Sometimes, especially in the car, we all talk at once . . .
I don’t care if it is Kallan’s birthday, there’s no way she should have been allowed to eat that giant pile of chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast . . . So annoying that you would tell me not to complain about the eggs, telling me that’s how they make them there, are you kidding me . . . Is this the right freeway entrance . . . Later, we’re going to make my cake, right . . . Yeah, because the smaller child needs more chocolate today . . . All I know is if you go to pick up a bite of scrambled eggs and they drip, that is not cool . . . Some people like their eggs wet . . . Daddy, no one likes their scrambled eggs wet, that’s just disgusting . . . Why do you suppose there is a sign that says we have to take a detour when we clearly do not have to take a detour . . . How about I make my cake when we get home, I am good at making cakes. . . I’m not going to watch her make the cake because if I see a speck more chocolate today I will vomit, and somebody might want to advise this small poorly-dieted child of the existence of vegetables and fruit . . . Maj has a point, Kallan . . . I am not making my birthday cake out of vegetables and that’s final . . . Hmmm I wonder if I should take the detour . . . Why are we talking about a detour when the entrance is right there, get on the freeway, stop talking about a detour we are not taking . . . They wouldn’t put up a sign about a detour for no reason . . . Daddy did you just burp apple pancakes at us because otherwise the world is ending in an apply-scented apocalypse of poison gas. . . Oh my god, why do we have to talk this detour into the ground, get on the freeway when the light changes . . . Wonder if maybe the detour is faster . . . AUGHHHH . . . So I’m going to make my cake when we get home . . . Maybe the freeway’s backed up and I should take the detour . . .You are driving me insane with the detour . . . Kallan, I get to help you make the cake . . . No, I get to make the cake by myself when we get home . . . Mommy! . . . Mother! . . . Kris, I hope we’re making the right decision ignoring these detour signs . . .
I turn back to face Kallan, “Babe, you can’t make the cake when we get home. We’re going out on the boat, remember?”
“Awwww . . . I thought we were doing the boat later in the day.”
“No, we figured since we went out and ate a huge breakfast, we would take the boat out for a few hours and then come back and eat a late lunch.”
Kallan’s face crumples in disappointment, “But that means we’re going to be out on the boat!”
“Ummm . . . yeah.”
Kallan begins to cry.
I turn to Mark, who shrugs his shoulders.
I turn back to Kallan, “Help me out, babe.”
Through her tears, Kallan pleads, “Can’t I make the cake and then we’ll eat lunch and then we’ll go out on the boat after lunch?”
Maj is having none of it, “Oh no . . . I get that it is Kallan’s birthday and she gets to force us up and out of the house to eat breakfast at a restaurant no one likes but her and I get that she gets to order COMPLETELY UNREASONABLE FOOD and I get that she gets to make her own cake even though THAT IS OUTRAGEOUS and I get that she gets to pick the radio station in the car even though I SO DO NOT REMEMBER THIS BEING THE RULE ON MY BIRTHDAY and I get that I had to buy her gifts and I get that everything is about Kallan but SHE IS NOT ALLOWED TO CHANGE THE BOAT PLAN AND THAT IS FINAL . . . She cannot have her way on this and I have spoken and I am the Maj and that is the end of this discussion THE END.”
I reach back to swipe at Maj, “Maj, stop talking. You understand? No more talking. You are not helping. Stop talking,” and then to Kallan, “Sweetie, it’s going to get much hotter later in the day and the river gets crowded and the boat launch gets crowded . . . it will be better this way, I promise.”
“Kallan, I am going to need some words from you or I am going to stop talking to you altogether. Words. Gather some words to explain the actual problem.”
Kallan sniffs a few times and then mumbles something I don’t quite catch, “Sweetie . . . say the words so that I can hear them.”
She takes a deep breath, “I wanted to be home at the actual moment of my birthday.”
“Awwww . . . that’s lovely, babe. We’ll be sure to keep track of the time so we know when it is the exact moment of your birthday. We don’t have to be home to do that. OK?” Her face stubborn, Kallan refuses to answer me. I try again, “Come on, babe. Your whole family will be there. It will be good, I promise. OK?”
Kallan sits stony-faced in her seat, refusing to answer.
“Kallan, did you have some special activity planned for that moment? Because usually it involves a hug and a kiss and a whispered “I love you” . . . was there some big plan to reenact your birth or something?”
Maj snorts wildly, and I continue, “Because I would have to agree that reenacting your birth is not exactly boat-appropriate . . . what with the wildly uncute nudity that would be required.”
Kallan giggles, “Mom, you are not allowed to get naked on the boat for any reason. The Kallan has spoken and that is the end of this discussion THE END.”
“So we’re good?”
She smiles, “We’re good.”
Maj figures this is her cue to talk some more, and so she proceeds to inform Kallan that Kallan is a wildly inferior child due to birth order. “You see,” Maj explains, “When I was inside Mother, I was a sponge of epic suckiness and I sucked up all the good there was to suck . . . I took all the pretty and all the beauty and all the intelligence and all the creativity and all the awesomeness and all the . . . everything there was . . . so by the time you showed up, the room was pretty much empty except for morsels and scraps and vestiges. You swelled up your little spongy self as much as you could and you tried to suck, but sadly, the biggest suck that ever was had already been through and sucked the walls of Mother’s genetic offerings dry.”
Kallan is speechless.
Maj finishes up, “So really what you are is a vestigial child. You are made up of vestiges, and you are but a shadow of the child you might have been if you had only thought to be born first.”
Maj continues, “So I am not only your elder, I am also a truer version of you. You are basically my shadow.”
When Kallan doesn’t answer, Maj speaks reassuringly, “Later, I’ll draw you a picture. It’s complicated, I know. It’s a lot to take in when you have limited capacities for taking in, unspongey you.”
Kallan still doesn’t speak, but she does something, because Maj’s next words are outraged, “Young lady, did you just hit your elder?”
“YOUNG LADY, DO NOT POKE YOUR ELDER!”
“KALLAN, KNOW YOUR PLACE! I DEMAND YOU TREAT ME WITH RESPECT.”
“OH, I KNOW YOU DID NOT JUST KICK ME. YOU MAY NOT KICK YOUR ELDER!”
“MOTHER, DO SOMETHING!”
I sigh and speak in a monotone, “Oh no an elder has been damaged.”
Kallan giggles hysterically as Maj continues to rant, “DO NOT LAY HANDS ON THE ELDER!”
“DO NOT KICK THE ELDER!”
“THE ELDER IS NOT AMUSED, YOUNG LADY.”
“HANDS OFF THE ELDER!”
“DO NOT MOCK THE ELDER!”
“DO NOT BLOW KISSES OF CONTAGION AT THE ELDER!”
By the time we pull into the driveway, I have managed to calm the girls, but Maj decides to take one more shot. As Maj exits the minivan, she turns back to inform Kallan, “It’s sad, really. You have to live your whole life never knowing how much more awesome it would be if you were me.”
Kallan gives her sister a big hard shove and sends her sprawling out into the ivy that lines the driveway. Maj shrieks and flails and crashes through the ivy as Kallan leans from the minivan and calls out in loud official tones, “ELDER DOWN! WOOP . . . . WOOP . . . .WOOP! ELDER DOWN!”
Maj is pissed beyond measure but unhurt, which is good, because I am laughing too hard to be of any assistance.
Here’s Mark, oblivious and self-congratulatory as he climbs from the car, “We made good time. Damn good thing I didn’t take that detour.”
Later, out on the river in our boat, I check the time on my phone and then make my way to Kallan’s side. I give her a big hug and a kiss and whisper in her ear, “Happy exact birthday, baby girl. I love you very much.” She sinks against my body and leans back to whisper, “I did plenty of sucking, Mom. When I was inside? I was all spongeful.”
She’s 11 today.