August 20, 2004,
Let's pretend it's the day of our mission, and we're eating our breakfast," Paris says, biting into his breakfast. Six-year-old Tom nods gravely, and helps himself to more bacon.
Paris swallows a mouthful of waffle and checks his imaginary watch. "It's going to explode any minute," he says warily, looking at the sofa. We look, too. The sofa does not move.
It is a drizzly August morning in Maine, and with two extra children tucked into our small cottage, bringing the number of ankle-biters to six, it is what you might, wearing rose-colored glasses, call a cozy scene. Logs are crackling in the fireplace, children are perched on half-a-dozen surfaces, and the floor is strewn with the early-morning detritus of a major Lego game. As it happens, I am wearing rose-colored glasses. There is nothing so nice as being liberated from the to-do list of ordinary life, even if one is confined to quarters while it rains.
"I love designing this," Molly murmurs from beside the fire, where she and her cousin Elizabeth are gluing together thin bits of kindling to make a ballroom floor for their princess and cowboy figurines. "Violet,
"Two points," says my husband, clicking down a domino. "Your turn."
"I don't know," Violet says. "Mummy, when will it be the Union Fair?"
"Next week. Phew, one point."
"And then we took everlasting medicine," Paris is explaining to Tom in an undertone, as they take their plates to the kitchen.
Outside, Lake St. George is caped in thick mist. This month we've had nothing like the ferocious storms people have endured farther down the Atlantic coast, but each Charley and Bonnie and Danielle has nonetheless brought rain in its wake and the cottage has been socked in for days. The lawn is a mushroom factory.
When the sky does clear, and we all pile out, the mosquitoes immediately launch strafing runs down the picnic table. Yet miraculously not once has anyone
"I don't suppose anyone would like to help me find some shoes for this doll?" Molly asks.
"There are thousands," my husband murmurs dreamily, lost in calculations, "rocketing around in Mummy's car. One point."
" and if your head gets chopped off, it just pops back on again. Because it's everlasting. Stop it, Phoebs!"
"I'm going to the car," Molly announces, as the screen door slams behind her.
By the fire, Violet has knelt to offer Elizabeth a handful of plastic gems. "Don't waste your jewels on this castle," Elizabeth says kindly. "See if you can find anyone else to come to the ball." Violet furrows her brow, nods, and trots into the children's bedroom.
Phoebe marches over and tugs on my pajama sleeve. "Mummy, Paris is not sharing his Lego with me."
"Hang on, sweetheart " The score is a perilously close 48 to 47, with my husband in the lead. Reluctantly, I put down a tile that will do me no good at all, and say automatically, "Paris, please share with "
"It's not that," he protests. "We're playing a secret-agent game and she's always taking what we're just about to be using."
Phoebe tucks in beside me, her soft fingers stroking my skin. "I love your arms," she says. Once she told a grandmother, "I love your face," with similar tender caresses and that person promptly melted on the floor, like the tiger running around the tree in the old story.
"Now we're acting like old people on the bus," Paris says confidentially to Tom. "And we were just kids, but we were old enough to go on the bus, and we made everything look like Lego but actually it was real."
"Then we went into a flower shop and turned invisible and then we came out," Tom says urgently, as the two boys run out onto the screen porch.
It's my turn again, meanwhile, and I think I can just about pull off a
"Three points! I'm out, you're toast," I cry, in an excess of bad sportsmanship, jumping up to do a victory dance. "I did it, I did it, oh yeah, yeah, yeah."
"Your mother," my husband remarks dryly to our grinning children, "is so startled to have won "
The boys are back. "We ran out of gas, but I brought a rocket skateboard and you brought rocket shoes and we're almost in the Himalayas," Paris tells his cousin.
"I read you," Tom replies, then shakes his kindling worriedly. "Wait, I don't "
"Put your screen back in your pocket so we can use our arms to climb," Paris says. Together they scale the back of the sofa, straining and gasping for oxygen. "We are at the top of Mt. Everest now, and we're in space!" Paris yells.
The screen door slams and Molly returns. "Look, I found every bit of her clothing. What do you say?"
"Wow," says Violet.
"Great," says Elizabeth.
"That's not what I mean." There is a pause, broken only by the quiet snapping of the fire. "Thank you," Molly prompts.
I laugh a little scornfully. "But you did it for yourself!"
"Yes," she replies, "but now Violet knows where all her doll's clothes are."
At that moment, panic suddenly strikes the top of Mt. Everest, and the boys begin roaring and spitting into their transmitters or cell-phones or whatever they are. Paris only has time to gasp, "And then we started falling!" before the two of them cry, "Aaaagh!" and fall, like mountaineers dying in slow motion, off the sofa.
"By the way," says my husband, coming out of the kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee, "it's supposed to rain again tomorrow."
Meghan Cox Gurdon, an NRO columnist, lives in Washington, D.C.