I'm vaguely aware of Matt crawling out of bed, and I remember that I didn't pack his lunch last night. Toby slips into the room, sits on the foot of the bed and asks, "Is my new Planes water bottle clean yet?"
I remember that I forgot to run the dishwasher last night and promise Toby that I'll run it this morning.
Elijah is in the room now, wondering when I'm going to make his oatmeal, and also pondering the deeper questions of life. "Why is this called a closet?" he asks. Without waiting for my response, he adds, "Santa Claus can live in here. And it's purple." So that settles that.
I roll out of bed and clunk down the stairs sleepily. "Mommy?" Elijah asks.
"Oh…I'm too busy," he shrugs. Right. Why did I bother him, anyway?
Picking up his lightsaber and a doctor's kit bag full of tools he stole from my kitchen tool draw, he yells, "I'm riding my nermaltodder! Morsey! Don't! Or I'll bite you!"
I leave Elijah to fight his disobedient nermaltodder while I pack Matt's lunch and make breakfast in the kitchen.
We are fed, dressed, combed, and ready for another day. The girls are settled into their school work, and the boys are pretending in their room upstairs. I slip up the stairs with a basket of folded laundry in time to overhear Elijah announce in a gruff voice, "I'm a big tough man! I can build a big bridge with water!"They boys eagerly set to work, and I head back downstairs because sometimes in the raising of boys, ignorance is bliss. Whatever they're doing, we'll pick it up later.
Emma greets me with a proud, sweet smile, "Mommy! I already did my Bible Reading and my math!" I praise her, and then check on the progress of her more easily distracted sisters. Hannah is cuddled under blankets beside her favorite heating vent, trying to hide the stuffed puppies she was playing with while pretending to work math problems. Naomi has gotten lost in her new geography book, which she finds too interesting to put down in order to complete any other school subjects.
The doorbell rings. It is a tenant who is behind on lot rent. He's come with a partial payment, explaining that his construction job only gave him 20 hours last week, and asking if he can get me the rest in two weeks. I ask how his wife is doing, because I know she is recovering from surgery that they also don't have the money to pay for, and we work out a payment plan.
I realize the two loaves of bread I made yesterday have already been mostly devoured. We have three slices of bread for lunch. I dig through the fridge and find enough leftovers to feed everyone and set them out on the table.
"Mommy, there's a lady at the front door," Hannah tells me.
I find a new tenant there, who doesn't know yet that most tenants use our back door, where the doorbell is located. She is wearing two coats and a hat. She asks if I can help her figure out why her heat isn't working in her new trailer. This is not part of my job description, as she owns the trailer and only rents the lot, but I smile and say, "Sure." Hannah knows what to do. She gets the walkie-talkies and gives one to me as I put my coat on, keeping the other for herself. She holds Elijah back as he screams when I leave.
I find that the thermostat in the new tenant's trailer needs new batteries, slide the battery compartment out, replace the batteries, and the heat comes on. She shouts a loud praise to the heavens, gives me a hug, and thanks me profusely. I smile as I jog back up the hill to my house.
Inside, Naomi and Hannah have dished up the leftovers and the kids are sitting down to lunch. I ask if they've remembered to pray. Toby asks Elijah, "Jonathan, do you even know how to pray? I know you're a big, strong construction worker, so I don't know if you know how to pray."
I wonder briefly where Toby got the idea that construction workers don't pray.
I drag Elijah to bed, protesting all the way that he doesn't need a nap. I tuck him under three blankets to weigh him down and rub his cotton cloth diaper beside his face slowly. He yawns. It gets him every time. He pouts a little more so I pretend that I'm going to leave. "I want a song!" He calls, "Sing me Holy Night." He means Silent Night, and no, he's not early for the Christmas season. This has been his favorite song since last Christmas. We sing it almost every day at nap time. I sit on the foot of his toddler bed, smile, and lean down to rub my nose on his. He giggles. I sing slowly, quietly, and run my hand along his forehead. He closes his eyes and yawns again. He knows when I am leaving, but he is too sleepy to protest.
I put bread mix in the two bread makers again so we are sure to have an easy dinner tonight, and I start the dishwasher so Toby will stop pestering me about when his new water bottle will be clean. Several exciting rounds of laundry follow.
"How do you spell 'water'?" Emma asks. She is writing the eighth page of a story about a horse and a fish in her journal.
"What do you think?" I ask. "It's spelled pretty much how it sounds."
"W-h-a-t-t-e-r?" she guesses.
Analyzing her guess, I conclude that water is not spelled the way it should be.
Hannah asks if she can write a research report on Collies. I tell her that that is a fabulous idea and point her to our 1972 edition World Book Encyclopedia set, because I figure Collies can't have changed that much in 40 years, and because every kid should have to look up facts in a World Book when they're in 3rd grade.
Toby finishes copying the whole alphabet in upper and lower cases. This is a serious accomplishment for the child who was in tears at the idea of holding a pencil and moving it while it contacted paper just two months ago. I reward him with a clean Planes water bottle, which he refuses to let go of for hours.
Homeschool is complete, dinner is in the bread makers, Elijah is up from his nap, and I have an unusual amount of energy and ambition for this time of day. When Toby asks me if we can go somewhere this afternoon, and Hannah dreamily wishes we could visit all the puppies and kitties at the Humane Society, I am amazed at my own reaction. Why not? Let's go.
After Hannah nearly faints, but covers her mouth so as to not annoy me with her incessant excitement. We pack up the diaper bag and head out. A stern speech reminds them that we are not getting any dogs or cats any time in the near future because we live in a house that we do not own, and dogs and cats are not allowed in this house (which is very fortunate for me), but that we can enjoy the animals and brighten their days a little by interacting with them.
Toby doesn't know whether to cover his nose or his ears when we enter the room with 40 barking dogs in cement cages. He is ready to leave 0.5 seconds later. I can't hear a thing Hannah is saying as her mouth moves, which is almost a relief, but it's clear that she's in love with the tiny pomeranian snuggled up beside the front of the cage, soaking in her strokes. Elijah is preoccupied with the cement door propper, which apparently doubles as a stool and a rocking chair.
Naomi and Emma have found their way to the cat rooms. Naomi enjoys looking at the pictures and names of the cats on the wall and matching that info up with the cats in the cages. She plays with a white kitten who likes to bat at her finger.
All the children find an animal that they like most of all, but Emma breaks my heart with her complete loyalty to an old, quiet, calico cat name Lila. Emma spends the entire hour we are there sitting beside Lila's cage. Emma and the cat quietly look into each other's eyes. The twenty other cats in that room meow and reach their paw through their cages like prisoners rattling the jail bars. But Lila silently lifts her head and gazes into Emma's eyes. Emma gazes back with compassion, with understanding, and after a few minutes the old calico cat reaches her paw out toward Emma through the bars. Emma holds her hand out flat and Lila's paw rests on it gently. And there they sit for an hour.
I watch the kids from the hallway as the make their way in and out of the five different rooms full of animals. The other kids greet all the cats, watch the bunny nibble hay, and pick out favorite dogs. But Emma does not budge. I kneel down beside her and ask, "Is that your favorite cat?"
Emma nods her head silently, and quietly admits, "I wish we could keep her."
In that moment I wish with everything in me that I could take that cat home. At any moment of the day Hannah is completely in love with a random anything, and I have no problem rolling my eyes at her, but Emma is different. Emma rarely sets her heart on something, she almost never asks for anything. I think of all the stories I have heard about therapy animals that special needs children bond with, and how those animals sometimes have a way of helping these quiet, special souls find their way in the world. And I wonder to myself what a cat like Lila might do for Emma. I can't find it in me to tell Emma that we have to go home, so she sits beside Lila and whispers quietly to her until the staff come and turn off the lights. My heart hurts for Emma as we leave.
I dole out generous globs of hand sanitizer, and we head to the van in the brisk evening October air, our ears still ringing with the barking of 40 lonely dogs. My ears ring all the way home with the chatter of four excited children, who can't stop talking about their favorite animals and all the funny things they were doing. In the rearview mirror, I watch Emma silently stare out the window the whole way home.
We have a late dinner of warm buttered bread, and warm sandwiches. We clean up a day's mess, including every mega-block, wooden block, waffle-block, and soft block that went into the giant bridge construction in the kids room.
Daddy's home! Hugs, kisses, spinning in the air, and a dog-pile ensue. Toby wants to wear his favorite camouflage shirt to bed tonight. Elijah wants to wear his fireman rubber boots to bed. Sounds like suitable sleepwear to me.
The kids are tucked in bed. I tell Matt about Emma and Lila at the Humane Society, and that I almost wanted to bring that cat home. Matt has had a stressful day and reminds me that there's no way we would want a pet on top of five kids. He reminds me that they have a gerbil. I want to tell him that Naomi talks to the gerbil, not Emma, but I let it drop.
We sneak ice cream cones from the back of the fridge and watch a movie together, hoping the kids don't come down the stairs to use the bathroom and catch us eating gluten and dairy. We have been known to hide ice cream under a blanket in such situations.
I lay in the darkness and the silence, and wonder why Elijah thought Santa would live in a purple closet. I wonder if the new tenant is warm in her trailer tonight. And I wonder what our lives would be like with a calico cat name Lila.