I drive down the street, frantically looking for an open space. I flip the minivan around and pull up to the curb on the side where I cannot stay, thanks to street cleaning and vigilant tow trucks. I get out, slide open the doors, deftly unstrap the car seats and free the boys. As other families scramble to the front door of the school down the block, I make the choice: I will send the boys off to the door by themselves-- for the first time all school year, while I wait for a legal parking space to open from a departing family. C and S happily scurry off as I climb back into the running car, blinker thrown already. About to make a sharp left, I glance up to the corner, just in time to see a flash of olive green tumble. I see feet flip up in the air and I hear the high pitch wail of my son as outstreached hands scrape the concrete.
"Mom!" , "Mama, Mama!" The shouts envelope me as I step through my front door after an evening faculty meeting. Clad in fleece pajamas, feet toasty in fuzzy slippers, my sons jump from their positions on the couch to greet me. Their wet hair is neatly slicked to the side, reminiscent of boys in 1950s photographs, but rarely like their hair in daily life. They lead me to the couch where they retake their places, renegotiating blanket wrapping, making room for one more-- me. I am in time to hear the Christmas story, a part of our December countdown. Twenty four books were wrapped and stacked in a basket, sitting underneath a handwritten calendar marked with the boys' names. Each day the 'assigned' fellow picks one book and the five of us huddle in to read it together. I rest my head against the leather couch, happy that P is reading tonight. F upsets the blanket to climb into my lap. We wrap up again, one boy on me, the two others leaning into me on my left and right. I pick up my head to nuzzle my nose into my youngest's ginger-colored hair, sniffing the surprisingly spicy scent of the boys' new shampoo, and just breathe.
Twenty minutes into the service, the pew is strewn with crayons and books. I shift, finally trying to settle in, quiet myself a bit after the morning race to get the three boys fed and wiped and dressed and bundled and strapped into car seats and through the tall church doors-- all by myself as their dad is off serving at another church. After a year of enjoying the playroom downstairs, F has decided that he has had enough of being separated from his brothers now that he unhappily is forced to on school days. The older two can negotiate the service: they know when they must attend to what is happening and when it is OK to turn to their books and drawings, when to stand and sing, and when to turn to their neighbors and shake hands enthusiastically, offering 'peace.' The three-year-old fidgets. He grabs at his brother's book. He sits on the ground, splays his legs, and promptly bangs his head against the wooden pew in front. I lean over and grab him under his arms, hefting him up, as I simultaneously try to shush him and comfort him. He leans against my chest and I lay my cheek against his head, turning my head to do so and notice the seams on my sweater-- the one I obviously have been wearing inside out all morning.