“I declare, I believe that boy has a hollow leg.”

This affectionate observation was delivered many years back at family dinners by our great uncle, watching in good-humored amazement as my little brother worked deftly through his heavily laden plate of food. It was briefly amusing, I remember, to wonder if my brother could really be an oddity whose stomach actually stretched down to his ankle. But my sisters and I had long since stopped noticing the volume of his intake. He was a sturdy, active, growing boy who became, as the great author Russell Baker phrased it in his memoir, a prodigious trencherman at the table.

The mysteries of anatomy, capacity, and appetite as they relate to children floated back in memory recently as I watched my grandchildren at my dinner table. When it comes to the concept of hollow legs, my uncle would have said they appear to have four, between the two of them. Meal preparation therefore requires strategic thought and careful procurement. One must steel oneself to meet the occasional tactical error with determination to carry on, and nurture the fervent hope that volume errors run to the high, not the low, side.

These children are among the very fortunate who can count on their parents for three squares a day, a blessing none of us takes lightly in today’s world. And I’m proud to observe that the parents are very careful feeders, very nutrition-savvy, and there is no visible evidence of junk food in the house. Neither child shows an ounce of extra flesh, so the voracious consumption is clearly not overtaking the body’s demand for nutrients.

Harlan eatingThe “I’m hungry” chorus seems to be moderating slightly with our Buddy, who at almost five is tall and slim for his age, a great eater, but no longer as relentlessly ravenous as his younger sister. At almost three, Sis demonstrates precocious multi-tasking skills, juggling a morsel or bite of something in her hands at almost all times, during most activities, unless she puts down the food to pick up a glass of something. A traditionalist disciplinarian might frown on this constant snacking between meals, but I can attest that it does nothing to diminish her appetite for actual meals, so who am I to question it?

Any grandmother wants to provide what the small ones want and need, so I laid out what I hoped was a respectable game plan for this recent Sunday dinner, taking only the occasional liberty in my selections. Sis generally requests sustenance about 20 seconds post-arrival, and I was ready. Spying small bowls being filled with well-known, crunchy orange crackers, one each for her and Buddy (an essential strategy for avoiding conflict), she shrieked, “GOLDFISH!!”, and I knew I struck a positive opening chord. The main meal followed within a respectable period of time, hearty choices for a very cold day: pork roast with potatoes, carrots, and baked zucchini. This menu revealed a tactical error in volume production and a surprising fact: Sis is a huge carrot fan, possibly a rabbit in a former life, and the stock of carrots ran short of the demand. Who would have guessed it?

Curiosity later spurred me to a bit of online research on appetite and children that didn’t yield much, other than the predictable tie to growth spurts. Watching these two, and Sis in particular, I speculate on alternative causes. Surely it takes extra protein to bolster you to badger your older brother incessantly. Massive vitamins must feed the part of the brain that makes you refuse to put on your shoes, to deny you need to go to the potty, to insist that you are not even close to being sleepy. Folic acid and possibly extra fiber probably make it possible to cover your eyes when your mother sternly insists, “Look at me.” Does eating so many apples, like the Eve of the Old Testament, fuel the desire to take off your clothes at the most unlikely times and places?

Whatever the reasons, we do our best with this phase, until we come to the next one. Less than an hour after plowing through her pork and potatoes and stoically accepting the Carrot Famine, Sis crawled into my lap for sympathy, her brow furrowed in a fret. “Evie,” she said, with almost a touch of sadness, “I’m hungry.”

Gingerbread houses.JPG

It seems indisputable that today’s world harbors parenting challenges that we never imagined when my daughter was young. Yet one essential truth remains, universally acknowledged then and now:

Two-year-olds are impossible.

The other night my daughter, a devoted, creative, and loving mother, sank back into the cushions on my living room couch with a massive sigh of frustration. She was fresh from another face-off with her own two-year-old, a deceptively beautiful, tiny female to  whom I lovingly refer as Rambo in a Tutu. My daughter stared at me in utter desolation. “Mom,” she said, despair shadowing every syllable, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her. I really, really don’t.” I returned her sigh in a spirit of comradeship, thinking I could dare anyone to find a parent who has not agonized their way through this developmental stage, a period of time unlike anything a rational person can fathom in life as we know it.

And what exactly makes these Pint-Sized Revolutionaries so vexing, anyway? Is it the astonishing strength of the opposition force? The utter lack of logic and reason that governs their every move? The terroristic unpredictability, the realization that one never knows when a strike may occur?

Long before the day for my daughter’s lament arrived, I foresaw a time when my heart’s desire at this moment would be nothing more than simple justice and fair retribution. Payback time, I imagined, would be ever so delicious and sweet. The memories that drove me to that cold and bitter anticipation are remarkably fresh. My daughter’s tantrums at two were the stuff of story and song (the blues, of course), and at their peak I often tried to remove her to her room and shut the door. This pathetically ineffective strategy generated more, better screaming and motivated her to pull on the doorknob with all her maniacal might, demanding escape. Refusing to cave (and lacking a lock), I pulled against the doorknob on the opposing side in a classic tug of proverbial war. The screaming generally lasted about six weeks or so, and about halfway through I was generally reduced to sobbing myself.

Such stories, and those of more comedic antics, are often traded among empathetic parents. I have a niece, now one of my favorite women on the planet, who demonstrated will of breathtaking scope at this age. Instructed by her mother to stop hurling bits of broccoli off her high chair tray and onto the floor, she resumed the aforementioned sport the minute her mother turned around. Mother escalated to a more direct confrontation, positioning herself about six inches from Niece’s face, firmly and slowly intoning, “I SAID: Stop. Throwing. Your. Food.” The child locked eyes with her foe, leaning even closer, and resumed slow-pitching the veg without moving her eyes from Mother’s face. (I had to run from the room to howl unobserved. These things are always funny when it isn’t your kid.) A good friend shares a tale of instructing his twin daughters that eating with their hands was hereby disallowed. Planting their hands at their sides, they solved this dilemma ingeniously by dropping their heads face down into the plate, to graze like puppies in a dog bowl. Yet another good friend summarizes the time period poignantly as “the longest days of the shortest years” of her life.

Oddly, when my moment to savor sweet justice arrived, it lacked the thrill of victory. I longed to to reassure and soothe the mother’s soul—because, of course, nothing can be done with the child—but standard alms like a stiff shot of bourbon and a long hot bath did not seem like particularly original suggestions.LJ hat 1.16

A few days later, in a fit of New Year’s purging, I sorted a box of old books and came upon a small, worn, cloth-covered volume called “The Fine Art of Motherhood” and dated 1930. That would mean it likely belonged to my grandmother and was given to her around the time my mother was born in the spring of 1931. Could there be any time-honored recommendations here? Skimming through, I failed to uncover specific solutions for surviving two-year-olds, but other, related observations made intriguing reading. “Conquering a child’s will is not what we are after, but training it,” the author opines. Indeed. And easier said than done, perhaps.

On the final page, however, I lingered over her closing statement, where she quotes an authority who “….names as attributes of little children sincerity, faith, democracy, forgiveness, and the tender heart. If we can meet them on this plane, they will teach us more than we can teach them.”

(Today’s Chronicle story is provided by a guest writer.)

They’re here! They’re here! I hear them on the other side of this door. Mom! Come open this door! I’ll keep shouting until you open up. You never come to the door fast enough. I like it when they come. Mom always shouts back for me to be quiet, but I won’t. It’s my job to monitor this door and announce arrivals, and I love it when we have company.

There are four of them that come together, but I particularly like the two Short Ones. Their hands are really close to the ground, like me, and I always smell lots of different stuff on those little fingers, like peanut butter and apples and cracker crumbs,, and sometimes I get in a quick lick and wash off a few bits before they laugh and back away. Sometimes they squeal and say NO!, but I don’t think they mean it, because I can usually get close and take another swipe. The key is to be patient.

MBhighchairAh, excellent. They’re going straight to the table. The strategy here is clear: Wait till they all sit down, and they never notice if I just creep underneath there, hang out quietly between all those shoes, and wait. Everyone drops stuff, but the two Short Ones are the best droppers who ever eat at our house. Everything they eat lands on the floor, and big pieces, too. And look! It’s those sliced things in boxes. I LOVE the crust on those things, but there’s other good stuff on them, too. Cheese, sausage…I’m drooling a little bit under here, waiting for it. Hope no one notices.

AND now’s my chance. The Shortest One is dangling her slice right down at my eye level. She’s talking to her mother, but I read this as her signal she wants me to have some. We share stuff a lot. (Sometimes it’s my idea, sometimes it’s hers.) Just a quiet step forward and THERE. Got my teeth in it, and it’s CHEESE! My favorite!

Now, just to back away carefully, very carefully. Oddly, the Shortest One won’t let go. Now everyone is shouting, I’m not sure what the ruckus is about, she invited me to take it, so I’ll just stay focused and keep my teeth where they are. Now the Shortest One is swatting at my nose, but not hard, it’s more like a pat, really, and people keep shouting, but some of that soft cheese is sliding into my mouth…OW! Mom’s got her hands around my jaw, prying it open. She’s telling me to Drop It! But Drop It never applied to cheese, is how I see it. I’m holding on…holding on…OW. Couldn’t hold my jaw shut; it was bite her or drop the pizza, and I can’t bite my Mom.

The Shortest One is crying now, and Mom said mean things and shooed me away from the table. Is this fair? The Shortest One didn’t want the pizza after I turned it loose, but they won’t give it to me, either. All that nice smelly cheese. Sigh. I don’t understand; she held it down there like she was serving me my piece. It all seemed so clear.

These Short Ones are harder to figure out; just when you think we’re friends, they scream and snatch stuff away. They pull on your ears, and step on your feet, and laugh at the look on my face. It’s exhausting, and humiliating. I need a nap.MBnap

It’s a crisp, clear fall Saturday morning, and Small Sister and I are hanging at the park. Her mother’s in a yoga class nearby, and I’m happy to entertain Sis while my daughter gets an hour of stretching and peaceful introspection. Sis currently occupies the mid-point in that sanity-stretching, two-year-old year, when hanging with her can be many wonderful things, but peaceful is not among them.

We soon make our way on the playground to the People’s Choice, the swings (in Sis-Speak, known as sfings) and settle in for some prolonged sfinging. Great upper-body exercise, as I push from behind, striving to accommodate pleas of “higher, higher,” when she stops me in mid-push with an unexpected request. “Evie,” she asks intently, twisting around in her seat to look me in the eye, “Will you sing to me?”

Now, I confess this fundamental truth: Asking me to sing is a bit like asking a Formula One driver if he would care to push the gas pedal just a wee bit harder. I sang everywhere I went as a child, starting not much older than Sis is now, and music has been one of the richest threads running through my life since. In church choirs, in the shower, as lead at birthday parties, any place, any time, I will jump into the tune. I’ve often daydreamed about how music might play a role in the lives of Sis and her brother, and how I might nurture that along.

But when called upon to provide a Spontaneous Soundtrack for Sfinging, I suddenly freeze. Can’t recall a single line of an appropriate children’s song. Are there any? Rockabye baby? Trilling on about a baby who falls from a treetop, while she’s sfinging? Perhaps not.

So the mind wings instead to the musical catalogue of the heart, residing in the imagination like one of those old table-top jukeboxes at Jerry’s, where you could page through the metal-bound lists of selections before plunking in your coins and shoving the red button. What selection to sing for Sis?

The songs of my impressionable young fan years were mostly folkie—James Taylor, Carole King, and forever favorites Simon and Garfunkel, with their lyrics of unforgettable poetry. (“This is my song, for the asking, ask me and I will play, so sweetly, I will make you smile…”) Later, no doubt in an angry phase, there were the screaming edges of classic rock. Come to think of it, with her personality, I can easily picture Sis as a Led Zeppelin fan (“Wanna Whole Lotta Love!”). More recently, in my beloved Music City, there’s been full immersion in the omnipresent American roots music, in all its glorious forms, traditional and new. I Saw the Light? A few bars of Vince Gill’s Whenever I Call Your Name?

We were a musical family, growing up, though strictly as amateurs. My parents kept one of those massive cabinet record players in the front hall, and their frequent cocktail parties featured background soundtracks of great Broadway shows like The King and I, along with the smoky rhythms of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. We studied and played, too. My older sister, the most gifted among us by far, progressed to prodigy-level skill at the piano as a young teen. Even better, she tumbled permanently into family lore one year by falling flat on her face while ascending the stage steps at her piano recital. The best part was she laughed so hard at herself that she could hardly lift her fingers to the keyboard when she finally got there.

When begged by my mother, who to this day sees brilliance in her progeny that remains invisible to the rest of humanity, we sometimes clustered our efforts into duos or trios that must have mystified visiting family and friends. (“Were you there the night their kids played the piano, tuba, and ukulele, YES, all at the same time!?”) Let me digress here and offer a blanket apology to anyone still living who endured one of these mash-ups. We appreciate your kindness in not laughing your way straight back to the bar before the song was over.

Suddenly, I am jerked out of my reverie by Sis insistently repeating her request. “Evie! Will you sing?”

And I am as surprised as anyone by what flows from my throat, out into the fall breeze that tangles her blonde curls and rustles the tree limbs above us.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost…”

Quick! Twenty minutes on the clock. Go.

Living room: Art pottery whisked off coffee table, stowed on top of fridge. DVR remote up onto mantle, same place each time, in fervent hope I can remember where to reclaim it. Embroidered throw pillows on couch, turned face-in. Hand-knit artisan chenille throw, folded, stashed.

Hall bath: Potty lid open and ready. Ample supply of TP. Footstool positioned in front of sink, rendering soap, water tap, and hand towels within reach. Small prayer muttered to the Potty Angels.

Kitchen! Most important. Contents of half-empty wine bottle (why was it open, damn thing has a twist-off cap, for pete’s sake, never mind, no time for self-recrimination) dumped, rinsed for recycling. Half-eaten chocolate bar with nuts (what’s with leaving half of things?) definitely worth saving; wrapped and hidden in high cabinet. Knife for slicing brother’s fabulous venison sausage (it was great with that wine), rinsed, dried, returned to drawer. Smelly sausage wrappers that have been torturing dog tossed into trash. (Ignore devastated dog.) Extra paper towels for inevitable spills, within reach. Flavored sparkling water, favorite permissible drink, in fridge to chill. Pre-approved snacks moved into front row in reachable cabinet; unapproved varieties, top shelf, out of sight line, behind dog medicine.

Home office: Pens capped, put away. Computer off. Bank statement, appalling credit card bill, shredded. Grownup desk-distraction toy—tiny, working miniature of my car—visible and ready if needed for floor racing again.

Hall bath: check potty lid again. Open and ready. Switch light on, to guard against seeker taking wrong turn.Harry.blog.11.15

Master bedroom: Over-sized decorative bed pillows propped up, the better for TV-watching that masquerades as nap-taking. Dirty laundry yanked off bed, chair, and stool and hurled into hamper; what have I been doing this week? Perennial favorite, a small stuffed gorilla named Harry sent by my mother to make me laugh after I had surgery years back, nestled in usual position atop pillows, watching gamely for visitors.

Hall bath: one more confirmation of potty readiness. Can’t be too careful.

Breathe, now. Listen for door-knocking: any minute, the children will be here.

When the news came awhile back that my first grandchild was on the way, it was, in all candor, a major shock–a two-step process, like an earthquake and its attendant after-shock. The first-wave tremors brought joy, of course; I knew my daughter and her husband would be terrific parents and would cherish the child to come.

Then the aftershock rippled out: Wait! My daughter is having a baby, which means I’m about to become a…..well, I just couldn’t say it. The g-word simply would not emerge from my mouth. Sure, of course, naturally, the baby would be wonderful. But that, in turn, meant I was old enough to be a….(help me out and fill in that word here). Anyone who has been through this for the first time and has not been astonished to find herself old enough to welcome a new generation is…perhaps a more mature, self-aware adult than yours truly. But, I digress.

Once this news begins to spread, one of the first questions you get is, “What do you want to be called?”

This query generated enormous pressure, along with uncertainty, because, after all, don’t the children often make this decision by some comic happenstance? Best come up with a preference, I was advised, to at least steer it in a direction you like.

Still in denial, I began with the process of elimination. First: No g-words. Not Grandma, heaven forbid, or Granny, so much worse, or Nana (endearing and slightly historical, but not for me) or Grandmother (we are not the Queen of England, after all).

When scanning history for precedents, we all hear of examples that, like mosquitoes in August, cannot be eradicated with the most Olympian of efforts, but remain a bit embarrassing to explain to outsiders. Thankfully, these seem to victimize men a bit more frequently, who perhaps take it in better stride. There’s Peepaw (surely an accidental derivation of potty-training terminology), Pap-pap (is the grandfather a gynecologist?), and so forth.

Our family has its own share of these so-called originals. Addressing the relational question “Who’s that?” when my toddler older sister pointed at my grandmother, my Mom answered logically, “That’s MY mama.” This quickly morphed into, and forever remained, Mamama, along with, its companion, Dadaddy. (Imagine our surprise to learn, decades later, of another family, completely unrelated, whose children coined exactly the same names for exactly the same reasons. Another illusion of uniqueness, gone like the wind.) We called my paternal grandfather Bubba, which seems ironic, in these times. He was a highly successful dentist, an excellent golfer, a lover of fine cars and elegant clothes; he certainly bore no resemblance to the rough-edged image currently conjured by that moniker in the South, rightly or wrongly. However, I sense that he and I are kindred spirits across the generations. The story goes that he told my older sister that he was his son’s (my father’s) brother, unwilling, like me, to acknowledge his age. My sister babbled “Bubba” for “brother,” and so he became.

A formal market research survey—okay, I asked a few of my friends—revealed I was not alone in seeking a G-title that would not evoke gray hair in a bun, an apron at the waist, and enthronement in a rocking chair. One chose Mimi, which I think rather elegant and continental. Someone mentioned Lovie, which is charming, but on the sugary side. “I’m going to be called Gran,” said another. “To me, that’s much sexier than other versions of the G-word. I don’t want people to think I’m 100 years old.” And so, the new generations arrive, while some of us—and you know who you are–still look in the mirror and defy it to tell us the truth.

As for me, I finally landed on a derivation of my own name, the endearment my father called me: Evie. It’s informal enough to convey a special bond, short enough for a child to say easily, and, far, far away from other realities, with which I continue to grapple in my head and heart.

Nevertheless, I am especially partial to the name my small grandson came up with, for reasons that escaped us all, for his grandfather on his dad’s side. After all, when genius comes from your own flesh and blood, how can you resist? It is pithy, features alliteration, and it even conjures a classic Stephen Foster tune:

Dooda.

Sometimes you just can’t improve on the work of a master.

A brilliant, Harvard-trained Ph.D. who was teaching a business school class on negotiation that I attended not long ago added intriguing dimension to her lecture with an interesting personal anecdote. This insightful strategist, who consults with multi-national corporations on complex contracts and achieves astonishing compromise in intricate negotiations involving conflicting cultures and millions upon millions of dollars, had this to say about her five-year-old grandson:

“He gets whatever he wants.”

And she added this minor qualifier: “At my house, my only job is to keep him safe from harm. Otherwise, he gets whatever he wants. If he wants a cookie, he gets a cookie.”

She did not elaborate on this fascinating revelation, but I’ve pondered it many times since, and here’s my interpretation: You can train at Harvard on theory and best practice, you may be gifted with an agile intellect that equips you to whip corporate bozos into shape right, left, and center, but you can’t negotiate with toddlers. There is no way to win, so save your dignity and give it a miss.

Not long after I attended this lecture, I was gifted with one of many examples of this Fundamental Truth of Grandparenthood (FTG).

I procured for Brother’s birthday a tiny, intricately accessorized, toddler-scale riding car, a battery-powered version of my own set of wheels. He loves my car (even at life size, it looks rather like a toy), so I hoped this would be a hit, and it seemed just so. Sadly, however, it was pouring rain on the actual birthday, so his parents authorized a road test in the hallway of the house. The technical skills of forward and backward acceleration were quickly and masterfully achieved, but the judgment to check the surroundings first was, like Batteries, Not Included, and the first casualty of this mastery was Small Sister. Hovering behind and hoping for a ride, she got knocked to the floor and partially pinned under the rear fender in the work of a moment. No more, said the parents over the wailing, until we can take it outside.

The sun obligingly appeared the next morning, so the license to drive on the sidewalk was immediately applied for to the appropriate authorities. Better at least try, I admonished myself guiltily, to talk about staying out of harm’s way.

Okay, I said sternly to the miniature Mario Andretti, gathering him close and giving him the old eyeball, it’s time to talk about safe driving. “Okay,” says Mario, unsure where this is going. To drive safely, I roll on with the Darth Vader tone, you mustn’t run into other people. Especially babies. Surprisingly, this prompts an immediate, sorrowful assent.

“We don’t hit babies,” he repeats, with a sad shake of the small head.

And no dogs or cats, his father supplies, watching nearby. This also brings the necessary response, intently spoken. “We don’t hit babies, or dogs, or cats,” he agrees, solemnly.

This exchange occurs near a window overlooking the front yard and framing the intoxicating sight of sunshine and freedom. He checks the view carefully for a moment, then turns back to me for his final salvo. It is delivered with the head cocked slightly, hope blended with just the facts, ma’am, and the keen instinct not to smile in presumed triumph. “There are no babies or cats or dogs out there NOW, Evie.”

Game, set, match. We are off for the open road.

The departures gate creaks open, admitting the mid-day sun and a puff of air into my stuffy front hallway and illuminating the piles of luggage and Absolute Necessities that travel everywhere.  The pile is crowned by the ragged and ubiquitous Mr. Bunny, an overturned Spiderman travel cup with a cat hair stuck to the spout, and a single, sparkling metallic Tom’s toddler shoe, forlornly waiting to be reunited with a restless, chubby foot.  The taller travelers load themselves up like coatracks at an oversubscribed office holiday party, silently balancing items from every appendage, sometimes in multiples, navigating carefully with the weight that swings this way and that, taking silent inventory as they start forward.

Oh!  Two more items that mustn’t be left behind:  The children.  I reach out a hand to the older, wondering if his forlorn expression mirrors my own, trying to re-arrange my thoughts and, I hope, my face.  He accepts my hand, and we follow in procession behind the staggering Coatracks, keeping a safe distance from their swinging loads.  Come on, urge The Coatracks, time to go, time to get home.  To blow out of here and leave behind the dead air that briefly follows a fighter jet’s billowy plume across a bright sky.

What to say, I’m pondering as we trundle on, but he speaks first.  Perhaps I am imagining it, but I choose to hear a tiny chime of hope in his voice when he asks:

“Are you coming with us?”

A good Girl  Scout or former camp counselor probably would have laid out a schedule, maybe even in writing, with proven estimates of time required for each activity, interspersed with breaks for healthy, pre-approved snacks.  Instead, it was just Me, alone for the afternoon with Brother and Small Sister and mortified to feel like such a rank amateur.  Clearly, if you believe the Gospel According to Facebook (and who doesn’t?), other grandparents use these cherished times as effortless opportunities to bond kindred souls across the generations.

Right.  We now return to our regularly scheduled program, and that activity list that unfolded in a more spontaneous fashion:

  1. Create tent between two chairs using old sheet.  Show children how to hide in it without tripping over entrance flap and upending structure onto curious dog, hovering optimistically within the danger zone.  Snap photo and text to absent parents to attest all is under control and old-fashioned fun abounds.
  2. Move on to Creativity Time with crayons and Dinosaur Jumbo Coloring Book.  Hang finished masterpieces on fridge.  Remove half-bitten fuchsia crayon from mouth of Small Sister, gingerly and cleverly without getting bitten.
  3. Shift ho for the Great Outdoors, remembering tricycle handily acquired at garage sale for $9.  Console jealous, wailing Small Sister, too short to pedal, while Brother rockets away, out of reach.  Caving in when consolation fails, try letting her stand on trike’s back rail, clutching Brother’s shoulders.  Naturally, she lets go on the first forward lurch. Leap forward barely fast enough to catch her in backwards flop, inches before small head would have collided with sidewalk pavement.
  4. Check watch.  Battery might be dead, as it indicates only 45 minutes have elapsed.
  5. Drop to the ground exhausted, swamped by feelings of certain inadequacy.  Whatever, I sigh, this lawn is huge and secluded from traffic.  What if they just run wild for a bit; do I have to stage-direct every minute?  Who am I kidding; could I, even if I tried?

Freed from suggestions, direction, or clutching, anxious hands, Brother takes off running in wide circles around me and Sister, who for once seems to realize that giving chase would be futile.  He runs along with a rich, shouted monologue that may relate to medieval sword-fighting, or space travel, or possibly both.  I can’t catch all the narrative.  Why isn’t he tired yet?  But pretty soon, I’m rooting him on, wishing I could be along for the ride.

Run, Brother.  Run like the Superheroes who are never far from your imagination. Run from the nap you don’t want to take.  Run for the questions that pour out, too fast to be answered in grown–up tempo, and for the ones that don’t really want answers, anyway.  Run to amaze your sister, as mesmerized and adoring as any loyal sports fan.

Run, Brother, run.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been smack dab in the path of a tornado, as I once was, many years ago, but it’s true what they say:  There’s an unsettling, yellow-tinged calm all around, just before the maximum-force winds blast through.  That was the atmosphere in my front hall just before I opened the front door to my smiling, efficient son-in-law and his two junior-level partners in crime.  First over the threshold was the older of the Juniors, a fast-talking miniature of his father, and close on his heels was the small, determined rendering of her mother some three decades back.  Ages four and two, they were, in the usual pattern, both talking at the same time.

Son-in-law deposits a few items of paraphernalia, rattles off a projected return time, then blows back out again in the work of a moment.  But…wait.  No printed Instruction Guide?  Are equipment or tools of some sort required?  Should I be embarrassed to even think such thoughts?

No matter.  Closing the door behind him and drawing a deep, cleansing breath, I turn to receive a very deliberate, eyeball-to-eyeball stare from Small Sister, three feet below sea level.  What’s in that look?  I see humor, I’m certain and grateful, and there’s curiosity, I get that, but clearly, and first in line, there’s assessment.  She’s not much for the long,  complex phrasing at this early stage, but here’s the statement written all over her face:  I’m pretty sure I can take you.

We’ll see about that, I think as we nod to each other, like two pro wrestlers preparing to make the first move on the mat.  I sidestep her for the moment and deliver in her brother’s direction the quintessential question that begins and ends all adult/toddler scenarios:

Do you need to go potty?

No, no, no, he intones firmly, I want a snack and apple juice.

Surely I’m on solid ground here, I was a waitress once, I know how to fill orders, so I hop to it pretty snappily and am rustling cups and napkins when suddenly he streaks past in a blur, pointed back toward the bathroom and shrieking at the top of his lungs, HELP me, Evie!  HELP me!

I reach the finish line just a nose behind him and ascertain that a particularly stubborn snap on the pants is the source of this momentary terror. I wrest it open just in time for the business that must result.  But disregard the relief of this near-miss, because it is followed immediately by a high-pitched scream from the direction of the hallway.   Just around the wall from the bathroom, I locate Small Sister face-down on the hardwood floor, where her chubby, unwieldy feet presumably landed her in an ill-fated attempt to join the field in the Potty Derby.  I hoist her up to find her nose already bruising and oozing big red droplets.

Oh, perfect.  Parents haven’t been gone 15 minutes, and already we’ve drawn blood.