I raise my face in a vague Renaissance smile as she takes an egg in her hand. It could go to any number of places, almost no good. If I’m lucky, I’ll just scoop up some shell fragments from a preparation dish with tweezers. Does she know I’m starting to panic, which I disapprove of? Can she see that every spilled bowl of measured broth is like a bomb exploding for me? Does she feel my heart rate skyrocket as the rice slips across the floor as if artillery shells are raining down on this rail-lit kitchen-galley?
In the end, I let her do it. There are shards of carrots welded on the stove and oatmeal crammed into the gaps between the planks, never to come loose. Here and there I emphasize a thing or two that I just have to do on my own, but with every meal there is also a lot of devastation, which I see as the price of his continued interest in learning.
When she thinks back to this strange interlude in our history, with the four of us locked together in our small apartment for weeks, I want her to remember it fondly – or at least to see, with age, that I tried to make him happy, despite everything, even myself. Midlife parenting is ordinary parenting at maximum intensity, with stress quadrupled; but it doesn’t have to be perfect, I think, only loving, only kind.
Earlier this week, we hovered together over a rolled up sheet of cookie dough, cookie cutters in hand. I was almost sweaty just thinking about it. “We want to get the shapes as close as possible,” I recommended, seeing in my mind a perfect extent of tessellation, far from an overlap or a gap. “OKAY!” she sang and marked a shape directly in the center of the dough, then another, halfway over the first. “Like that?” Usually we don’t want them to cross, I explained, but its shapes still looked pretty.