So much of life I’m on autopilot, but this afternoon, for whatever reason, I wasn’t. I wish I knew why. All I can tell you it felt good to laugh: here are some snapshots.
Jacob returned home from actual-real-people-work just in time to join another zoom meeting. “Just let me know when I should come down and prep the salmon,” he tells me.
“You can just leave your meeting like that?” I ask.
“Oh yeah,” he says, “It’s just la tertulia.”
“La tertulia,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Don’t ask me what it means,” he shrugs his shoulders. Apparently the tertulia is a weekly thing? “One time I asked, and they just go “the tertulia, you know, it’s… its’s la tertulia!” He held both arms out in “why don’t you get this?” manner. “I asked Mario and he just said that…” and then again, in a slightly exasperated Larry-David-esque style, “Eeets-sa, Eeets-sa tertulia!” Duh. I laughed.
Later we looked it up: an informal gathering to talk about current affairs, the arts, etc. So now, when corona is over, we want to host a tertulia. We’ll have tapas… we will “tertulia.” (I’m so in love with this word I’m already at the stage where I can change its part of speech.)
Shortly after Jacob went up to his meeting, I bellowed “screens off” to the kids, which, per usual, was met with complaints and requests of “just 10 more minutes,” — So I caved, and caved again, but eventually successfully pried them away 15 minutes later than when I wanted. I thought to myself if that was worth the battle. I realized I do it selfishly, actually– pry them away. It’s because I don’t like the way I feel as time slips by, not doing, not making, not moving. Teaching Fahrenheit 451 once a year will do that to you; Ray Bradbury has gotten in my head. (I’ll attempt to weave back to this poetically in my conclusion: just wait.)
Ellie and I taught Mae how to play Phase 10— she relished the attention– she got to be on her OWN team! We transitioned to Uno and Jacob took a break from his tertulia to put potatoes in the microwave and the salmon in the oven. (By far, this is the meal that has the largest gap in “liz loves it” to “the kids despise it” ratio— but I keep requesting it and Jacob keeps making it and the kids keep complaining.)
Soph commanded the floor at first during dinner, telling us about a girl in her class “… who drinks coffee, and when she’s tired, it’s because she missed her morning coffee.” “Nah– I don’t buy it,” Jacob says, shaking his head, “I think she just likes to tell stories.” The rest of the kids and I disagreed with Jacob– some of us vehemently, “No way!” we said, “She’s telling the truth!” Soph told us about how she was working on her South Dakota presentation with this girl as her partner, and “… I was trying to keep us on task, but RIGHT when Mrs ______ came in, _______ asks me ‘So, what do you like better, dogs, or, YOU know….” We laughed and I decided I would want this girl to be my partner, she just sounded so INTERESTING. I’m thankful Soph remembers the experience like a story, because it’s a beautiful one she is living, for sure.
The kids volleyed facts back and forth about states and endangered species (the topics of Soph and Cohen’s reports respectively. (Did you know people wrestle in a pit of mash potatoes in South Dakota? That blue whales have hearts the size of Volkswagens?). And of course, since blue whales were mentioned, Jacob started talking about the amazing social intelligence of water mammals. So then I wondered aloud if social intelligence is purely beneficial, or whether it’s ever impractical, and might actually hinder survival. We decided we didn’t know. “But,” Jacob added, “Elephants and whales, arguably the species with more social intelligence than humans, are both matriarchal societies.” We pondered that factoid as I spread Dawn on the greasy ceramic plates I had burned bacon on in the microwave. Abstract and concrete, thoughts and objects, always side by side.
The conversation transitioned, and at one point Jacob told us about a new Australian baseball player the White Sox just acquired and attempted to mimic the player’s Australian accent from an interview he had seen. Apparently, the reporter had commented to the athlete that the White Sox were paying him a lot of money. Jacob prepped himself viscerally to undertake an authentic Australian accent. “Upon the end of the deal,” he mimicked quickly, like a veritable down-under auctioneer, “I hope to make it look like a Bah-gen [bargain].” So this is something weird about me– poor Australian accents are akin to men sticking their legs out at right angles and pointing their toes: both bust my gut every time. I just don’t know, I tell you. I just don’t know.
I unpacked the twins’ backpacks and marveled at their number and letter worksheets from their second week back at pre-school. This is something we wouldn’t have done with the other three- but there we were, looking at the lines they traced and eventually wrote on their own: we imagined the concentration, the tongue-slightly-out-of-ajar-mouth precision they likely had as their young fingers gripped orange and blue markers (their favorites) to craft zeros and the letter “A”. I couldn’t throw them away. I tucked it next to “fun facts about dolphins” guide Sophie made yesterday. Both are nightstand worthy.
After dinner, I cleaned up while Jacob meandered with the dog. As I wiped counters, he (attempted to?) sweep– and I made fun of (criticized?) his half-hearted, one-handed sweeping technique. “BOTH hands,” I told him, wrenching the broom from his arms, “See how much more force you can get?” And he looked at me and said “I don’t think you realize how much force I have with this one arm,” and he proceeded to grab the broom, looped his forearm around it in the most unnatural way possible, and spastically- albeit passionately– ran it back and forth under the table. “My god, this is where we are,” we both thought, but didn’t need to say. Instead, we laughed.
Most evenings are not like this. I’m not quite sure why tonight was. We played and we talked and we thought. I turned off auto-pilot for a bit and steered my own course, or at least noticed the ride, which might be just as important.
Addendum: I just tucked Everett into bed. He was nuzzled under the covers, but then propped himself up on his elbow to meet my gaze. His hair nearly reached his eyes, his brown eyes were softly smiling: “Mama, mama?” “Yes?” “Did you know, um, that a catuh-pilluh lays an egg, and it turns into a butterfly?”