“Fifteen minutes until bath time,” I say, looking across the table at my husband. He knows what I mean; our children have all eaten and asked to be excused, even Lilah, who cannot yet talk but insists upon clearing her own plate when she sees her brothers doing it. They have retired to the playroom along with their host, a two-and-a-half year old. We have fifteen minutes to talk to the other grown-ups while the children entertain themselves.
We are in Philadelphia, visiting our best friends. My husband grew up with Grant – they share a birthday. And when I say share a birthday, I mean they really share a birthday. Same day, same doctor, same hospital. Thirty-five years ago Grant’s mother called J’s mother to tell her she had given birth, but my not-yet-mother-in-law replied, “I can’t talk now; I’m in labor.” Needless to say, Grant and J have been best friends ever since.
We’re here to celebrate their thirty-fifth birthday. It has been less than an ideal celebration, thus far. They boys have been grumpy with intermittent violence, except during bouts of explosive talking. Lilah has been pissy for weeks as she prepares to turn two and works on shoving out her incisors. We’re looking forward to these fifteen minutes, with only our friend’s five-month-old around to cause trouble.
“I don’t know why it’s so damned hard to find a house,” I mention to our friends. “This is the fourth house we’ve had an offer on.
J remarks, “You’d think in this market, it would be a little easier to buy something.”
As the baby nurses, Karen offers us support. “It’s not like you guys are afraid to buy a house that needs work.” They themselves decided to buy a big old house in Mount Airy, an area of Philly that is a good deal like Diversitytown. Here, people come in several different shades with varying levels of dreadlocks and a sliding socio-economic level. It feels like home, not the least because we used to live in Chestnut Hill, one neighborhood over.
“Could you sweeten the offer at all?” Grant asks.
A crash come from the playroom, followed by screaming. Lots of screaming. J gets up from the table to investigate. I don’t even look up. We are accustomed to loud crashes followed by screaming.
“I don’t think there is any way. We aren’t going to overpay for a house in a buyer’s market. That’s ridiculous.” The screaming from the next room has continued, completely unabated. “That sounds worse than usual,” I say as I get up from the table.
I step into the playroom. In the middle of the doorway is a twenty-pound weight. My husband is sitting on the seat holding my five-year-old son, who is screaming with more persistence than I have ever seen. “Frozen peas!” J barks. “Go get frozen peas!” I can only find frozen strawberries, and I run back into the room
I am repeating over and over, “Oh, my god.”
The boys had found a set of weights and – despite the fact that they know they shouldn’t play with them – they played with them. Come to think of it, that may be because they know they shouldn’t play with them. As I sit on the couch holding frozen strawberries to Zach’s foot, J questions Benjamin.
“We were both playing with them,” Benjamin explains. “But Zach’s slipped.”
That’s twenty pounds of slippage right onto my son’s big toe. It already looks horrible. J, a veteran toe-breaker, sees no point in going to the ER. “They’re just going to tape it.” But the kid can’t stop wailing and the toe looks pretty bad. I decide to go, and Grant offers to drive us while the other two remain home to put the rest of the children to bed.
It’s amazing how fast we get service in the Chestnut Hill Hospital Emergency Room. Perhaps the five-year-old shrieking, “I’m dying! I’m broken! Help! I’m dying!” encourages them to speed the process along. An hour-and-a-half and a few x-rays later, the nurses have squeezed the pooled blood out from under his toenail, shown me how to keep the fractured big toe buddy-taped to the toe next to it, and given us a couple of prescriptions.
Grant drives us back to his house through Chestnut Hill, a neighborhood not quite as diverse as Mount Airy, although not without it’s charms. We are in the wealthiest part of the neighborhood. The Tylenol with codeine has kicked in and Zachary’s screams are intermittent, so we can comment upon the beautifully preserved stone mansions we pass.
“I love Chestnut Hill,” I sigh. I do. I loved living there, and we still miss it.
“A lot of rich people here.”
“That’s true. Of course, you do know that we’re rich, right?” Grant nods. “I mean, it feels strange to say, because it’s not like we’re jetting off on vacations or buying fancy cars, but in a way we are.”
“Look, the people with the vacations and the fancy cars don’t think they’re rich because they don’t have yachts,” Grant replies.
He’s right, of course. And, from where I sit, we are privileged. We have everything we need and are able to make choices about the things that we want. That’s pretty much the definition of “rich,” nowadays. If you actually get to choose where you live or what kind of food you buy or whether to stay home to raise kids, you can probably count yourself as rich.
Plus, when a kid drops a twenty-pound weight on his toe, we can take him to the ER without worrying it will bankrupt us.
As we pull into Mount Airy, Zach’s low moans rise to a howl and then reduces to a whimper. “I just want to go home, I just want to go home.”