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Awestruck on the Battle Lines

A truism: the classic situations have much to teach us.

The following has happened to pretty much everyone. Yesterday it happened to me.

Sheryl was at work. Max was ... I don't know ... somewhere. Brigid and Emma were hungry. It was almost lunch time. At 12:30 Emma had announced, "I'm hungry!" And Brigid had yelled, "Me too!" Then they'd gone into their chant, like the one the natives do to get King Kong to show up, "I want a sam'wich. I want a sam'wich." Just amazingly loud.

And I say, "Well, if you ask me like a person, I might get you one."

Emma: "Please!"

Brigid: "Please!"

"No," I say, "ask me nicely."

And I'm thinking, Do I sound petty?

Emma does it, "Daddy, can I have a sam'wich?" Brigid repeats.

"Okay. What kind of sam'wich do you want?"

"Uh ... just peanut butter!"

"Just jelly!"

"Okey-dokey," I say, and I trundle into the kitchen.

The first is the jelly sandwich, for Brigid. It's kind of a ritual.

"What kind of jelly do you want?

She thinks for a second, "Uh ... strawberry!"

I get the strawberry jam. Then I ask, "Which piece of bread do you want it on?"

She drags a chair over to check out the pieces of bread. Finally, "That one!"

I get the jam on the knife and begin to spread it.

"No! I wanted to spread it!" I look at her. She's not happy, but it hasn't gone too far. Disaster narrowly averted. I hand her the knife.

"Okay. You spread it."

Then, after a moment of mangling the bread, "Daddy, can you spread it?"

I do. Brigid closes the sandwich. I ask her, "Do you want me to cut it?

"Uh ... yes!"

"Which way?"

And with her hand she shows me she wants me to cut the bread long ways. I do it. There are a few more steps ("Do you want me to carry the sam'wich to the table or do you want to do it yourself?"). Brigid is pretty much content. Time for Emma.

"Okay, you wanted just peanut butter?"

"Just peanut butter!"

The routine: which piece of bread? do you want to spread it? do you want to close it? Going fine.

Then, without asking, I cut it in half. The long way. Like Brigid's.

I start to sweat, and I'm thinking, You did lt! What have you done!?!

And there's this whine building up, right next to me, like a jet engine. I'm the migrating goose who's just about to fly into that engine: Panic! No time to correct the course! It's comin' right at us!!!

"BUT I DIDN'T WANT YOU TO CUT IT THAT WAY!!!"

Okay, you know how it ends. You probably saw it coming a mile away.

Doesn't matter.

If it weren't this ­ I mean, if I had thought to ask whether Emma wanted that sandwich cut ­ it would have been something else. I would have gotten the wrong color cup for her juice. Or the wrong juice. Or I would have poured the juice when she wanted to pour it. Or I would have carried it to the table when she wanted to carry it to the table.

Whatever. Sometimes, they just need to go on an emotional bender.

Emma needed to hone her expressions of indignation, condemnation and censure and used the sam'wich as an excuse. I, exhibiting a truly remarkable lack of foresight, didn't see it coming. For all that, the force of it all ­ the splendor of four-year-old rage ­ was majestic. Like a Hawaiian volcano ­ or maybe more like Alice's Red Queen ­ Emma really had something to say.

And she said it.

 

An hour later, Emma finally comes winds down from her spree, telling me, "When Mommy gets home I'm going to tell her that you're mean!" Then she goes over to the table and asks, "Daddy, can you make me a sam'wich?"

I point out that there's one right there on the table, and she says, "But that's old! Make me another one!"

So there's another line in the sand, another fit of rage to be had, more screaming and hollering. And once again I'm amazed by the grandeur of her emotions. So much in such a small body! How does one deal with such a thing?

My synapses just weren't built for this sort of thing, and it's the overflow, the overwhelming-ness of the whole thing that impresses me. I imagine this is the sort of thing Joyce Kilmer felt after it occurred to him that trees were pretty neat. I imagine ­ the day after he wrote I think that I shall never see ... ­ he spent his time wandering around the house on autopilot, whispering to himself, as I did yesterday, "Wow."

Wow, again.

© 2005 - 2012 Hal Levy and the above captioned author.