Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Few Theses Short of a Reformation

You won’t believe where I am right now.

At home. Alone. At 11:30 am on a Sunday. I know! I can scarcely believe it myself! The best I can piece together, this is how it came to be: we dragged ourselves to church for perhaps only the 4th time all ski season, and voilà! All my kids went home to play with other families. It was like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, but better, because it was in the reverse: instead of surplus, there was reduction. Beautiful, quiet reduction. Instead of excess, there is now a distinct lack within my house…a lack of noise, of needs, of childish voices wailing, laughing, arguing, shrieking.


Moral of the story: I need to get to church more often. Good things really do happen to good people! Or, I have great friends. (It's probably the friend one.)

Seriously, I’m very grateful for this short respite (don’t any of you dare call me right now!), and I think my shameless gratitude will make better sense once I explain how my day began (oh, and this was after going to bed past midnight and being awoken by Toby and his Terrible Nightmares twice):

6:15 am: I stumble into the kitchen for my coffee, and what do I find taped to the counter, right between the Starbucks Breakfast Blend and the sink? This little number:

Dear Mom,

We need to have a family meeting to disguss [sic] why things are un-eqkuel [sic]. Everyone can talk about what they don’t like. I think things need to be more:

1. Fair
2. Everyone get in trouble the same
3. Less work

From, Nate

P.S. Tell Dad about this when he wakes up.

(Oh, and he had signed it, too, right below his printed name, in pinched, careful cursive):

Nathaniel T. Whitley

Well then.

I stand in the kitchen, declaration in hand, wondering whether this was how the Catholic Church (well-meaning mother religion, of course) had felt when Martin Luther (ungrateful brat) had pinned his famed 95 Theses to their door (a little bit squirmy and a whole lot defensive).

I don’t have time to ponder this, however, before the defector himself walks into the kitchen. He looks wary. Slightly apologetic. A little bit embarrassed.

“Did you get my note?” (Did I get it? You knew I needed the lured me to it with the coffee!) His voice reveals a tiny tremor. Someone needs to give the kid a crash course in negotiation, because by all appearances, he looks to be seeking a hug more than an argument. His cheeks are brushed a fine pink, his eyes red-rimmed. He’s been up for a while, I think, working on this. Working himself up, too.

“What’s this about, hon?” I ask. But I’m pretty sure I already know, and probably should have seen it coming (as perhaps, should have the Church, hmm?).

See, in January, the allowance for all children employed by this household was cut from $10 a month to $5. It was unfortunate, but the budget needed trimming, and times being what they are, blah, blah, blah…everyone seemed to take it well. So well, in fact, that in February, Toby and Calvin were laid off altogether (I don’t even think they noticed). Nate retained his $5, seniority having its perks, but as is prone to happen, his workload increased. He was doing the work of three for half the pay of one.

In hindsight, this impending strike was inevitable, wasn’t it?

Not that he’s calling it that. Not yet. But even as I’m making breakfast, I can feel the unrest. Nate’s looking at me steadily, even though I’ve already promised him time to present his case to his dad and me. Calvin’s grabbed the declaration off the kitchen counter, and is now reading with a frown. “What’s unfair, Nate?” he asks, and the answer is lightening quick.

“I still have to walk Tess around the block, but I only get $5!”

Calvin looks thoughtful. I can see the wheels turning, and then he looks pointedly away from Nate’s indignant face, addressing me instead. “I’ll do it for $2.”

And thus we gain our first scab worker. I’m certain Nate doesn’t have this word in his vocabulary, but that doesn’t stop him from pinning Calvin with a disgusted stare. “Cal-vin!”

Cal simply shrugs. “You spelled unequal wrong,” he adds. Sometimes he’s made of stone, that one.

Meanwhile, Tobes has caught on to the gist of the conversation. “I want money!” he cries. I barely bite back the embittered retort that his stimulus check is surely in the mail before pacifying him with apple juice instead. (Because maybe he had only wanted to make sure his benefits were secure.)

I set the glass in front of him, and make sure everyone has gotten seconds (the way these kids eat is an entire other entry), and when Nate is still re-rinsing his toothbrush and organizing his Bakugan cards five minutes before we need to leave for church, I curb myself from issuing a sharp reprimand.

It’s not that I think I should go easy on him. It’s simply that he already goes hard enough on himself for both of us. Nate is a thinker. A studious, fair-minded, deep, sometimes disgruntled thinker.

“Relax,“ we often tell him.

“Try not to worry about it.”

“It’ll work out.”

And whatever ‘it’ is, it does, doesn’t it? But this child was born with empathy deep enough to drown in; I’ve seen it flooding his face, clouding his expression. Hell, there have been times I've barely been able to tread water myself. So I know that when he catalogues his complaints and his worries, often late at night from the confessional of his bunk bed, blinking through the darkness on too little sleep, he’s trying to convey something else entirely.

What if it’s not meant to work out?

How do I learn to care less?


And how can I? Apple? Meet tree. We’re so alike it’s frightening. Because I don’t want him awake nights. I don’t want him weighted down or trapped by the insistence of his own mind to find fault, to see injustice, and to soak it all in and then overanalyze it. I want the things he cannot change to roll off his back like they seem to do for his middle brother. For his dad.

On the other hand, I’m glad he’s articulated this latest burden. He’s already learned what I did at a young age: to write things down, to itemize and list, and thereby triage his worry. It works. Usually.

Tonight, he’ll get his chance to have his say.

I can only hope it gives him some peace of mind, because I already know a pay raise isn’t in the budget.

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