New World Order
We didn’t get in the car until nearly 10 pm. Because it had been such a beautiful day, because it was harder to concentrate on the chores that must be done to close up the country house and leave it in good order, because deep down we really didn’t want to leave – all these reasons why we didn’t manage to get the car packed as early as we’d hoped. That meant a night drive, good because it’d be cooler than a daytime highway trip. Good
because the kids would sleep through most of the drive. Good because we’d miss the heavy traffic returning to Paris at the mid-August vacation switch. It was all good, once we were en route. A little U2, Counting Crows, and Springsteen for the drive home. Iced coffee in a thermos. A string of red tail lights driving ahead of us into the night. A route that was fluide all the way to Paris. De-facto and I hardly spoke; both of us looking forward through the windshield, thinking separate thoughts, together.
Rousing sleeping children is like waking the dead-drunk, but ours are now too big to be carried. When they were toddlers, we’d hoist them over our shoulders, their lifeless limbs dangling as we climbed the stairs and delicately placed them in beds for uninterrupted sleep. But now driving dreams get disrupted and big girls carry their own backpacks up four flights of stairs.
De-facto was parking the car. I commanded bathroom visits and promised bedside kisses to good girls who put on their pajamas. I made a quick run down to the courtyard to get the bags I’d left. When I returned, I heard the girls in their bedrooms, shrieking.
“But that doesn’t go there,” said Short-pants, between sobs.
“Mama!” Buddy-roo screamed, “Everything’s put away wrong!”
I hadn’t thought to warn them. We’ve rented and loaned our apartment to people with children before, while we’re out of town. Things get a little mixed up, that’s normal. Though I’d never seen anything like this. But then, we’d never had twin boys staying in our home before.
At first glance, the room appeared to be in order. The drawers were shut and the baskets and trays all tucked neatly in their cubbyholes. But a closer inspection revealed the complete disorder that was hidden. The girls’ toys had been put away, but in a totally random fashion. Not that it’s ever in perfect order, but – more or less – each toy has its general place and its associated little pieces are usually found not far away. There was nothing logical about how the toys had been stowed. Pieces of plastic food here, there and over there, too. A dollhouse separated from its furniture, puppets stuffed in the wooden block box, wooden blocks in the plastic food bin. The Pet Shop house, petless. I made the mistake of opening the large wicker toy box, which was filled to the brim with any loose toy that apparently couldn’t find its natural home.
I could only imagine what these rooms must have looked like at the height of play. Every single ball, stuffed animal, doll and toy must have been strewn about, and then, when it was time to leave, stuffed into the closest available container.
The girls looked panicked. They were both wailing. “But this is not how we like it.”
I did my best to reassure them, explaining that this was not a 2:00 am kind of problem; this was the sort of thing that could be more effectively addressed in the morning light after a good night’s sleep. Already they were handling the toys, trying to put them in their rightful positions. I had to square off their shoulders and point them toward their mattresses. They climbed under the covers reluctantly, the both of them still sniffing final tears.
This could be a good thing, I thought, shutting the light behind me after goodnight kisses. They’re starting to appreciate the value of a little organization, how it’s easier to find things if you put them back where they go, how your things stay in better condition when they are put away nicely rather than stuffed in a toy box. All that logic I’ve been trying to cram down their throats must be seeping in.
Or have I saddled them with the anxious ball-and-chain phobia of needing things always in order? Am I burdening their up-until-now unfettered imagination? Stealing the last creative impulses of their childhood? Have I created two more neurotic people for the world, checking and double-checking that their post-it notes are at right angles on their perfectly ordered desks?
Laying in bed I could hear Buddy-roo’s tears winding down into a whimper, soon replaced by the even breathing of her slumber.
My last, smiling thoughts before drifting off to sleep: Welcome to my world, little girls.