What if any tv programming does he watch?
Does he still take a bottle?
When will you start potty training?
And I try my best to keep the snark in check and answer as sweetly and politely and truthfully as possible: Phinneas and Ferb; never did, drinks out of a technical camelback water bottle or a regular ol' cup and has since he was one; he started himself when he was 18 months. (No, by no means there yet, relax yourselves, I am by no means that lucky.)
When Ale breaks into song it's frequently something from the pop charts; today, just for example, it was, out of the blue from the backseat, "THIS IS CRAZY!" He can name the title of a Ting Ting's song in the opening bars, and chants the chorus from the Beastie Boys "Sureshot". He wants to do potty "by self," eat "by self," and tells us to leave his room at bedtime. "Go mommy, nap time. Goodbye." He eats pizza "big," and is generally in the habit -- for better or worse -- of monkey see, monkey do.
He is by no means independent, and by that I mean he clings to his mommy with a ferocity known usually to atomic particles. I don't sense any nascent super intelligence.
What he is, is the little brother of a much, much older sister.
So, the conversation goes, "Oh! How old is his sister?"
And then I can fucking hear the gears start turning as they contemplate that six year gap, maybe with some stupid turn of phrase, "Oh, nice gap."
(Nice? I mean, not for nothing, but if everything was lovely and it was 2.5 years, is that "nice"? Or "Not nice?" I'm confused.)
And I can practically read their minds as they eyeball me:
Remarriage, baby with husband number two.
And very seldom, nay, rarely, do I step on the toes of their wisps of thought with the concept that the gap really isn't, and like every other red-blooded American (it seems) my children are in fact about 2.5-3 years apart. It's just that the middle one is, um, missing.
Not much to pick up from that one, amiright?
It's tough this, when people start asking me what the up and down sides to this break are. I try and answer honestly because I know they're asking from a good place: It's lovely to have an older child who attends school, can get in/out of the car by herself, uses the toilet AND takes her dirty dishes to the kitchen and unloads the clean dishwasher. It may take four nags, but she can in fact put her shoes away and sort her laundry. So only having to deal with one child's tiny shoes and dirty dishes and plastic crap is a relief. I make one meal a night, and I can grab a half hour for the shower by plopping them down in front of the same programming (Ale loves to imitate Candace, it's a riot).
It's a bummer in that Bella was/is an awesome traveller. I could easily see taking her to Alaska or Africa right now, tomorrow if the opportunity presented itself. Yet, every time I think "You know, I think we could do London, maybe with a day trip to Paris -- Ale eats and sleeps pretty well," he up and contradicts me by melting down during a trip to Ikea hours later. The kind of meltdown where other mothers silently mouth "I'm sorry" as they pass by with their wide-eyed toddlers staring at my screaming progeny. Bella can climb and ride skateboards and get in and out of the tub by herself and a load of other stuff that looks amazing attractive to a small guy who doesn't understand helmets or that his hands and feet are still a bit too far apart to do things. We've have some extremely close calls, some bumps, and a bloody nose or three.
The gap is lovely, the gap is tough, but what the gap really is is a daily reminder that there's something in there, something in the middle, that the oreo is missing something rather critical. There's a whole lifetime of counseling and depression in there, and watching him coo "Happy Birfday" to his sister only highlights the chasm between them. There shouldn't be a canyon between my children -- a path perhaps, a very windy road maybe. Not something that requires road guards and a suspension bridge.
Bella is eight. I fight the urge to put a "teen" on the end of that. She is at once, extremely mature and a bit of a hot mess. She is a lovely combination of girl and tomboy; yesterday she determined with her birthday cash and savings she had enough for the American Girl she's been pining for, today there were real hot tears when I broke the news that one of her favorite ball players -- the one whose name graces her very pricey and very favorite official jersey -- had been traded. She gobbles up pop tunes like M&Ms, and deigns to get down on her knees with the stuffed animals and play school with her little brother. Usually she looks so old it drives me a bit bonkers, but I was looking at pictures from her party on Sunday and I can still espy that baby fat in her face, that glimmer of three still peering out at me from those eyes. Still a girl. But not for long.
We've fallen into a nice tradition of ordering a small copy of our wedding cake from the baker who made it along with Bella's birthday cake so we have something to remind us of our anniversary. This year the Birthiversary picnic was at the farm where we were married, but for the first time sans Max who actually attended our wedding. He was just a year old then, hard to imagine -- about as hard to imagine as watching our children run around with my cousin's children. It was beautiful, and surreal, and exhausting.
Per usual, Ferdinand was at the front of my mind on Sunday as well. I wondered what Janis was doing, much as I always wonder how all these mind-blowing events can occur on a single day. Who knew four years almost to the hour after getting married in a meadow I'd be holding my first child; who knew three years later I'd be celebrating her birthday, bereft. Who knew within the year I'd discover someone had lost a son on the day I'd been mindlessly doling out cupcakes and goody bags and wondering if my marriage would continue through this shitstorm.
It's a few days belated, but:
Happy Birthday, Ferdinand.
Happy Birthday, Bella.
Happy Anniversary, us.