Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An Advent Evening's Entertainment

Yesterday afternoon my friend Hannah* dropped off her four-year-old daughter Letitia* at my house while she took her son Stevie* on an errand. Letitia had come to help me make Christmas cookies.

The Whistle, the Kittens, and the Bloooood-uh

First thing the child did when she arrived was to ring my Westminster chimes doorbell. Twice. Once inside, she proceeded to blow her whistle (a favor received at an afternoon preschool Christmas party) not twice, but repeatedly.

"Letty! Don't you want to see the kittens? If you keep blowing that whistle, they'll hide under the bed and they won't want to see you!"

"Why not?" (Blows whistle again.)

"Because it scares them."


"Because it hurts their ears." (Mine, too, Kiddo!)


"Because it just does. So stop it, okay?"

We go into the Kitten Room (formerly the Guest Room). I'd trapped the kittens there in anticipation of the child's coming. Otherwise, they'd run and hide among the boxes under the basement stairs and not be visible for hours.

The kittens Gwenith and Huw are hiding under the bed.

Against the far wall.

Of course.

"Get Creamie for me!" demands Letitia, using the name Gwenith went by the week or two she lived at their house. "I don't want Tiger! He scratches me!"

"Huw doesn't scratch me," I reply confidently. "C'mon, Huw, come, baby, come on, boy." I coax him out to where I can just-- uh! reach my left hand--ooh! in under the bed--and, uh, pff! get him around the shoulders and-- "Ouch!! he scratched me!" Got the second knuckle of my middle finger! Ow!!

But I didn't swear in front of the four-year-old. And I didn't let go of the little cat. Not till she'd petted him tentatively a time or two.

"Now get Creamie!"

We pull the bed out from the wall. And I scoop up a squirming, protesting, wiry bundle of pink and white fur.

"Can I hold her? I want to hold her!"

"Can you? She's gotten pretty big, hasn't she?"

Letitia regards the eight-plus pound kitten in my arms with new respect.

"No, I don't want to hold her since she's gotten that big!"

Just then, I noticed how badly my knuckle scratch was bleeding. "Come on, Letty, I have to get a Band-aid on this. We don't want to get blood on Gwenith, do we?"

We open the door. Gwenith and Huw escape and disappear. Downstairs. To the box storage under the basement stair landing.

Of course.

In the bathroom, I'm getting out the peroxide to disinfect my cut. Letitia lets rip a new one on her toy whistle. Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!

"Don't doooo that!!!!"

"Why not?"

"Because it hurts my ears, and if you don't put it away Right Now I'm taking it away and you may never, ever see it again. Okay?"


The Dog's Salute

With the child's help I get my cut cleaned and bandaged. Though it's still bleeding so much I'm worried we might end up with strange red streaks in the sugar cookies, and they won't be food coloring. But before I had much time to consider this, in walks Llewellyn, my part-collie, part-beagle, part-some-other-kind-of-hunting-dog mutt, and marked the excitement of the occasion by peeing on the bathroom floor. And finished it off by saluting the door jamb and the hall floor in the same fashion.

"Llewellyn!! Naughty! Naughty!! . . . No, Letty, stand right there! Don't move an inch!"

Fortunately, she obeys, and I clean up the mess with an old towel from the linen closet.

Well, at least it was on the vinyl and the wood, and not on the carpet. At least.

Maybe I should have taken him outside at that point. But there didn't seem to be any point to it, since he'd, well, seemed to have shot his bolt.

I thought he had, anyway.

Cookie Artists

And we wanted to get to the cookie-making business. So after we'd both thoroughly washed our hands, down we went to the kitchen. I covered her party dress (which she refused to change out of) with the apron I'd made in 6th-grade Home Ec class, and I donned the Philadelphia Orchestra apron I received, o lord, thirty years ago as a WFLN fund-raising premium. And weren't we a lovely pair of throwbacks!

And we had a lovely time. The dough was already made, so we took turns rolling out and Letitia wielded the cookie cutters. And acted as official dough sampler.

Cutting out cookies is a deliberate process with a four-year-old. Especially with a bright one like Letitia, who asks tons of questions and expects real answers to them.

"Are you a kid?"

Bless the baby! "No, not any more."

"Are you a teacher?"

"No, not right now. I used to be."

"What are you, then?"

(Oh, an unemployed architect. An out-of-work Presbyterian pastor. I don't know, myself, so how can I answer a four-year-old? )

I don't try. "Um, so, Letty, what did you do in preschool today . . . ?"

. . . More trees, holly, angels; also moons, dog-bone shapes, and dots. She's really keen on the dots.



"After Creamie and Tiger get all grown up, and they don't jump on things anymore, and they're all grown up, you think they could come to our house and be our kittens and live with us?"

"Uh, I think that's up to your mom and dad."

(Who would emphatically say NO. They're my kittens, thank you very much. You have two big cats of your own that your dad is allergic to already. So lay off my kittehs!)

Love Locked Out

After the first two sheets of cookies were in the oven, I set up the gates to bar Llewellyn from the kitchen. Did not want him jumping on the counter for samples. He moped and whined, but too bad. He's not getting any if I can help it.

Juvenile Chemistry, or Chaos Cubed

We had the first sheet of Round Two filled and were starting on the second, when the doorbell rang. It was Hannah and Stevie, come to help with cookies, too, and to eat a snack meal of chicken nuggets (her provision) before she took the children home.

Well. You know those elementary-school experiments where you poured vinegar on bicarb of soda to make a volcano? Or better still, those dorm-party episodes where you really shook up the beer cans for the fun of watching them spurt across the room when the pop top was pulled? That mildly describes the effect of plunging six-year-old Stevie into the mix.

Two children is not one child plus one child. It is a whirlwind squared. Cubed. Dodecahedron'd. Stevie demanded a piece of the action (and of the cookie dough). Letitia, crowded out, began to do the spaghetti-leg whine. Stevie lost interest in baking and ran down the basement to try to find the kittens. Letitia joined him and they proposed pulling out all the boxes to make the kittens come out. No. We get them back upstairs and send Stevie into the living room with treats to play with the dog. He does. For about three minutes. Then comes back into the kitchen (about collapsing the dog gate as he does) to brag that he's going to get a set of Yugi-Oh! cards for Christmas, Yes! Yes! Yes!

Next thing we know, both kids are down on the basement landing, with Stevie proposing to play some imaginative but hazardous game with a large flashlight I keep there, while his sister gleefully egged him on. His mother and I run to investigate. He won't give the flashlight to his mother. He won't give it to me. Not even with our Stares of Death coming at him from two directions. "No! No! I'm keeping it! No! It's my Secret Weapon!"

"Stevie," I say, "put it down!" He turns it on instead.

"Stevie," says his mom, struggling with him to get it away, "turn it off and put it down!"

Actually, I know the thing is hard to turn off. He does get it extinguished-- then it comes back on again. "Hahahaha, look! It's magic!!! I'm the only one who knows the secret! It's miiiiieeenn!!"

"Stevie, this is my house and I did not tell you you could touch my things." Did I make any useless threats? Did his mother? Hell if I know. I think it was only his bafflement at not actually being able to control the thing that made him put it back and come upstairs.

So we send him into the living room again. Where he entertained himself sliding on the fake Pergo. I'd hoped to finish the last sheet of cookies so I could get them in the oven then out for the chicken nuggets to go in. But clearly there was no time. Something was about to spontaneously go ablaze, and it wasn't the gas in the oven.

To be fair to Stevie, he's one of those kids who bounces off the walls when his blood sugar is low, not when it's high. And it was lower than a sidewalk crack at the moment. He needed protein, and he needed it now.

So, chicken nuggets into the oven, with one sheet of cookies! Nuggets out, and the last two sheets of cookies go in! Mom opens the fridge to organize drinks. Stevie sees two bottles of blue flavored water in there that I bought one day in thirsty desperation and pulls them out, demanding them for his sister and himself. I consider one split second: no, too much artificial junk. Too much for me, way too much for them. "No," I tell him.

"No! No!" (with manic giggling) "They're ours! They're ours! We brought them! We can have them! Right, Mom? They're ours, they're ours, they're ours they're ours they're ours they're ours!!!!!"

"No, Stevie, they are not. They're mine, and you're not having them. And I do not appreciate your taking them out of my refrigerator without permission, and then lying about it. You keep that up, you won't be able to come back and see the kittens for a loonnnng time!"

"No, no! We brought them, we brought them!" Giggling, darting, feinting, till I got the blue bottles back and put them where they belonged. Hannah gets glasses of water on. Time to sit down and eat, and the kids are wrestling each other on the living room floor! "Come on," calls Hannah, "time to wash up and get to the table!" They go on wrestling. Somehow she manages to untangle them and get them seated. More or less.

The Oven Rebels

Just then, Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!!

"FIRE!!!" screams Stevie! "Run for your life!!! Run! RUNNN!!!" And he and his sister go pelting off to the front room, bellowing "Fire! fire!"

Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!!

"Don't worry," I say calmly, "that smoke detector always goes off when I've got something in the oven. It's just because the oven's dirty. I'll just push this button-- here-- and it should shut up."

But it didn't. Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!!

"FIRE! FIRE!" shout the children. And the damn smoke detector still won't shut off. I take it down. I can't remove the back to loosen the battery. It keeps on screaming. So do the kids. Wonderful.

I resort to putting the thing in the living room out of range of the dirty oven smoke, and take my place at the table. Hannah has the kids seated, and Stevie proclaims, "I'm saying grace!"

"No!" Letitia replies bitterly, "you said it last time!"

"Well, I'm saying it!" And he does, including a touching line about "Dear God, help us to do the things we should." At which this ordained clergywoman managed not to laugh hysterically. How could I? He's a child! With my friend his mother sitting right there! Besides, I believe in total depravity from before birth, oh, yes, I do! So how could I be disappointed or surprised?

"Why does he always get to say grace?" whines Letitia. "It was my turn!" Hannah about has her mollified when suddenly, Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!!

It's the bloody upstairs smoke detector! Good grief! The oven's only on at 350 degrees! Yeah, I could smell the drips burning a bit, but still!

Hannah squelches the children while I go squelch the upstairs detector by opening a window. I sit down again and start eating when, Beep-beep-beep! Beep-beep-beep!

"Shut uuuupppp!!!" roars Stevie. Oh, gosh, is that what I'd just said? Did he get that from me?

"No, it's just the timer for the cookies. It's time for them to come out of the oven. I'll get them on the rack and up out of the dog's way and-- Oh, no!"

Our lovely cookies. They were burnt black and brown, the color of a Rottweiler. But nowhere as nice smelling as your average large fierce dog.

Just what I need. I'm ready for my big Christmas baking campaign, and the oven thermostat goes out. Again.

The Meaning of 'Naughty'

Oh, well. I shoveled the carbonized remains onto the racks, figuring Llewellyn couldn't possibly be interested. And he wasn't. During dinner. During dinner, he lay calm and well-behaved next to my chair. Waiting.

Somehow, Stevie and Letitia managed to get some food into their little stomachs. Hannah and I began to clear up, and here came Stevie into the kitchen, seated astride my mutt and shouting hilariously, "Ride 'em, cowboy!!"

That tore it. I rescued Llewellyn and took the child very firmly by the shoulders and gave him a stare he couldn't possibly misapprehend. "Stevie. Don't. You. Ever. Do. That. Again. You understand? Llewellyn's a good dog, but you do that to him and he may think the only way to defend himself is to bite you. And I do not want you to get hurt. Do you understand? . . . Okay."

About that time, his mother, who'd been dealing with his sister, came in and realized what he'd gotten up to. 'That's it," she said. "You get on this stool and sit here until we go home!"

"Oh, nooooo! You're going to tie me to the stoooool! No, no!" Yeah, right. I keep my bondage ropes right next to the dishwasher detergent.

"Knock it off with the drama queen act! Your momma said sit, and you're gonna sit!"

Said Stevie's mother, "I think I've changed my mind about those Yugi-Oh! cards. I'm taking them back."

He flew off the stool and struck a tragic pose at her feet. "No, no, I beg of you!! You can't! You can't!"

"Get back on that stool, or I definitely will!"

Just then, Llewellyn, taking advantage of the diversion, jumped up on the counter and began chomping away on the burnt Rottweiler cookies.

"Llewellyn! No! Naughty! Naughty! Naughty!"

"What does 'naughty' mean?" inquired Stevie from his perch.

"What you've been all evening," I replied grimly.

The Doggie, ReDoo. Sort of.

Hannah retrieved the kids' coats and after a little more silliness and histrionics, Letitia and Stevie were got into them. We made sure they had all their stuff, and arranged for them to come back on Friday to ice the cookies and make some more. We said our goodbyes and I was walking them to the door, when--

"Llewellyn!! Naughty dog!"

"Wha'd he do? Wha'd he do?" in tones of anticipation and wonder from the children.

"He pee'd on the floor, again. Here in the front room. No, Letty, don't walk there, you'll step in it! Stevie, keep back! I'll get a towel . . . There. Now you can get to the door. I'll clean the rest of it up after you leave."

"Why'd he go to the bathroom on the floor?" Stevie inquired.

"Probably because you kids were so wild and loud he got too upset and excited and couldn't hold it in."

And with that charming judgement I said goodbye to Letitia and Stevie and their mother and she took them off home to their beds. Where I hope they settled down and actually slept.

But it occurred to me after they left that Llewellyn could just as well have lifted his leg on my grandmother's antique lamp to get revenge for being shut out of the fun in the kitchen. But if consideration for the dog's bladder will help Stevie and Letitia keep the mania level down in my house, a little misplaced justice isn't-- misplaced.

An Advent Meditation

I got more towels, and cleaned the dog's offering off the fake wood floor. I dumped the burnt cookies in the trash, cleaned the kitchen, and watched the kittens emerge shellshocked from the basement.

And I contemplated how different being a mother is to being a teacher or childminder who only has to deal with kids' craziness a few hours at a time and then can let them go home and out of her responsibility. I still wish I could have had children of my own. But oh, would I, could I have had the backbone to stand up under the job?

I'm sure that Jesus' mother Mary had more kids. The little brothers and sisters started coming, and she didn't have time to notice how perfectly-behaved her Firstborn was. She was just darn grateful that He gave her no trouble and was such a help with the younger ones.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. Blessed Advent, everyone!


Sandy said...

Oh my goodness! I know I shouldn't laugh at your misfortune, but I laughed so hard my girls (my two cats) came to see what was the matter with me! I laughed until tears ran. Bless your heart -- you have so much more patience that I do! I hope the kittens have recovered and L hasn't christened anything else!

St. Blogwen said...

Oh, I'm glad you were entertained by it! No, he's been good. He can hold his water for hours by himself or with me, but this was just too much excitement!!!!! for him.

I know what it's like to have the kittehs come and stare me in the face when they think I'm acting strangely!

whiskers said...

ai ai ai!!!

thank you for that bit of christmas cheer, for a poor woman in the middle of quitting my job, moving house, and going back to school, you really made my day.

give the kittehs and the pup a scritch for me...