Things are going. They are nearly gone. That corner where we kept the shiny appliance boxes in case the machines broke or we needed to return them? Clean and papered over. The snap-in child seat strollers? Pushed to one side and wheeled, ended to end, beside the makeshift tool box, Christmas decorations, and emergency earthquake kit. A new steel shelf is up and ready to store still more dry goods, paper products, and pounds upon pounds of diapers and nut butters. Never mind we are a five-minute drive from several supermarkets and one conspicuous wholesaler, or that we have done this twice before. The garage is our off-site bunker. We’re ready to unleash the baby swing, neglect-o-pod, co-sleeper, and bouncer. In the meantime, several boxes of books can be bought for two or three dollars on Amazon. Find Cait's seller page. Look for the poetry books I bought in graduate school, and then schlepped to Romania, Indiana, and San Francisco, the baby books with purple and red page borders, the copy of Infinite Jest I bought to read before the last baby arrived, the companion guide to Infinite Jest I eventually read instead.
TimeOut Chicago ran last week a list of gone-but-not-forgotten theater companies in Chicago. I had to check that my beloved StageLeft was still there, in the building down the street from the old apartment. Katie and I saw The Good Person of Szechuan, there, and a couple of hometown musicals, but the one that knocked our socks off was Mrs. Mackenzie's Beginner's Guide to the Blues, about a high school teacher who has an affair with her ambitious, if cynical student, to whom she later outgrows her usefulness. This was April, 2002. The play was heartbreaking, especially the Clapton-esque fan favorite that the boy became, riffing onstage, at the very end: all skill and no heart. The Famous Door, however, is long gone. A few weeks after “Mackenzie’s….” Katie and I took in their all-day, one-hundred-roles adaptation of Cider House Rules. We had never seen anything like it. We became members there, too, though even the manager warned there probably wouldn't be a next season. The theather that housed company is now a gym. The neighborhood that houses the gym has turned over a few of its landmarks: the Turkish restaurant with the mat seats, the pet store, the used-record shop with the Specials poster in the window.
Last March, when the books came out, I paid the discount author's rate to buy two boxes filled to the brim with each: poetry in one box, memoir in the other. The boxes are gone now. The books are gone, too. I've sold them at readings and given them to friends. I donated one copy to the local library and sent another to a man in Kentucky, who wrote to say that he'd just gone through something similar. Last week, I bought a used copy of the memoir from Amazon.Com for fifteen cents. I was curious who was selling the book so soon after it came out. The copy was in pristine shape, unsigned; hardly opened. Whoever purged that copy did so quickly.
Cait and I’s lesson plans are set (more or less) two and three weeks out. We've fixed the closet door and kitchen drawer, the bath mats, grill grate, dishwasher valve, and socket. We have a new rice cooker, new car seat, new computer cables, new diaper rash ointment and dozens of AA and AAA batteries. The tubs of baby clothes, sorted by size, are stacked by the garage door. I brought in a couple of the baby toys that Walt spotted when we were putting away bikes the other afternoon. I plugged in the batteries and, as he flicked the different switches, various Sesame Street characters took turns popping through doors and singing their songs. I knew all the songs and could imitate the voices pretty well, which thrilled Walt. Sam was thrilled, too. Across the room, for a few beautiful minutes, he had the whole burgeoning LEGO empire to himself, though of course he eventually toddled over, climbed up onto the sofa, and worked poor Cookie Monster until the orange cookie finally refused to pop back up.
Walt was twenty-one months the day that Sam arrived. I remember a whole spring of sepia-toned afternoons, gardens in full bloom, and long walks around the block with my only boy. I remember reading a few of the sibling books and going for long runs through the neighborhood, listening to music on my phone, certain Cait would call any minute to say the labor had begun the new baby was on his way. Of course, she never did. Sam came into this world right on time, and a few days later, we were mapping out our afternoons and evenings, me with Walt and Cait with Sam, our routines suddenly simultaneous and escalating and two-fold, like birds arriving to the duck pond where Walt and I used to take crackers and stale bread to kill the morning, or Gremlins breeding in darkness. The reality of two kinds under two years of age set in. We were off to the races.
Now, of course, those exhausted mornings chasing one boy out the door while holding the other in my arms, warming up some milk, have matured into busy afternoons at the park, quick trips in the car, long plane flights when the boys travel well and we know enough to (usually) stay ahead of their distractions and (sometimes) make it into a game. Our Gremlins are furry and cute again. The afternoons are again sepia-toned. Sam and Walt can scoot their balance-bikes through the neighborhood and I’d like to think, because we’ve done this before, I’ll do a better job of enjoying the first few weeks of Three-Pete’s life. Probably, I should know better. All those easy routines and comforts of becoming a family that fall apart, Jenga-like, with missed sleep, spiked fevers, or cantankerous siblings, may compound exponentially; what more than a few friends have described as dropping out of man-to-man into a zone coverage. Then, we’ll emerge out of our fog. Walt is already four. Sam is two. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Our new plan is nearly complete. I’m glad we’ve made one, regardless of whether it will prove to be of any use. For now, at least, we have the clean floors, tidy shelves, and stockpiles of food to sustain these next few weeks of waiting.