Maybe it’s that I’m within a blink of turning 40, maybe it’s that my oldest will start junior high this August, days after he turns 12, as quite possibly the youngest seventh grader on record. Whatever the cause, I find myself lately taking mental snapshots of my family.
I also find myself more tolerant of inconvenience. So today, when my wife suggests we eat brunch on the front porch and a boy echoes the idea several minutes later, I quiet the instinct to get the meal over with as quickly as possible. After all, setting aside the grumbling I do about raising a large family in the 21st century, what I’m really after is making time stand still.
June arrived this year with cool overnight temperatures and clear blue afternoons when the notion of temperature itself — hot or cold — seems queer and distant. So we sit outside in surprising comfort, the eight of us packed around the leafless table we used for all our meals long ago in a different state with a different climate, back when we had three children and the infant — a fuzzy, brown, cueball-headed girl with violet eyes and a bubbling spirit — sat beaming in her high chair. She is now 8 and plays soccer and rails at the destructiveness of younger children and dazzles adults with her conversation.
For the first time in a long while, it is just us for a relaxed Sunday morning. No Easter gatherings, no First Communion receptions or Memorial Day guests — welcome as those things are in their time. We are alone, so to speak, and we indulge ourselves. Scrambled eggs marbled with cheddar cheese; bacon and sausage; shredded hash browns; orange juice and coffee. Our kindergartener’s job was to stack a dozen doughnuts on a plate; the result we thought was what a postmodernist architect might have produced had we offered him the same job.
The perfection of late spring reaching equilibrium only makes it all sweeter. My old camera, purchased new for a family vacation seven years ago when its features were fresh and enviable, and the shutter still closed and the edges weren’t worn smooth by the hands of who-knows-how-many photographers, sits dormant on a shelf in the dining room. It would capture images, some of them good enough for the calendar we make each year around Christmas for ourselves and for others — grandparents, godparents, neighbors and friends who act a lot like grandparents and godparents. But cameras don’t yet operate on thought-command even in our remote-control world. In the delay, faces are lost, laughter is forever on “mute.” Moments become something other than what they were in the living.
Some solve such problems with video, but who wants to take video when you’re lifting a savory forkful of eggs to your mouth, especially when your son has learned to make them even better than you do? I know my share of videographers, and not even they live like that.
Our youngest turns 2 in a month. We wonder sometimes whether in the end he’ll hold the distinction among our children of having no younger sibling, and what that might mean for his life. He has plenty of older siblings, and we can see plainly what that means for his life in these days when we still strap him to the furniture before he takes his food.
His brothers and sisters have served him a plate as full as mine, yet in this moment of plenty he still calls for a doughnut. Before I have time to suggest he wait or to direct a sister to remove the dwindling stack from his sight, a brother has passed him one. I make a motion to break it in half, and a cloud passes over Jack’s brown eyes. So, taking complete leave of my sterner inclinations, I put it on his plate. Most of the doughnut finds its way to his mouth. The rest, by marvelous alchemy, he works into the cotton-chocolate blend of his sweater vest.
Then a strip of bacon is swept from Jack’s plate by a lean and hungry older brother, the way a hawk might sweep a chipmunk out of our back yard. Jack limits his protest to that cloud he produces by lowering his dark eyebrows, then returns happily to his eggs and potatoes. He’s already forgotten the theft of coveted breakfast meat. I have not. And I won’t. Ever.
John Nagy is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email him at email@example.com.