Skype cousins in the flesh

by Alissa

I stand corrected. Last week, after feeling for a brief moment like I had it all together and would sail on through the summer to Oz, I took care of Octavia together with her two young cousins. For most of three days and nights, it was me against/with/for/over/under/between three little people under age five. Ace was skeptical of the plan for the outset, but I volunteered for this. I did. When would I next have the chance to help my sister like this? When, other than now, could I get to know my niece and nephew in person? For the kiddos to form their first close memories of each other? I had to.

T and J and O are all quite familiar with each other, in theory. We hang out regularly with video chat windows open to our long-distance living rooms. Sometimes we read stories together or sing a song, or play peek-a-boo. Often, my sister and I gaze into the windows of our work, just keeping each other quiet company through nap time. In the olden days, when we were pregnant with our now two-year-olds, we even worked out together. When the kids needed refereeing or the dishes needed doing, we would say goodbye and just hang up. Easy peasy. Spending time together online has given us back much of our old familiarity, even though we haven’t lived in the same house now for 11 years.

When the cousins come out of the screen and into your kitchen/suitcase/toys/high chair/bed/favourite swing, the easy hours of Skype chat become a different story. A fully embodied story. A tale from the jungle, or maybe the toddler version of Lord of the Flies.

After Ace left for Oz, my sister left for three days to take photos at a wedding in Colorado. Her husband cut hay, moved pipe and did cowboy-type things for animals from dawn until after midnight most nights–one night coming back completely drenched after slipping into a drainage ditch in the dark. He was very helpful in small spurts–including heroically scoring the last kiddie pool in town by hoisting himself onto the top shelf at the fifth box store he had tried–but I was substantially alone. With three small children who suddenly had to work out how to deal with being cousins in the flesh.

What I jotted down at the end of the second day:

Stepping into my sister’s shoes is a stunner. Granted, she’s ‘only’ taking care of T and J here, without the breast-clinging only-child angst of Octavia in the mix, but WOW. I was ready to send us all back to bed yesterday by 10 AM–we had breakfasted, snacked, and been outside twice, and the kids were all in each other’s faces/hair/blankets. 10 AM used to be the time of day I used to just be finishing breakfast, reading a story on the couch to my mostly-cheerful cooperative little girl who is now yelling and hitting and sobbing in cycles all day long with J. Everyone has been in timeout multiple times for physical aggression, so many times I have forgotten all of their infractions. I am ready to snap. My impulses to rescue the injured and to discipline the offender are at almost constant odds. Would having multiple kids make me a stressed out yeller? How on earth does my sister keep going?

Today was a little better, but as soon as I started feeling too confident in my skills and got out a single jar of glitter for a craft project, everything went downhill again. I took the lid off trying to get the shaker vent to open, and microfine glitter specs went all over the kitchen floor. When did glitter get like this? What happened to the coarse metal flakes from my childhood?

T: It looks like fireworks! It looks like blood!

I: You’re exactly right, buddy, it does.

[Little girls run gleefully back and forth through the glitter spill.]

And now it is on every hand, foot, and surface in the house, and will be for months.

The weekend in numbers:

4 new flesh wounds

5 bruises

20-30 missing hairs. Oddly enough, J, who is a veteran of sibling conflict, doesn’t even flinch when her hair gets pulled. O starts crying even before contact.

6 indecent exposures

1 broken step stool

5 mangled petunias

Asking God for forgiveness for being naughty at every meal and snack (as my boundary-and-button-pushing nephew does with sweet sincerity) somehow doesn’t seem frequent enough.

After my sister came home, we all calmed down somewhat. We took turns cooking and plucking each other’s children out of menacing situations. We played at the splash pad in Florence with all joy and no injuries. We started splitting up a box of childhood dolls and dress up and found a bunny and a kitty sewed by our mother in 1989, now sweetly embraced by the little girls, when they weren’t snatching each other’s doll and howling for justice.

By the end of the week, our offspring had made partial peace with each other. The last night they stayed up playing ring-around-the-rosy over and over, falling into a gentle puppy heap, laughing in contagious trickles, breathless from the happy twirling. I sighed a happy sigh over them. It is so sweet to be cousins and to have this time together.

The next morning when I said, “O, we’re going to pack up to go back to Kalispell to see Grandma and stay with Emily for a while, she leaped into my arms and said, “Let’s go now!” and wouldn’t get down.

My brother-in-law looked over at me that morning and said in surprise, “You look tired!”

In another week we will have recovered sufficiently to go back for more.

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