“It takes a long time to become young.” Pablo Picasso
This morning I left the dishes in the sink longer than usual, in order to set up the painting table and let the girls loose on unsuspecting construction paper. Sitting side-by-side wearing only princess underwear, Caroline and Lexi painted at least 15 pictures each. I had them title their pieces (“Pictures don’t have names!” said Caroline), and after the girls got into it, works of art, including “Doggy, Froggy, Turtle, Duck” and “Funny Daddy” by Lexi; “Beautiful Stone Wall” and “Bamba!” by Caroline, lay drying on all available counter space. Our house is the Barnes Collection: pictures hang on walls above sofas, under tables, climbing stairwells. Caroline can now dispense scotch tape, so no place is safe from masterpieces. I could go upstairs to vacuum a hallway (hypothetical here) and come down to three new displays: two on the sliding glass door and one taped just below the stove’s front, left burner.
The girls love painting. I love watching them love painting. This morning I stood staring at them from the kitchen sink, grateful and happy.
The fact that Painting Pictures Day at home coincided with Picture Day at preschool was not a surprise to me. I was fully aware that the girls needed to be especially clean and presentable by 12:30, when I would drop them off. A bright orange post-it with “Picture Day!!!” had been stuck to my desk all week, like one of Caroline’s paintings. I had chosen outfits the night before— pink and brown jumpers in coordinating colors because I had paid 5 extra dollars to get a sibling shot—but what I had not anticipated was mutiny. Picasso’s Blue Period ran from autumn 1902 to spring 1904; Caroline’s Rainbow Period has been going full-tilt since March; her palette not confined to paper. At 11:45, both girls’ bodies were clear of paint, but the brown and pink of Caroline’s potential outfit was not speaking to her as loudly as the rainbow of colors on her long-sleeved striped shirt. I began to panic. I jogged down two flights in search of storage bins, rummaging for a solid-colored jumper that would match. The green just a notch next to “puke” on the color scale, was the only jumper she’d allow, so instead, I insisted she pick out a pair of pants (“NOOOOOOOO!) or a skirt to match the rainbow shirt, since the dark blue jumper that would have looked great, had constricted her breathing upon impact—I saw ribs. The blue jumper removal tousled Caroline’s hair dramatically; then a voice rang from the adjacent room. It was Lexi: “I want my poople (purple) dress! I don’t want go school!” Her cherub song skipped and repeated like a record turning, needle over scratched vinyl again, and again, and again. My girls were going to Picture Day, damn it, and they were going to look cute. This was Guernica.
At 12:10, when Lexi caught on that I could not find the car keys, she pretended that she’d hidden them. I asked, “Where are they keys, love?”
She answered, “Upstairs.”
I looked all around the upstairs and asked, “WHERE ARE THE KEYS, LOVE!”
She answered, “Downstairs.”
After searching the house twice, I wised up, grabbed the extra set of keys, and then found the initial set in the backseat of the car, where I’d left them all night. By the time I pulled out of the driveway, I was exhausted from having chased Lexi around the kitchen, a smidge concerned that new neighbors might have called Social Services as I stuffed my sobbing 3-year-old into her car seat, and ticked-off that we had not one tissue in the car, since both girls’ cheeks were tear-streaked. Caroline wore her striped shirt with grey skirt and tights. Lexi wore her purple dress with pink cardigan. We were so late, I had to walk them into their respective classrooms. One perk of car-line drop-off is that fewer people notice that you are jittery, your hair is unkempt, and your voice is hoarse from yelling.
Minutes later, when I went to Safeway to buy milk, I also picked up a couple of four-color ballpoint pens and two spiral notebooks—blue for Lexi and red for Caroline. They’d been writing a lot in Mommy’s notebook, so I thought this might be a nice time to give them their own, since I was feeling generous and completely debilitated by gnawing guilt. I happened to stand in line behind a parent I had seen minutes before in Lexi’s classroom. I introduced myself to her. She looked at me as if she’d never before seen me and then her eyes registered and she said: “Oh, you’re the one who asked if they clean faces before pictures.”
“Oh, ha…yeah. We had a little trouble getting there today.”
“For an afternoon class?” She slid her fingers through what looked to have been recently brushed hair, and then she turned slightly towards the checkout. The conveyor belt moved; the placed divider, a line drawn, separated her toilet paper from my retractable pens.
I’ve swum in the Atlantic and dipped my toes into the Pacific on the same day. I’ve sat in a movie theater, seen a two-hour film, and as credits rolled, I’ve had to think about it: “Where am I? What state am I in—Pennsylvania? Virginia? Florida?” Just this morning, soft sun slowly gathered around the colors in our kitchen. I sat in pjs squeezing light and dark blue, purple, and orange into empty egg containers. The girls and I were fresh and blending. But in the earliest turn of the afternoon, I was suddenly rabid and sweaty, dumping folded turtlenecks from storage containers onto our basement floor. What state was I in and how did I get there on that very same day?
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once she grows up.” Pablo Picasso
Here’s what I remember about my high school accounting class: FIFO and LIFO, something about inventory, milk on shelves. The rest is long gone. I was a senior, and this was one of those courses that seniors took and subsequently blew off…well, at least this senior. I remember spending a lot of time sitting in the back of the class with my friend, Matt, writing down as many words as we could think of that started with a particular letter. Productive? No. But, I must have improved my vocabulary.
Caroline’s schooling has officially begun. She started pre-school this week. I was more nervous than she, though she did whine a bit more than usual the first morning. I knew she was going to be fine. I was more afraid that I was going to screw up. There was room for error—no sandals allowed and I had waited until the 11th hour to buy her a new pair of sneaks. We went to Target and there was one pair of size 10’s left. That’s the pair we walked out with, even though they were blue, green, and pink—not exclusively pink. I had to buy Lexi a matching pair in order to convince Caroline that these were THE shoes. I had not purchased the school tote since I had bags to spare, but I wondered if pre-schoolers would notice that Caroline was walking in with a New Yorker bag—too pretentious? (When I used to get the New Yorker, I read the cartoons.) And then there’s the car line drop-off. I was considering doing a late-night dry-run, just so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.
I did not do the dry run, but I did arrive about 15 minutes early according to my car clock (25 according to my phone clock, which, as it turns out, has the correct time). We were very first in line. Thankfully, Lexi was delirious from sleep deprivation, so she was in rare form, all sorts of giggles, and the time passed quickly. Mrs. Zee, the Head of the School, was the first to welcome us. She opened Caroline’s door, unsnapped her from the car seat, grabbed the pretentious tote, and they walked together through the school doors. I remembered to get the car out of “Park”. And Lexi and I drove off, committing all sorts of traffic violations as we went wee-wee-wee all the way home, in order to get Lexi into bed so she could sleep off the sillies until I had to roust her in time to retrieve Caroline by 3 o’clock.
The digital clock in my kitchen read 2:45, and by the time I climbed sixteen stairs, Lexi’s bedroom clock read 3:00. I whispered, “Hi, Honey Boo, I’m so sorry to wake you up.” Her little butt was in the air; her face pressed into the sheet; her hair was sweaty and wild; her breathing was steady. “Lexi-Loo…”
She sat upright: “Where’s Cee-Cee?” (Her nickname for Caroline.) I told her that we had to pick her sister up at school, and like a firewoman on call, she stood up and grabbed the side of the crib—ready for duty.
Lexi and I were not the first responders. From the main road, I could see the car line disappear to nothing as I sat behind a very large truck at a very long light. I imagined Caroline’s conversation with her teacher: “Well, it looks like you’ll have to take me home and feed me dinner. I like macaroni and cheese, the white kind, an occasional turkey meatball, and I’m just starting to get into salsa.” When we did arrive, the Head of School—the very same one who welcomed us—held Caroline by hand and tote, and chatted about shoes as she scooted my daughter up into the car seat. “You can just buckle her in right here,” she said to me. “You’re the last one.”
I felt myself blush when I said, “First In Last Out!” I don’t think she smiled. I mumbled something about teachers talking about me in the faculty room, but by the time I finished with Caroline’s straps, Mrs. Zee was long gone. Zip. Zoom. Zap.