You know, the people who pen the sentences that survive to become old adages really are infinitely wise. One of them said you never really appreciate what you have till it's gone. And I have found that statement in particular to be true.
After I recovered from the extreme guilt pants of the mother who forgot to kiss her boy goodbye before he left for school and immediately thereafter for a weekend-long youth group retreat, I helped myself recover by organizing an impromptu wine and cheese party.
And since I don't like to pay a babysitter (which, thanks to Lauren (I love my teenager)), I rarely do, I couldn't feel entirely comfortable making the thing sans kids. I do love children--my own and my students. Most of them. Others are okay if they are a) quiet b) cuddly or c) infants who don't puke or poo on me. Otherwise, tolerable at best.
I had a brief flashback to the running and screaming of our New Year's Party, but then I recovered and hit the send button.
And you know what? It was all fine. The number of kids was fewer and the volume significantly decreased. The cheese was pungent and plentiful, and the wine even more so. I learned a valuable lesson that night as well: an orange dipped in a chocolate fountain may be tasty, but a garlic-stuffed green olive is not.
It wasn't really until the tail end of the weekend that I realized how much I missed Jonah. See, he and Lauren are the oldest of 15 Greiner grandchildren. Not only that, but 10 of those 15 are boys, and the only two who don't idolize Jonah are the babies. They just don't yet recognize the god in their midst. Their eyes are still milky with innocence. But their day of enlightenment will soon come; there is no doubt in my mind.
To a young boy, Jonah is indeed godlike. He speaks with quiet power, armed with a wealth of knowledge about reptiles indigenous to Michigan (and the world), about every single dinosaur, about how to create weapons. His hands have crafted bows and knives, daggers and swords with precision and cunning. His focus is intense and whole: when he is creating, he cannot be interrupted. He is patient but capricious. He is changeable as one of the gods of old, and the boys adore him for it.
They came to our house, three of them, on Sunday, and when they realized Jonah wasn't there, their despair nearly overwhelmed them. It was too damp and muddy, really, for outside play. So they had to scrabble together a godless existence indoors.
I almost forgot to mention: we adults know full well that this myopic boy, while possessed of a genius that occasionally shakes us to our souls, is not divine. However, we do appreciate his gift for channeling the youthful--ah--exuberance of his cousins and brother. He does sometimes seem a bit omniscient, and we adults are fully culpable of taking advantage of his prescience. He knows what they're doing and he knows how to impel them.
Okay, it's true: he also knows that he can shift blame for his crimes on his younger counterparts and they will nod eagerly, not realizing at what cost their admission will come. He's not a wholly blameless sort of god. Not at all.
But the story: here it is. So they were bereft without him but they soon turned from a morose sort of daze to a wild sort of rumpus. There was running and a good deal of screaming, and within maybe eight minutes, I was not the only adult in the house who sorely missed Jonah's magical touch of soothing balm--the quiet he could instill.
Then it got very quiet in the house, almost like our joint desperate wish for him had shaped him into being. We shared smiles and lowered our voices to a normal level as we sipped coffee and nibbled on coffeecake.
I think the realization hit all of us at the same time: four boys under the age of seven should NEVER be quiet. That meant certain trouble.
We scattered to investigate.
I was the one who found them. They were sitting in the family room, posed neatly on the couch with Jared and Sam in the middle grinning like fiends. The older two wore their innocence more comfortably. They had more practice.
As I left them sitting there silent together and walked toward Jonah's bedroom, I wonder what I would have seen had the eye in the back of my head chosen that moment to open. I wonder if I would have seen Jacob staring into Jared's eyes, slowly drawing his finger across his throat. I wonder if I would have seen Sam's curly head tucked close to Elijah's chest, Elijah's hand pressed over his brother's mouth.
But I delight in my naivete and enjoy taking the best measure of people, so I didn't open that eye. Indeed, I walked toward Jonah's room with no other plan than to check on Squirt, his lizard.
You can imagine my dismay when I stepped into his room and saw what had kept four boys so quiet for so long.
Every god has his holy of holies, and for Jonah, this place is his white cupboard. It's small, three shelved with doors. At one point, he had a padlock on it, but that was gone. Here he keeps his treasures: his lego catalogs, the notes he writes himself about reptiles and plans for general mayhem, his drawings for daggers, his candy, rocks he's collected in the driveway, acorn caps, a set of tired markers...you know: boy stuff. And that's when I saw it.
Something that drove the blood screaming out from my heart. Something that curdled the coffee creamer churning in my stomach. Something that made my hair curl to its roots. Something I never thought to see in my son's holy of holies.
It was a squirrel. It wasn't alive.
Okay, actually, it was just the skin. But it was not cool. Not at all. I can handle junk and garbage and childish treasures in my son's hiding place. But a dead animal? One that may have chattered at me the previous fall as I sat on the patio reading? One that had once had a fine bushy tail it liked to twitch at twitterpated maiden squirrels? This was not good.
I called the boys in, each of whom (wide-eyed) denied knowing anything about the mess. We worked together to clean it all up, but all the while, my brain was working furiously. Who was this boy I tried to tuck--sharp boned and knobby--into my arms? When had he become the sort of person who (remember: I like to be naive and positive) found a perfectly good squirrel skin lying on the ground and decided to keep it? What was I going to find next time some young boys looking for fun decided to dig through his secret cupboard?
Clint, being much more practical and clear-eyed just nodded quietly when I told him about the squirrel skin and signed Jonah up for the next available hunter's safety class. And I--I just hugged Jonah more tightly and kissed him more fiercely when he came home. I helped him rearrange his cupboard while he muttered imprecations against certain related young people. And I didn't ask him one question about the squirrel.