Sunday, December 28, 2014

Age appropriate

I had just left the room for a moment. A millisecond to be exact. I didn't even see the wrapping come off the package, which had seemed to arrive out of nowhere. But I heard it. The sound of paper tearing in long, continuous strips.

This can't be good.

No sooner had they unwrapped the Christmas Village building set, ripped open the box and dumped out it contents -- several pillows of multi-color parts -- than the bottoms of my feet began to tingle in anticipation of the pain that would undoubtedly follow.

There was no time between the crinkle and burst of cellophane bags to stop what was happening. A cascade of hard plastic building bricks hit the soft carpet, surging like a waterfall.

It didn't matter where I was in the house at that moment – the basement … the attic … or the garage 500 feet away – because the sound of the bricks clinking together like tiny champagne glasses could have easily pierced lead.

The heavy sigh that left me that moment, if you are a parent you know, was the unmistakable sound of despair ...

A sound that is exactly like twelve-hundred sixty-three pieces of LEGO raining down from the air and covering the entire eight-by-five area rug with an inch of debris. My living room was now a minefield of holiday cheer. Which meant it was only a matter of time until the whole place erupted.

I started to count …

Three. …

Two …

“MOMMY! Can you help me?”

I took a deep breath and chased it with a slurp of coffee that had grown cold.

“Nope. Can't. Says as much right on the box: Ages 12 and up. I am much upward of eight. Sorry (NOT) sorry.

“Awww!” he said in momentary protest before raking his hands through the bricks.

“I'll help him,” said his big sister, in a voice that took on the sweetness of a much younger child; a child who didn't need to talk herself into the belief that Santa Claus was, indeed, watching.

She knew it to be true.

They hovered over the plastic carnage and I went back to my work.

I didn't get far. I could hear the low growl, a warning sign and stopped in my tracks.

I started to count …

Three …

Two …

MOMMY! The kitten is stealing pieces we need.”

I think she ate one of the connecting rods!”

Maybe if you feed her, she'll leave you alone?”

I pick up the cat and take her away. A tiny kitten will not be the reason Rome in Toyland falls.

Silence. How long will it last?

Three ...

Two …

MOMMY! She is not even helping.”

BUT MOMMY! He's already messed it all up.”

I roll my eyes and push my luck … “Do what you can. Try not to fight.”

I take another deep breath and hold it …

Three ...

Two ...

One ...

Silence? I can't believe it worked.

Still quiet. A true Christmas miracle.

Chore after chore completed in blissful quiet. It certainly seemed miraculous. Now, some people might object to the singing of several rounds of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin Laid An Egg,” being classified as either blissful or quiet, but in the absence of a full-on sibling war over which of them is holding the illustrated instructions upside down, there are a great many things I'm willing to overlook. Repetitious caroling among them.

Oh, to be a silly rube.

Turns out the silence had nothing to do with harmony. Christmas Village was abandoned. A few small buildings dotted the living room landscape in various states of completion, while the makings of a large, working carousel lay scattered on the floor like confetti. Any moment, I expected dog hair to float by like tumble weeds.

The children were gone. Both of them. Scattered to the wind … or their rooms. … or to Netflix once they realized the project they had started was a little beyond their pay grade. After all, neither of them had reached the ripe old age of 12 and up.

Still … there was the matter of the mess. ...

Carefully, oh so carefully, I eased my way into a seated position on the rug.

“I'm definitely older than 12,” I said and began raking my hands through the rubble.

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