"Every burden is a blessing." -- Walt Kelly
Last night, J and I went to our new neighbor's house for dinner. Honestly, we had been dreading it all week. While we've enjoyed talking to them the few times we have since they moved in a few months ago, their two kids are a whirlwind of spastic energy. Well, one is spastic, the other quite adorable.
They've come over a few times (unannounced) to play with our dogs. Which is great because our dogs love new people and every ounce of attention they can steal. But five minutes with these kids feels like five hours, and you're left wondering why the whole "kids should be seen and not heard" theory was laid to rest. Seriously.
If there was a contest for "How many questions can you ask in one minute?", Spastic would be world champion. And he's 7, so you can imagine the types of questions he asks as he's doing laps around our coffee table: Why do your dogs bark? Why is your cat black? Why won't he play with me? Why do you wear shoes inside? Why do I have feet?
We were due at the neighbor's promptly at 5 o'clock. At 4:59 I pulled a pouting J away from the Dallas Cowboys game ("Why would they have us over during a Cowboys game? It's un-American!") and we slowly walked the 15 steps from our front door to theirs. We took a deep breath, plastered on smiles and rang the door bell.
Silence. "Are you sure they wanted us to come over?" pouted J. I shot him the shut-the-hell-up-and-be-a-good-sport-cause-we're-in-this-together look. Then we heard squealing, a running of feet, and the wooden door flew open.
"YOU'RE HEEEEERRRREEEEEE!" shouted Spastic as he grabbed my hand and jerked me inside. "Why are you late? Where have you been? What have you been doing?" he asked, pulling me down the hallway. I looked back down the hall at J, who was still standing in the door way, just as he was attacked with hugs by Miss Adorable. Lucky him, I thought.
Mr & Mrs Spastic greeted us in the kitchen, where they were busy making salad and setting the table. We exchanged small talk as I helped chop carrots while trying to ignore Spastic's plea to use the big kitchen knife. He began to throw a fit, crying and grabbing for the knife so Mrs Spastic let him peel cucumbers. Then the salad was done, but the lasagna was still 30 minutes from being done. Damn.
"LET'S PLAY A GAME!" screamed Spastic. We followed the kids upstairs only to notice Mr and Mrs Spastic stayed downstairs to keep an eye on the food. Double damn. I felt a little betrayed as I thought maybe we were only here to keep their kids entertained.
We got a tour of each of their rooms -- Spastic's decorated in horses and seashells, Miss Adorable's in hot pink and flowers -- and then sat down to play Trouble. I couldn't remember the rules, but it didn't matter as Spastic changed them every two seconds. I usually enjoy playing with kids but my head was throbbing and my heart felt for J who was crouched on the floor amongst dollhouses and board games, trying to forget about his precious Cowboys.
Finally, the magic words "Dinner's ready!" floated up the stairs, and we all raced down, the kids arguing about who they would get to sit next to. Ten minutes and several tears later, everyone was in their seats.
"Who wants to say the blessing?" asked Mr Spastic. I quickly adverted eye contact like a child in school who doesn't want to be called on. Not that I have anything against a dinner prayer, it's just not something I grew up doing, not something I currently do, and not something I want to try for the first time in a strangers home not knowing what religion they are.
"I WANT THE GUESTS TO DO IT!" shouted Spastic. Luckily Mr Spastic sensed the delayed response and volunteered one of the kids. Ten minutes and several tears later, Miss Adorable said blessing to the prophets, and we all laughed when she forgot to bless the food.
Dinner turned out great. Mr and Mrs Spastic are actually pretty laid back. We talked about their old home back in California, how the kids were adjusting, our jobs, life in general. When not interrupted by Spastic, it was quite enjoyable. Miss Adorable -- who's 4 -- told us stories and was just precious. Not one to usually gush over kids, I wondered if she would fit in my purse so I could keep her for my own.
After dinner we got roped into watching cartoons with the kiddos. Ten minutes and several tears later, we were all piled on the couch upstairs watching cartoons. After a few corny episodes, Mr and Mrs Spastic told the kids to stay upstairs while we went downstairs to talk. Over pumpkin chocolate cookies, they began to tell us that Spastic actually had several mental development problems, severe ADHD and were worried that it was getting progressively worse.
My heart sank for them as Mrs Spastic told how Spastic awoke every night and was up for three or four hours at a time. How he can't be alone ever. How he has no sense of space. Worried that his self-centeredness and fits would eventually lead to him getting in trouble in school and keep him from making friends. They're trying to find a psychiatrist as they're at the end of their ropes and no longer know what to do. They were tired and frustrated.
I felt a little guilty for my feelings towards the kid, but I could only imagine being his parent and feeling some of the same emotions. It wasn't long before Spastic came downstairs and began to throw a fit. And. Would. Not. Stop. He was tired, he wanted us to come upstairs, he wanted a cookie, he wanted his mom to hold him, he wanted to go to bed, he wanted to stay with us because he was scared, he didn't want to stop crying.
Defeated, Mrs Spastic thanked us for coming and went upstairs to get them ready for bed. J and I stayed a little longer talking to Mr Spastic. It's hard enough to be a parent, but it's even harder to raise one child that doesn't understand time and rules and who is too paranoid and too immature to be remotely independent, and then one child who is completely adorable and well-mannered. Sometimes I think it's easy to take children and parenting for granted, to establish a delicate balance between the two worlds so one isn't left behind and one isn't propelled too far forward.
J and I left last night with a full belly, new friends and a better understanding of what it truly takes to be a parent -- lots of Advil, courage and unconditional love. Because sometimes, even blessings can be challenges.