Monday, August 24, 2015

We moved to the desert

We had done it several times before.  Our lives crammed into little and big cardboard boxes, or stuffed into duffel bags or suitcases over months prior to the move, all of it packed into tight little rows and crammed into the back of the U-Haul truck.  This was not our first rodeo, watching for hours as the varied landscapes rolled by, smelling the fumes of many gas stations, feeling the disorienting blur of noise and new climate as you step out of the car for the first time in hours; these were not novel to us.  We have always been a family characterized by our nomadic tendencies, dreams too big to stay in one spot for long.  Until now.

This time was different.  This time we hit the long road imbued with deeper intention: As those lands rolled by, scorched our eyes with the sun on vast flat plains, sore bodies from sitting upright, or slumped over pillows and stuffed toys, with legs propped up on bags of chips or stacks of books, rummaging through scraps of paper and crushed cereal for a pen to play another round of travel bingo; this time the feeling was different.  We were no longer winged creatures, flitting to another flower in our travels; our path was no longer so organic.  This time the goal was to take root; flight was merely the doorway in this journey.

I drove the Uhaul truck for most of the journey.  Isaiah, now 7, sat in the passenger seat, by turns absorbed in his new tablet or peering out the window at exit signs, wildlife or cloud activity.  He was remarkably quiet as we drove further and further away from the only home he had ever known and I wondered what was taking place behind his wall of silence.  It was clear that this was particularly difficult for him as his school, friends and memories were left in an increasingly distant yesterday while little more than mystery lay ahead.  While his mother and I could grasp the excitement of a new future and his sisters knew only the joy of each day, a small blue flame flickered visibly in his eyes even as he tried to smile with the rest of us.  In these moments I was able to appreciate the profound depth that had revealed itself in this young boy while I had been away at grad school.  Even more wrenching than seeing sadness in your child is seeing your child trying to withhold sadness for the sake of others.

As we drew closer to our destination and the foothills became the mountains, I felt my lips go dry and crackly in the desert air.  I cleared my parched throat and felt the rhythm of the arid sun as it beat down on my forearms.  The corpses of armadillos dotted the Texan roadside, and I tried to point them out to Isaiah as they flashed by the windows.  Now and again we would pull over to another truck stop, and our limbs would feel heavier, and I would tell my wife I thought it was the elevation, and she would ask me where one of our children was, and i would run around a corner to find her pulling an enormous stuffed horse from a shelf in the truck-stop toy aisle, and falling on it in a tiny explosion of laughter.  Annoyance and delight would bicker momentarily in my heart, before both gave up.  I might catch myself staring into the slushie machine or struggling to tune-out the muzac when suddenly we would be back on the road again, the rush of cool air and headlight pouring through the windshield at night, the only random radio station in an endless stretch of American highway piping out horrific bubblegum pop, the only thing better than silence after 10 hours in a truck cab, when the back of your throat feels like jerky, your eyes bleed red and your palms have sweat to the point of slipping from the wheel.

And finally, miraculously, we cross into New Mexico, and 50 percent of the radio stations are in Spanish.  One painstakingly discusses the health benefits of beneficial gut bacteria and I listen in rapt attention.  "Do you seriously think this is interesting?" Isaiah asks.  Suddenly things take on a special glow, the mountains suddenly begin to tower.  These are real mountains, I tell Isaiah.  We pull off at an exit and park the truck at a 90 degree angle.  We pull random bits of trash from the floor and ask ourselves whether we can make it the rest of the way without a major stop.  Its afternoon and the kids have only eaten a hotel breakfast that day.  We resolve to buy gas station jelly and subsist on PBJs and roadtrip snacks until we make our destination.  These are the final hours, we agree, and the time for weakness has passed.

We bake ourselves in the solar ovens of our vehicles one last time as the mountains suddenly rise in every direction, and the lush desert vegetation emerges in a stunning spectrum of purples, yellows, rusty green and sandstone.  We fly through an old ghost town and marvel at the emptiness of abandoned and crumbling wooden structures, a dilapidated church made of stone speaks of services past, faithful gathered in blistering desert heat, with green chile picnics to follow.  A tumbleweed blows over the road, a cowskull decorates the gate of a ranch, and things become very southwestern.  Isaiah begins meticulously counting the minutes until we arrive.  On the phone with my wife I can hear my daughters howling.  We are beginning to fray as we hit the final highway, which is long and not-to-hurried, much like the temperament of New Mexico.

Suddenly the distant mountains grow very close, and we are cutting through them gaping at their multicolored striations as the car zips around narrow turns on steep passes, and we emerge to see a sprawling, vibrant community of homes laid out across a valley surrounded by mountain ranges on four sides.  This is Eldorado; city of gold, this is our new home! we tell our kids giddily.  We roll softly over the last part of that last highway, take a few turns and suddenly we are standing at the doorstop of our long imagined home in the sun.  It is not small, but not large, it is in the goldilocks zone of homes.  The children shriek and pour out of the cars, and they approach the adobe structure like timid coyotes.  Light pours in through all the windows.  The light of the desert is clear and blue and generous.  The children smile and open doors and windows in every space.  We fall on the bare floors and the comfort is indescribable.  We are home.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Its dinner, and tonight we're having vegetable stew.  I watch as the girls methodically sift the edible components of the stew from the undesirables.  Their results are remarkably similar; under-cooked carrots and over-sized potatoes hunks lump to one side, everything else in the mouth.  I watch in awe as mounds of cabbage, sausage morsels, peas and corn stream ceaselessly into their little faces by way of little hands, marvel at how food ends up in such obscure places; yogurt behind the ears?  Raisins on the scalp?  Curious little creatures!  I learned long ago to stop meddling in their meals.

To wit- watch as a younger me tries to intervene in the mashing of oatmeal into faces.  Watch as we struggle over the bowl, as the baby overcomes me, the bowl is whipped asunder. Oatmeal oozes down the wall.  The dog, fond of anything humans eat,  watches expectantly for it to reach the floor.  Lesson learned.

We can sit for minutes or hours in those little plastic chairs, eating or mashing or throwing food as the moment dictates.  We can laugh, shriek and slam our hands down in this wonderful mess for just about ever because when you're under two and its mealtime, all bets are off.
There's a curious kind of paradox that runs through the experience of parenting, a tenuous edge on one side of which you run the house like a cold dictator and on the other, an uncaring slob.  While your job in the family picture is to provide structure and guidance, you are up against not a small child but rather what the child introduces into your life; namely the chaotic tendency of the universe.  You see in children we are reminded, most invaluably, of the limitations of control.   I think almost all adults, however slightly, develop a low-grade megalomania about power and their ability to decide outcomes.  Surely you've heard, 'we make plans, God laughs'?  Replace the word 'God' with 'your kid' and it works all the same.  Indeed, perhaps it was somewhere in the plans that children should come along just as the claws of adulthood have gripped us, to break up the rigidness it took to become upstanding, responsible members of society!

Sometimes my daughters won't take their food from my hands.  They only want it from Mom's.  Sometimes even Mom won't do; only their brother can feed them.  Is this about food?  Sometimes they will thrash and struggle away until i bring that first bite to their lips, after which we are best friends and i can't shovel it in fast enough.  Some days they eat raw vegetables, other days they gasp in disgust as i gingerly offer them.  Today's truth is tomorrow's joke.  There are no set rules in their tiny experiments with power and control, only the wonderful experience of doing it for the first time and watching what happens.  Meanwhile we adults, not yet finished with our own experiments, are left in that strange adult world of reasons and consequences to watch with a mixture of awe and perplexity, they who know only the curious wonder and newness of it all; see only the vastness and mystery in the world where we find struggle and strife.  While we seek wealth, power and influence, the highlights of their days are splashing in water, going outdoors or hiding in the cabinets.  I don't think it would be to much to say that as adults somewhere we bear a deep-seated envy for our children, for the heavenly world they live in, even if we've forgotten that we lost it, or were forced to lose it, forced to grow up possibly before we were ready to let go of the richness of childhood.  Somewhere in all of our toil, in all of our vacations, new purchases and weekend parties we are looking backward toward that initial sweetness.  In our hearts we feel indebted that simple feeling of freedom and happiness that was once our natural state.

 With effort and sincerity, however, I do believe we can seize part of it back.  At least it feels that way when I too have applesauce on my eyebrows, jigging in the living room even though it should be bedtime.

Monday, February 11, 2013

To Those Without Children:

To those without children, things can be very hard to explain.

Why does it take me so long to answer the phone sometimes?  Because I have to go brush the cracker crumbs or rice off of my fingers.  If i don't the crumbs fall down and get lodged between the phone buttons, or the rice gums them up.  I have these things on my fingers because I've been sitting around, feeding babies manually.  Why?  Because they routinely slap the spoon right out of my hand, sending gobs of oatmeal or soup or whatever onto the wall, the dog, my HP printer, anything.

But I don't say all that to whoever is calling.  Sorry, I say, kid stuff.  You know.

And they say, oh yeah sure, but unless they have kids they definitely don't.  No no nope.  How could they?  Even pet owners of the world scarcely know the truth; that parents of human beings sign an unwritten contract that stipulates total self-denial and diminished expectation of rewards.  Children, by their very design, are consumers of adult energy.   Anyone who has ever tried can agree that in raising them with anything like intention we find that they fully and efficiently require every ounce of energy we can scrape from the ragged depths of our souls.  In giving them life, we are most exquisitely spent, drawn ever forward by a sweetness deeper than our childless life could have revealed.

My friends are artists.  They spend their time, countless hours, putting together works of inexplicable beauty.  Would I like to go over to their house, bring a bottle of wine, spend hours looking over their works and discussing, capriciously, the subtle and profound power of art?  Good god yes!  But  the truth is that actually I'm going to be home dancing to preschool music in my living room, stamping little bits of cereal into the carpet, making yet another pot of macaroni or rice or comforting a very, very little girl who sniffles on my chest, because also in the unwritten contract is that a piece of you, a purer piece of your own heart that perhaps you've let grow guarded and inaccessible lives in the eyes of your child and it is more precious than any belonging you'll ever have.  It is in this wonderful light of my son's eyes when I tell him stories or show him how to cook noodles that I forget how much of this great big world I am so unable to see right now, and how much it seems to matter.  In those moments, holding their sweetness close to me, I am fully satisfied just to be the father. What could be more valuable in this torn world than innocence?

I try to remember these things when self-denial is at the forefront of my mind, scraping crusty cheese off of little plastic baby dishes, why do they make those things with the damned little contours that are so hard to clean out!  And the sink sprays water like a power-washer because of some odd glitch in the purifier we have affixed to it, so I am literally dripping water on the floor long before I'm finished.  plink, plink, plink.  The phone rings.  I wipe my hands off on my soggy pants and turn to pick it up.  Behind me Khaliya has climbed up the step stool and is reaching for the long knife on the counter; it glistens almost as if to taunt me.  I can see the number on the phone and I think its one of my potential employers calling to set up and interview.  Small fingers reaching for a large blade!  Water dripping from my pants!  I am a modern warrior!  I can endure anything!  In my head, I look up at thunderous skies and laugh maniacally, bellowing hot breath.  In reality I grab the phone, tenuously say hello and attempt to talk while with another hand wrangling the dagger from my daughters grip.  The guy, who is calling to set up an interview notices the commotion and says, uh, is this maybe a bad time?  To which I reply oh no no no, not at all.  Its just the kids, you know.

To which he replies, oh yeah.  Sure.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I remember when I was twelve, just about to turn thirteen.  It was a time of tremendous energy and growth; I thought I knew everything.  I was still young, fresh, a spring chicken ready to run; I could see how my parents and teachers had somehow forgotten youth, had long lost touch with how thrilling it is to be a child, how they came up with all these arbitrary rules, got rigid, lost the laughter in their eyes.  Meanwhile I was bigger than a little kid, much bigger.  My leg muscles were pronounced, my voice deep and boxy.  I had only recently left those days of relative innocence though not yet caught up by the frantic hormonal rush of my teens, I was sitting on a precious and fleeting precipice - perhaps the wisest moments of my life.  The tender glow of childhood had not yet been obscured in my heart, yet my mind was sharp and aware of the world.  Did I know everything?  Was that why i was such a wiseass?  Could it be?

It grew into a goal of mine, to preserve some of that innocence in myself, not to become too ensnared by the trappings of growing up, but one can only do so much.  Already I have trouble remembering; I need cleanliness, order, routine.  I need to go to bed early and I like neighbors to be respectful.  I get angry about little, useless things.  No!!!  Its a rule of time that I should grow old, strangely rigid and attached to convention while my children should come in, look at me like a fool and try to destroy it all. Examples abound.

"Isaiah - don't put your feet on the table."
He slides his feet over so that he can see us.
He has perfected this look of total bewilderment.
"We don't put our feet up on the table."
"My feet?"
"Yes, Isaiah, your feet."
"On the top of the table?"
"They're not!"
We have a moment where we look at each other, both knowing that he is about to pull a full-blown-attempted-ambush that will seem vaguely plausible.  He always does this, excuses his impish behaviors with somewhat logical explanations.
"How are they not on the table?" I ask.
"They're just-its just my ankles, that are on the table.  My feet are actually just in the air.  That's why they're not touching the table."
He has now convinced himself of his own argument.
"Put em' down."

I have these moments of terror where I can see it already starting, the wiser-than-thou approach.  He sees through our little games, alright.    It's like, you're the one who colored all over you legs, arms, face, chest, belly, parts of your back and privates with magic marker and I'm the one who gets a look of pity?  Yes, because in his world the rules are governed by the magic of the moment, by bringing fun and happiness into the world in the best way he knows how.  When he bends the car antennae back or puts tape on his sisters there is no before and after in his plan, there is only a momentous, happy experience that draws him in and engages his curiosities.  The floor does not have to be clean of toys and food bits, nor the dishes scraped of their crust for him to be happy.  For him there is only the joy of alternately pleasing and challenging everyone around him.  For us, there is the cleanup afterward.  The real challenge, however, is not to lose touch with sharing a little bit of that precious joy with him.  To keep order and safety for all involved entities, but to remember that we are moving in a world of children here; delicate and expansive, we must treat it with due reverence, even if its methods are chaos.

I look over, and Isaiah is putting green beans on Khaliya's head.

Again with that look of total astonishment.
"Dad..." he begins in what I know will be another strategic assault of charm and semi-logic.  I cut him off at the pass.
"No.  Don't say another word."
He finishes with, "she likes it."  Another secret weapon that sometimes garners his mother's support.
He stammers. I unsheathe icicles from my eyeballs.  He relents.
"Take the beans off her head.  Now."
And for a moment I can tell that through that cute little head of his there is flying the notion to again try to argue his case, that of course whatever reason i have for not wanting him to stack cooked vegetables in his sister's hair is nowhere nearly as persuasive as his reason for doing it.  Again, we stage a cold war with our eyes over dinner.  And suddenly, against my every expectation, Isaiah decides to demure in the way that sons do to their fathers in times of serious disagreement.

Wow.  Raising kids is crazy!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Climbing the Hill

I'm just going to skip a lot of cliche things I'm inclined to write about autumn and just say that i absolutely love it.  I want to smooch it on its old, withering, brown and orange face, to dive into a pile of leaves and pumpkins and campfires, roll around in it, take the warmth and richness into my heart; Halloweens, football season, gatherings of family-and let it simmer there forever.  Have i escaped saying something cliche?  Have I?  It matters not, the Fall and its charms are an endless source of joy to me, and i shiver with delight when i feel the leaves crackle under my boots as we walk through the forest on a perfectly cool afternoon.

Is it October already?  Seriously?! But I can see it; the northwest has a particular way of winding down before the cold rains come to blot out sweet sunlight for months at a time, bringing out the Kurt Cobain in everyone.  The crispy, yellowing leaves complement the downy-soft mosses and ferns that carpet the forests and cover the trees.  Its like walking on your grandfather's old flannel jacket for miles as we wind up and around the hills, babies strapped to our chests with cloth harnesses, toward the summit of the butte to watch the setting sun.  The babies are cooing, elated to be out under the open sky.  We pass by young college couples and active seniors who admire our children and share stories with us about their grandchildren.  Isaiah is by turns our leader and our detractor, in one moment deciding that he is Wolverine, strafing ahead of us with determination and occasional karate-like chops and kicks, occasionally to our rumps.  Minutes later he trudges behind, complaining of legs pains, fatigue, hunger, like a little old man boy.  We make frequent stops to drink water, feed the kids raisins, let Isaiah go pee, etc.

Its a long walk up the hill and having twenty-five pounds of baby strapped to your chest doesn't make it any easier, but as tends to happen with reasonably long hikes we eventually settle into a happy rhythm with each other and the hill.  The babies grow quiet, eyes wide and sparkly as they take in the birds, squirrels and sprawling tree canopy.  A sense of purpose and adventure overtakes Isaiah as he goes barreling forward with dog as his guide.  We start to get glimpses of broader vistas through the trees-we can see all of Eugene and Springfield from here! By George, I didn't know there was a lake over there!  We climb higher, the terrain growing more precarious.  Soon we, babies attached, are crawling like golems over the stones of the hill as we paw for higher ground.  Stones roll out from underfoot as we chase the beams of a sun we cannot yet see, for it is sinking.  Ascending the summit we collectively feel that distinct summit feeling; a sense of clarity and accomplishment.  Even as a crowd is gathered up there; a couple of high school guys in tank tops, one girl hula-hooping atop a small peak, an assortment of late 30s, middle-agers, silverhairs; it still feels empty, incredibly quiet and subtle.  Everyone is talking, but the voices are slight and there is no echo, just the smallness of words in the endlessness of the sky-what could we be saying?  Ants on a sandhill.

Back in the car on the way home it is very noisy.  Satya is doing this thing where she sort of just intones this loud, monotone sound over and over.  Its not crying, or discomfort exactly, its sounds more like some kind of deep-stress-release therapy that she's developed and practices herself.
"aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.   aaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaah."
Isaiah joins in.
"Could you please..."
He holds his hands aloft and shrugs his shoulders, giving that what on earth might you be talking about? face.
"Oh look Isaiah, a family of deer!"  Three-to-four of them in assorted sizes plod out onto the sidewalk, ears pricked.
"Look look quick out your window!"
They turn, skitter and go bounding like ballerinas back into the forested neighborhood from whence they came.  Even the girls are straining to see.

We live in a curious part of Oregon, (Eugene,) located in the Willamette Valley amidst miles of rolling, luscious green hills, lakes and rivers.  Drive in any direction (excluding the city of Springfield) and you will find bounteous nature; mountains, streams, salmon, the great Pacific Ocean.  Drive downtown, however, and quite another story emerges.  Conan O'Brien once said, "If you want to know the long-term effects of marijuana use, visit Eugene, Oregon."  Indeed, a town infamous for once being home to Ken Kesey, godfather of the LSD-fueled hippie-clowns, the Merry Pranksters, as well as the anarchist capital of the U.S., Eugene somnambulates through its days.  The townspeople are incredibly friendly, to the point where the average, suspicion-filled American mind starts to wonder where all of these peoples' issues have gone.  How are they able to be so completely upbeat and sociable all the time?  And I'm not just talking about the unkempt, hemp-wearing hippie-youth.  Indeed, every cashier I have ever had, every gas station attendant, I would easily say that even every stranger I've ever spoken with talks to me like I'm some regular, like they want to hear what I have to say and they even have time for it.  Amazing!  Where do you hide your grumps, Eugene?  I fear that soon the grump police will come for me too.

Aside from overall friendliness one cannot underestimate the toll that the legacy of impulsive, spontaneous behavior supported by copious drug abuse has taken on the cities of Eugene and Springfield over the years.  As of five years ago Springfield was a seething hornets nest of crystal meth use and production, whose influence naturally affected much of Eugene as well.  While efforts on the parts of both cities to clean up their acts have made strides toward betterment, the sickly pallor of those ruined lives is still tangible as you drive through the cities.  The people who looked hollowed out, dried in the sun like gourds, their jaws set in constant motion by the buzzing, static fray of their ruined nerves; they are asking me for change, a cigarette, offering to buy my pants off of me; they are ghosts, living dead, zombies in our midst and there is a horrific tragedy to it.  Addicts, like prostitutes, rape, and other desperate subjects are too much  for us to collectively reckon with so we make a joke of them like the awkward laugh of a child who doesn't know what to do with an uncomfortable, shared sense of pain.  I laugh too sometimes, at the crackhead joke.  It's not good of me.  I shouldn't.

And so rather than reckon with the ups and downs of hanging out in town we opt instead for the ups and downs of the Oregon countryside, where the air is clear.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pieces of the Whole

Its hard to describe your position in life to anyone outside of your small sphere of peer-validated existence.  As a child I would wonder about adults; watch them in their strange ways laughing at things that had no inherent humor or creating great distress out of simple issues.  Strange creatures - overburdened with their rules, dogmas, lists, running around talking about stress, work, responsibility...what is this stress?  Why do you talk about it so much?  What about responsibility, why does it have to be like this?  Surely we can just live!  We can thrive and be playful and remember that life is about every day, not to get sucked forward by the vacuum of hopes or backward by the towline of regrets.  And there you are, so small and with so few words, heart as open as the sky while all of the strangeness of the adult world just pours into you.  It washes into you, sloshes around strangely, settles, ferments, comes back years later in the most unexpected of ways.

And there I am like Vonnegut's  Tralfamadorian human, strapped to a cart on a track that moves only forward, eyes fixed ahead.  And again, grown up and looking down and my son who is looking back at me with that unease that accompanies trying to process sillly grown-up behaviors.  What was I going on at him about?  He is holding a half-eaten popsicle, his light-brown khaki shorts stained in three places with cherry-red juice.  I had raised my voice to make a point, a point about not spilling popsicle juice on his pants, a point i had certainly made no less than twice prior since the beginning of this popsicle.  Then somewhere inside the static of my head i hear the voice reminding me that I have become that large and confounding grown-up, for whom the sanctity of ones clean pants has taken such precedent that he will get flustered, will lecture his four year-old, will assume a pedantic posture, his four-year-old meanwhile staring up at him with such innocence, such lustre in his eyes - he is loving that popsicle!  And here we are at our stations in life, I twenty-seven inches from him, yet worlds away.

"Daddy?"  he makes a psychic strafe away from all the smoke and bluster of my lecturing.
"Yes, Isaiah?"
"Um, in Beauty and the Beast, Belle's dad-"
"Wait just a second, did you hear what I was saying?"
"Isaiah - did you hear what I was saying to you?"

By now he's done it.  By his mentalist-ninja trickery he has lead me into a forest of confusion in which he is quite comfortable but I merely run like a blind fool.

"About your popsicle.  Are you going to be careful like we talked about?"
"Wait, when we talked when?"
"Isaiah don't do this."

He holds his hands, palms up, high out and forward into the air while shrugging his shoulders and giving me that look that says, "Look, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about here guy!"

I grab the popsicle and start gnawing on the edge in the rapid-fire way of people with sensitive teeth.

"Hey!"  He lunges for it, I swing around.  He grabs onto my arms and, while pulling at one of my hands, reaches with the other for last nub of his popsicle.  "Are you going to be careful?" I intone.
"Dada!  Yes!"

Ah.  Finally.

We find ways to connect.  We take family walks and the sky is beginning to slide into its grey tones.  The fall is seeping in, leaves are crisping.  Then we walk by the old woman, she must be in her seventies or later.  She has her huge purple winter coat on, sitting at the bus stop eating something out of that white wrapping paper, all by herself.  What could I say to her?  What could we talk about? No one deserves this fate, this woman - perhaps this grandmother, taking her meal alone at the bus stop.  I want her to go back to her family, to be surrounded by friends, grandchildren, a fireplace, people who love her and still hug her frail old body.  Its a childish hope, but I am learning that it is a path to a home i am on my way back to.

When I write this blog I try to think of tiny pieces of the whole that will inform something greater for you, dear reader.  But inevitably I arrive at this feeling of how could I possibly tell you?  How could I explain fatherhood, love, weakness, despair, bliss,(the unspeakable bliss!), loneliness, the wanting to give up but going deeper and finding uncharted beauty in the staying with it!  The dreams of youth lost outshone by the glory of life gained, the simple wonder of loving another and being loved by them, and allowing yourself to be filled with love so that when it is pancake breakfast sunday and everyone is throwing mushy little bits of cake at each other, and in the morning light streaming in through the windows you can see that dog hair is sticking to the kids' faces from the syrup, and they are shrieking in amazement, you remember to do it.  do it.  just do it.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

what time is it?

What time is it?  Its night.  There is no light in the windows.  I am still somewhere down deep in the cave of sleep, but its irritating.  Something is annoying me.  Its grating-crying.  Shrillness.  Baby cry.  Its Khaliya crying, a slow drone at steady intervals, over and over and over.  I keep my eyes closed and wishfully hope against probability that she will roll over and go back to sleep.  The drone grows into a forceful growl in blasts that become more erratic.  No.  She's going to wake Satya up if I don't do something.  Where's Gaibi?  She's not here, she must have gone into Isaiah's room.  He must have had a bad dream, something about monsters or the bad guys from Kung Fu Panda or a Disney movie, his terrified cry piercing the dark, "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaa-maaaaaaaaaa!!!!!"  Get up, you have to get up and do something.  So much better to satiate one baby than try to wrangle two at once.  I sit up in bed and can just make out the outline of Khaliya, now standing up at the side of the bed, her little muppet face now blowing anguish at close range.  I run my fingers over her tiny, warm, melon-shaped head.  I can feel it vibrating with her cries. Shhhhh, quiet baby.  Shush now.  She lays her head down on the side of the bed and slows to a slightly softer wail.  Just as I decide to get up and warm a bottle, Gaibi bursts through the door.  There is exasperation on her face.
"Kaimani pooped all over Isaiah's room."
"It smells terrible."
"On the floor or-"
"On the rugs."
"I know."
She is holding a bottle of bleach spray.  What time is it?  There is still not a trace of light in the windows.  I shut the bedroom door, leaving Khaliya with Gaibi and walk past the bedroom where she has picked up much of the poo but the smell is still overpowering.  Downstairs I pour two bottles of formula and put them in a pan on the stove to heat them up.  I lean on the counter with my hand and let my mind sink into the sounds of the night; the loud hum of the fridge, the insects outside.  Check the formula with my finger-still cold.  I fill a glass with water from the sink and drink the whole thing.  Check the formula, oh no its almost too hot!  I quickly pour it out from the pan into two bottles, spilling what looks like half but fills both bottles most of the way.  When I come upstairs, blowing into the bottles to cool them to optimum temperature, Gaibi is sitting on the floor nursing two babies simultaneously.  As is the norm for this time of the morning, I ask obvious questions.
"Did Satya wake up, too?"
"I knew that would happen so I made two bottles."
I hand Gaibi one bottle and get down on all fours, arranging Satya so that I can plug the end of the bottle into her mouth while resting somewhat on my side.  After jolting back to consciousness for the third time, Gaibi graciously asks why don't I just go to bed and she can do both bottles.
"Are you sure?"
She says its fine, honey, go to bed.  I do.  What the hell time is it?  I lay my head on the cold pillow, on the bed which is also cold because we've both been out of it for so long, and drift downward into a sleep which I never fully left.

But there it is again, the screaming!  This time its Satya, a back-arching, larynx-shredding, baby-lion roar, then followed by the mother lion growl as Gaibi throws back the bed sheets in a dramatic flourish.  In my half-dream state I imagine it like one of those Caravaggio paintings, a scorned queen throwing over a table or tearing down the curtains.  I sit up with eyes half-closed, watching as Gaibi, blustering, positions herself between the two girls on the floor mattresses.  I ask if she needs anything.  What could she possibly need?  There are two babies, she is equipped to feed both of them at the same time if need be, what could I get for her at this hour when there is but a bit of light in the darkened windows? No, she says sweetly, and i lay back down and sleep.

"Ga ga ga ga ga ga ga ga!!!"
What's that knocking sound?  Oh its morning now, the sun is just coming into our bedroom window.
"Ga ga ga ga ga ga ga ga!!!"
Oh, its Khaliya, and she's slamming something on the ground.  What is it?  It doesn't sound like a wood block, it sounds like plastic.  I push back the sheets and look over the edge of the bed.  She is planted with feet in front of her, smashing my phone into the wood floor repeatedly while loudly chanting, "Ga ga ga ga ga ga ga ga!!!"
Khaliya Khaliya don't do that.  No baby, don't do that, here, give me, give me that.  Yes, no.  yes, its mine!  No, its mine!  I know you really really want it but-I know you want it!  Here, here have this bottle of baby cream.  Yeah, there you go.  That's cool, huh? Ok.  Crisis averted, for now.

I look back five minutes later to discover that she has somehow opened the cream, has covered her legs in it, and is eating it.  The sun is up.