Posted by jdg | Thursday, July 30, 2009

They drag the kids to dinner parties because they don't have a sitter, a small grace that normally saves them from the obligations of smoky bars and bands they'd rather not stand around waiting for until midnight. "I'd be a hermit if it weren't for you," he tells his wife as they stroll up to the elaborately carved door. Both of them know that it is true. This is their usual routine: dinner; baths; books and poems; a bottle for the boy and a song for the girl. A television program or the Tigers after the kids are down. An hour or so wading into the quagmire waiting online before their eyes just give out. He's never snorted cocaine, but he might be willing to try if it could give him the productivity of a childless 25-year old again.

At a dinner party they juggle kids until the food is served at half past nine. "We're dining at the continental hour," he hears someone say. "We usually dine at The Boca Raton hour," he says to no one in particular, and the 4-year-old girl on his lap pushes back the half-empty plate in front of him for a place to rest her head. He carries her out of the dining room, through the halls of this castle built for an auto baron, to find a quiet place under frescoes of seraphim to sing a folk song soft against her ear.

There should be myths of this, he thinks, her head tossing on his left shoulder, her body balanced in the crook of his elbow, legs dangling over the precipice of sleep. The hero, fleeing from the ruined city, the approaching army, the dinner party, his child sleeping safe on his shoulder. The hero: a moving bed. We all do this as it was done for us, he thinks. We were all safe once in the arms of giants, deposited with care in our beds. Someday she'll be too big to carry, but so long as he can he will. His toddler son, wide awake, makes his exhaustion known in other ways: the boy becomes a supervillain to any hostess who collects Murano glass. And at ten, dessert is still eleven turns of conversation away.

Their mother finds another ride home; their father puts them in the car. The girl sleeps all seven miles down Woodward, not a single red light to jolt her. The boy's eyes are wide with the world at night, the jaywalking trannies and drunks on church steps, a kaleidoscope of streetlights and headlights all new to someone always in his bed when this darkness hits (and a little bit of chaos never hurts). But without a routine, chaos becomes routine. Children crave routine as much as they create chaos. It is their job to be a burden, and ours to shoulder it. We owe them this: a warm bed to nestle into every night, milk in the kitchen for breakfast. Eyes even when they don't think we're watching. The quiet, simple peace of always knowing they are loved.

But sometimes it is good to break routine, to stay when the clock is staring at you; to accept that second glass of wine. Because later, in a dark castle room where the din of the party is distant, and you sing her to sleep in your arms like you did when she was newly born, all limbs now, her hair in your nose all summer highlights, all sun and sand, you will remember this.