"Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young." Or, Breaking The Rules On SundayThomas Beller
Animal waffles. Swimming in the pool. Then some kind of baking project, all of us in the kitchen.
I am called upon to stir butter and sugar with a whisk.
“This,” I say, “This used to be…” I trail off. The magical potions of one’s youth. The butter-sugar tandem, an evergreen. “Whenever my mom made a cake.”
“Your mother baked?”
“I guess so. I used to love this.”
Two cups of flower are added. The stirring takes effort. I work, completing the baker’s tasks. It’s hard work, more than I remember, but I achieve the necessary consistency.
Then it is lunch time. It’s delightful, the controlled sense of movement in the kitchen, putting together the small meal, delivering plates, the baby up and down off the Swedish baby chair now set to toddler mode; he’s up to the challenge. I suppose the baby is not really a baby, or not completely. His pleasure in the freedom is not to last. He gets cranky. He wants his other lunch, the one consisting of my wife. But the baking is not done. A kind of race commences — can Elizabeth get the baking done before he gets very upset? Somehow he pulls open the Kitchen’s barricaded door and makes a run for it up the stairs. I give chase.Elizabeth gets it into the pan, the pan goes in the oven. It is nap time. At last.
There are many stages of childhood, and therefore parenthood, that vanish without a trace, but one enormous milestone is the cult and ritual of naps: when you are in nap land you have this oasis in your day that is all the more sweet for its fragility.
I leave Evangeline in kitchen, but not before depositing a small plate with some green grapes in front of her. I don’t make her say thank you, as I normally would. It’s just a gift. I used to get these deliveries myself; my mother materializing in the doorway bearing treats. She sits with her laptop watching a show with a laugh track. I go to the living room, sneaking almonds. We’re on “portion control.” Day three. Marked effects for Evangeline. I insisted, when the pediatrician left us alone in the examining room, that it wasn’t necessary, even as I recalled my own youthful fatness, how irritated I was that my mother kept insisting I was handsome throughout. She kept sweets out of the house for the most part, but I was unstoppable in those years. Eventually I relent and agree: portion control for Evangeline.
But not for me. I sneak almonds to the living room. I am not supposed to eat almonds. This is because I keep dropping almonds when I eat them. Usually just one, which is then discovered, my wife holding it up and glaring at me. A health hazard for the baby. Every time I eat them I think, this time I will not drop any almonds!
I settle in with the new David Foster Wallace. Essays. I take up his Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young. Evangeline rudely interrupts my reverie.
“Daddy,” she calls out, pushing open the kitchen door. “I have to take a poo.”
“Call me when you need me,” I say, and push my bag of almonds between the cushions of the white couch.
“Ready!” she calls out. I get to my feet to wipe. Actually, I think, shouldn’t she wipe? But then I let it go — of course she can wipe. But for how much longer will I even be able to entertain wiping my daughter’s butt? Well, maybe a couple of years. Or one year. Or six months.
I am on my feet when she says, “False alarm!”
“False alarm for the false alarm!”
I stand, walk in, wipe, push her out from between my legs, and insist she wash her hands.
“But I sanitized!”
“Get them in there,” I say, nodding to the running tap in the sink. She does. Two hands under the water.
“Good,” I say. No soap. But somehow the gesture was made. Anyway I am relieved that she does not get litigious and logical, as she does sometimes, and point out that she never touched anything. She just sat there, then leaned way forward while I did the dirty work. She runs off. I return to the living room. It is quiet in here, just the sounds of her TV show — Netflix playing on the laptop (does that count as television?) — wafting in from the kitchen, unwelcome but not too bad. Upstairs the wife and baby in the silence of a nap. Sunday. Silence. Only the sound of my surreptitious munching on almonds. One and then another, punctuated now and then by the soft crunching sound of my biting one lengthwise, splitting it in two.
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