When we were in college, a group of about twelve of us was planning where to go to get some food. Since most of the people in the group were men living in J’s house, we probably could have just cooked there, if we had been able to locate the kitchen through the stacks of dirty dishes and across the moat of mysterious sticky substances on the floor. This not being the case, we needed to decide on a restaurant, preferably one where the entire group could eat for under $40. As always seemed to be the case when this particular group got together, there were 72 opinions and everyone had a voice. One place was closer, one place was cheaper, and one place had 25 chicken wings for $2. After twenty minutes or so of negotiations, I snapped. “We could already be sitting down and ordering by now.”
“Uh, oh,” J’s roommate said. “Emily’s getting hungry.” Indeed, I was, and my blood sugar was dropping. And, since this young man had spent innumerable Saturday evenings in my company, he knew the warning signs, which feature but are not limited to crankiness, irrationality, and outright bitchiness. The time had come to chose a place and get me some calories, fast.
So it is that I have come to recognize myself in my son. Benjamin could get out of bed in the morning and happily play for twenty minutes before breakfast, although he starts screaming once he sees the food in preparation, unable to wait three minutes once he knows sustenance is possible. Zach, on the other hand, needs to eat. Fast. When he was younger, we gave him milk the moment he got out of bed, on the principle that he could not last through a diaper change, walking down the stairs, and breakfast preparation. He has since given up milk in the mornings, which is a story for another time, and he has replaced them with temper tantrums.
Zach is so hungry when he wakes up that something is bound to set him off. If we are lucky, it does not happen until we actually get down to the kitchen, which means we can ignore him and get food on the table. Sometimes, however, it happens before he even gets out of his room.
This morning, he came to wake me, as usual, cheerful and snuggly, which is how it always starts. Then, we went back into the room to get Benjamin, and the trouble began. In the time Zach had been snuggling with me, the clock had progressed three minutes, a phenomenon with which he is quite familiar. This morning, for some reason, the change in the clock was devastating.
“I want it to be seven-zero-zero,” he demanded.
“Zachary, that is not what time it is anymore. We snuggled, remember? The clock got later while we were snuggling.”
“I want it to be seven-zero-zero!” He began that dramatic screamwhine perfected by some three-year-old a few millennium ago and since handed down, one child to the next. I suspect that Maimonides, Shakespeare, George Washington Carver, Galileo, and Sir Walter Raleigh all employed similar tactics when they were three. So, I took his brother and left the room. Benjamin wiggled out of my arms the minute he saw a box of trucks ahead, and I spent the next few minutes corralling him into the bathroom for a diaper change, which was where Zachary found us once the hysteria had subsided.
His heart was still racing, his eyes were ringed with read, and he was trying to hold down sobs. I had finished lassoing his brother and applying a fresh diaper as he played with a cement mixer, so I turned to Zach and pulled him into my lap.
“Are you OK now, baby?” Whimper. “It is hard getting so upset like that, isn’t it?”
“I don’t want the time to ever change,” he pouted.
“It’s hard knowing we can’t control everything, isn’t it, babe? We can’t make the clock say what we want it to.” Actually, we can, but that is sort of cheating.
“I want the time to go back to where it’s supposed to be,” he whimpered into my chest. And, although I knew that it was the low blood sugar talking, I had to admit he had a point. It must be so devastating to realize that time marches on, stopping for no child, and that it is out of our control. That, no matter what he does, he will continue to get older, day in and day out, and that, after cuddling in my bed in the morning, he is three minutes further along the road from babyhood to independence. I want to catch time, to keep our moments together, really, I do, but as an adult I understand the impossibility. Zachary, caught off guard, rages against the forces of time and nature, knowing all too well that so much of the universe is out of his control.
“Would you like oatmeal for breakfast, boys?” I asked as we walked down the steps. Zach, who is just now coming to learn that eating helps his horrible mood take flight, replied, “Yes, oatmeal” while Benjamin cheered “RAIDEY!”, which is his way of asking for raisins.
As he ate his oatmeal, Zach came back to himself, laughing as Ben played funny tricks with his napkin. Blood sugar, he is learning, is perhaps the one thing he can control.