We accepted an invitation to lunch at the home of a couple we know through work. He is a photographer and she is a print rep for an Italian paper company (the name of which escapes me). The invitation included the girls, so we packed them up and crossed our fingers that naptime would coincide with the drive, which we anticipated taking 35 minutes. We further hoped that it would be possible to visit without:
a) an explosive toddler tantrum
b) an explosive infant bowel movement
c) an explosive simultaneous occurrence of a and b
The drive, indeed 35 minutes, had us wending through classic Adirondack back roads. It was a ride that made the decision to buy a vehicle with a massive moon roof (which I still call a sun roof, much like I still call dvd’s we rent videos) seem like one of the best things we’ve ever done. A clear blue sky above created a striking contrast to the ice and snow still clinging to the glass above. Potent beams of sunlight broke through the trees prompting Briar to call out, “Briar is wearin’ her sunglasses.” In classic road trip fashion, as soon as Briar gave up the fight and drifted off to sleep, Avery woke up. She provided a musical stream of babbles and coos as we looked out over the frozen Hudson and its icy meringue-like peaks.
As we pulled up to the red house, both girls were completely zonked out in that way that can only be done by small children in car seats.
“Oh dear. Do you think that can be good for their necks?”
I looked at our hosts, bright eyed and smiling on the front steps of their house, their lab, Forest sat tail wagging alongside our car. Their property was tucked in a majestic circle of elegant birch trees, lithe black and white dappled trunks curving seductively along a pristine hillside. The snow was untouched, brilliant and white, a fluffy sparkling quilt under the mid-day sun, the only sound was a mountain breeze passing through the limbs of the birches. I wondered how it would look when we left.
Would our hosts still be smiling? Would Christina’s perfect blonde hair come undone? Would the heat of two children make her frizzy and wrinkled like me? Would her eyes glaze over as she remembered all the reasons she chose not to have kids? Would James be snarling and throwing back heavy drinks to calm his nerves? Would the snow become sullied and tired? Would the sweet blonde lab who greeted us retreat to a basement corner to glower at our intrusion? Would we break, stain or ruin anything? Would they ever invite us back?
As we stepped out of the car I realized I had not packed any Ziploc bags for poopy diapers. Super. That was sure to incite a parade of soupy, shitty diapers. God, did I bring enough wipes? Did I have a changing pad? No. Screw it, I can use my coat.
“You guys wanna come in or should we hang out here while the kids snooze?” James asked in his laid back way.
It was like 10 degrees and the breeze I mentioned earlier? That was for descriptive purposes. It was more like pre-storm gusts of arctic air creating a wind chill factor of well below zero. His offer went just past being hospitable to being insane, but I have known parents who would have said,
“Actually, that’d be perfect, thanks.”
These are the parents who make people think that it is impossible for couples without kids to be friends with couples with kids. I was really hoping to discount that theory. The thought of waking Briar planted a little seed of doubt, but it was hurt me cold.
“Naw, let’s go inside. We’ll bring the girls.”
So the four of us plus the two girls and the dog headed in. Briar stirred and allowed her blue sunglasses to slide from her forehead back down to her nose. Avery startled awake after a particularly nasty gust of wind snuck under the bonnet of her car seat, her nose crinkled, her eyes closed in an angry squint. Oh god, was she going to meltdown? James was saying hi to Briar who seemed to be retreating into a post nap shell of confused grumpiness. Great. I grabbed the diaper bag, covered Avery with my coat and snagged the bouquet of tulips and daisies that I had wrapped in blue tissue on the drive. As I handed them to Christina I thought, “These may be more of an apology than a thank you.” As I crossed the threshold I braced myself for a home filled with incredible artifacts from their travels. A place only a fool would take a toddler and an infant.
I was pleasantly surprised (read: internally rocked to my knees with gratitude that it did not look like the girls would be able to wreak unfixable havoc.) We spent a very pleasant couple of hours eating and talking about everything from intellectual property law and politics to kids and cooking. I think, and I hope this isn’t the oblivious my children are wonderful and endear themselves to everyone mom in me, that we all had a genuinely good time. Miraculously there were no dirty diapers, audible flatulence or tantrums. At all. And in fact, there was a very typical moment of toddler uncertainty/fear. We were on a tour of the house and upstairs there was a large white bear skin rug. The bear head attached to this rug was at the top of the stairs, so as you made your way up, if you were say 33″ tall or there about, the head, with its eyes oddly close together, would be damn near kissing you. Briar was fine, though a little startled. It wasn’t until we got to the next room and the much larger, darker bear skin rug. This face, well it was just too much for her. She took several steps backwards and said,
“Ok.That’s ok. We can go in to the downstairs again now. Ok? Going now. Ok.”
No one was offended.It was an easy to fix, everybody wins moment.
After a while we decided to go for a small hike. We bundled Briar up in her snow suit and hat, her blue sunglasses wrapped around the outside of her hat. Avery charmed in a head to toe fleece ensemble that made her look like a pastel platypus. Sean killed in a fierce green sweater, dynamite canvas pants, sunglasses and a Swix hat. Christina said,
“Amanda, are you going to be warm enough?”
“Sure. I’m great.”
I looked down at myself. Super light washed Levis(and by ‘super’ I don’t mean great or swell, I mean that the light wash of my jeans was fashionable sometime around 1989) a good 1.5″ too short, a faded from too many washes red hooded sweatshirt from Old Navy, and a thin, brown fleece coat, despite having been purchased at EMS just a few months ago, looking pilly and worn. No hat, just the hoodie, without strings for cinching. Great, mom’s gonna be just great. Dummy. The wind was already sneaking in the short legs of my jeans.
All that aside, both girls seemed giddy. I pulled Briar in a sled that James had retrieved from a shed full of toys that made Sean whimper enviously (an old Jeep, a boat, kayaks, a snow mobile and more). She held the sides and squealed with delight, Forest the lab running along nipping at the rope in an exuberant offer to take a turn pulling. Avery’s eyes twinkled as she looked around from her lofty perch in the backpack on Sean’s shoulders. The path had been made by a snowmobile, allowing us to walk without sinking into the half foot of fresh powder. We hiked happily commenting on the beauty of the terrain.
About 15 minutes into the hike Briar asked to walk. She tromped along in her snowsuit and boots, seeking unpacked snow. Sean, James and Avery pulled ahead. After another ten minutes and I lifted Briar in my arms while Christina took the sled. The path was no longer packed and the slope was getting significantly steeper and less groomed. I watched Sean move 90% of the branches to protect Avery’s face, the other 10% just escaping his hand and dusting Avery with snow. My jeans seemed to be unraveling as it felt like wind was hitting bare skin from just below my navel to the tops of my boots. It hurt to breathe through my nose and my eyes were tearing.
I looked at Briar and the patches of dry skin that she’s had on her face for a week were looking angry and almost purple. Avery was making the I’m about to start wailing mews. Sean heard this and got us turned around. If possible, the path we’d just traveled had become more windy, twisted and treacherous. Briar wanted to walk. I tried to smile as I held her hands as she gamely tried to make her way down the slope. Sean and James had shifted into high gear, as I could no longer see them. Briar stayed entertained by screaming for Forest to come back. I winced as I imagined Christina thinking,
“Get your brat to quit screaming at my dog.”
Not because Christina is mean, but because the sound of Briar bellowing:
“Forest, c’mere. Forest come back right now. FOREST! FORE-REST! Come in here now Forest.” was making my head throb.
“Are you sure you don’t want mama to pull you in the sled?” I asked as she took another excruciatingly slow step while the wind nipped furiously at my burning legs and ass.
“You sure? It’s fun?”
“No.” And then she stood still. “Briar’s walking in the shown.”
“No, honey, you aren’t walking in the snow, you are standing. Let’s go.”
“Mommy, Briar’s walking in the shown in her shownsuit.”
“Yup, you sure are. Let’s go faster.”
Christina handed Briar a stick.
“Here, a walking stick like the mountain guides use.”
Briar took the stick, examined it and decided that by mountain guide, Christina meant artist, and she began drawing in the snow, or as you might have noticed, ‘shown’ as she calls snow. We watched. Me freezing, Christina amused, or at least I think that look was amusement.
After a few minutes she grew tired of drawing and asked me to carry the stick in my pocket. I used to be appalled when Sean would respond to something like this by discreetly hucking the stick in the bushes. I feared putting the stick in my jeans would just open my ass up to more cold air. In the bushes it went.
“Want to get in the sled now?” I asked hopefully.
That was all I needed. I took the sled from Chistina, plopped Briar in it and sprinted down the hill. Every step sent shooting pains through my ankles and the coldon mylegs so intense that I checked to make sure I was still wearing pants. Yup, super light rinse high waters. I turned back every so often to make sure Briar was still in the sled. I could hear Avery crying up ahead. I was sprinting to get to warmth and to prevent Avery from completely melting down. At some point I had begun to wonder if our exposing them to the beauty of the Adirondacks in winter has passed into abusive negligence, angry red circles of dry skin burned Briar’s cheeks and chin. Avery’s face shone with dried snot and hot tears. James heroically tried to ignore the wailing coming from the backpack and spoke louder about what the path looked like in the spring.
Briar and I blew downthe hill past the three of them, the sled picking up serious speed and beginning to graze my heels. I side stepped and allowed Briar to pass me. Luckily this ends with us swooshing to a stop in front of the house, not in a snowy heap against a tree. I asked if she wanted to go in and she began to fall apart. STOP! Sean and I quickly swapped girls, so that I could take Avery into nurse and Briar could sled some more.
Eventually we all gathered in the house again. The girls played quietly on the floor. They shared toys, they made delightful little sounds. Briar let us knwo that she could see the moutains and that they were actually volcanos. Nobody pooped. Nobody had a tantrum. Nothing was broken. After brownies and a bit more conversation we began packing up to leave. We gathered our things, said thank yous and headed out.
James and Christina followed us out. Christina had a hat on, but I am pretty sure her hair still looked perfect. James had not had to resort to a stiff drink. Forest was sorry to see us leave. The snow around their house, rather than looking messy, looked as if it had been a placewhere people had fun, where memories were made. I waved to them as I told the girls how good they had been and how proud I was. Our hosts looked great. The perfect mix of happy from having a nice time and happy that we were leaving.
Score 1 for couples with kids hanging with a couple without kids.