isaiah look up at me with a mixture of amusement and guilt. They are trying to determine, I can tell, whether my head will actually explode.
I burst out with a fit of blustering, half-articulate outrage, much like Clark Griswold’s discovery that Uncle Lewis has burned down his Christmas tree. Where, I demand of Isaac, did all the water go?
“Down the drain.”
This does not help his cause. We do some root cause analysis, which amounts to my asking him, over and over and over, what the heck happened to all the water. He finally confesses that he was playing with the drain plate.
I give him a disgusted, angry, glowering look. I have had enough with this child, and I tell him so. “You make messes and you cause work for other people and you don’t care one bit,” I lecture him with a snarl. His face clouds over, and he cries, and I don’t care.
Then it is as if I’m standing outside myself, looking at my crying child with his water-matted tangle of hair and his puffy red eyes, and at my angry posture as I loom over him, and I am ashamed. This is not how it is supposed to be, I think. This is not how I am supposed to be. But I am so angry, and so very tired.
I get him out of the tub and dry him off, and all the while I am praying: Please help me be patient, please help me be better than this. I dry his head roughly, and his neck and arms and back less so, and his legs less roughly still. I wrap the towel around him and cradle him in my arms, even though he has become such a big boy. I carry him to his room and kiss him on the head and tell him I love him. And I do. I really, really do.