"Mom, Joey is eating the brown sugar," Lu hollers underneath the bedroom door.
Ugh. I roll to my back. "I'll deal with it when I get up," I call toward her voice.
The patter of little feet chase littler feet back toward the kitchen. I throw back the covers and fumble for the bathroom. Then I stare at the closet, mentally assemble nine outfits before I settle on a church sensible ensemble.
"Mom, Joe's chasing me with the scissors," Myra blusters through the door.
Joe, scissors in hand, cavorts to a stop, catches my eye, and hops from one foot to the other. "No, Momma. No, Momma," he squeals.
The morning carries on like this, one lurching stop to the next. We finally land for lunch somewhere around 1:30, Jane ironing out a furrow between her brows and Jack setting the table.
"Well, next time I could just not tell you what's for lunch in case I have to change my mind," I say. "That's what we do for Joey."
"Nooo," Jane sighs.
Little pails of soup, fresh stale bread, butter. We eat. And sit. And slop a little more bread in the broth. Something like calm settles in, a slush around our ankles.
"Could you possibly find me a book before naps?" Jane says.
"Yeah, I could probably do that," I say. I stack Craig's empty bowl in mine.
"Being book-less," Jane says, "is sort of like being lifeless."
"Yeah," I grin, "I guess it is. I'll be down stairs. Come down when you're ready."
The afternoon gradually sighs to a full stop. Jack clatters the last of the dishes into the dishwasher. Jane and Lucy hang the wet towels half of the family left in a heap wherever they dressed. A thin glaze of order drizzles in the cracks.
I find Joe obediently settled in to the boy's bottom bunk.
"I love you, Joe," I say. I hunker down cheek to cheek and wait for his eyes to settle on mine. "I love you," I say. His pupils trace my face.
"Need hug," he says. Plaid shirt and checkered blankie, we melt into a hug. He blooms affection.
And then like a treasure hunt, I search out each child, smile into their eyes. We hold still, feel the slow moments of love.
The harsh moments fill out with muscles and flesh. Discipline frames us in. Affection nourishes us.
"Look Momma," Joe calls as I tarry past his room. "I covered myself up." Checkered blankie stretched from toes to shoulders, his voice rings to me. We smile as I pass.
5608. "I read this much just to see if I could," Lu points to page in Because of Winn Dixie. "And then I was salivating to read more," she says.
5609. "We don't have to do your hair," Myra instructs Joe, "'cause it's all boyish."
5610. Roasted pineapple and habanero sauce.
5611. Salad in a bag. Two of them. The kind guests bring and leave the extra for another day.
5612. More homemade chocolate sauce.
5613. Jane finishes a paper on Christopher Columbus and Jack a fable.
5614. Lucy finishes her first quilt, a dolly one.
5615. We cut the fabric for another one all in blues.
5616. The children practice again the age old principle: free time comes from hard work.
5617. Jane makes a peach pie. We eat it all in one sitting -- the nine of us all on the farm.
5618. Craig scrubs the floor underneath the table until it shines.
5619. He trims the gangly banana plant into something more indoor-ish and less likely to take over a seat at the end of the table.
5620. The children help us harvest the last of the garden. Joe breaks out a lifejacket for the occasion.
5621. Plum picking.
5622. Craig turns an old wrought iron patio table into a fire pit.
5623. Craig's mom bakes a ham for us and sends us home with garden fresh green beans.
5624. Half the kids pile in the four-wheeler with Craig and his dad to bring a pile of corn stalks to the neighbor's horses.
5625. I start cutting the fabric for a new quilt of my own. Coral reds, lime greens, garnishes, and twists, Lucy helps me lay out the fabric.
5626. Jack gets a book on how to draw animals.
5627. All week the children leave me notes with chickens and rhinoceros and giraffes and magpies. I even get a kingfisher. I marvel at how a year of practice has taught them to shade.
5628. We all come down with sore throats and colds, and still, we weave a life together, just keep right on going.