Friday the boys were off from school, and as I sometimes do on long days at home, I retreated into chores. I changed sheets, washed dishes, swept the floors, and generally kept myself occupied to avoid having to referee squabbles between Jay and Wally. I went upstairs to our bedroom with a basket of laundry, which I dumped on our bed to fold later. Down below I heard the two of them playing War with a degree of high-energy chaos I was glad not to be a part of.
After lunch, though, I took my turn, and brought the boys with me to the grocery store. We had a long list that included ingredients for jambalaya, which we were bringing to a friend who’d recently had a baby, and for deviled eggs, our contribution to a 1950s-themed murder mystery dinner that evening.
We found a spot near the entrance to the store, and before unbuckling the boys from their seats, I turned to give them a talk. Jay recognized the look on my face and preempted me. “I know. You don’t need to tell me,” he said.
“You do know, but you also knew last week at Target, so maybe you need a reminder,” I said. Then I gave the boys their instructions: No acting wild in the grocery store, no getting out of the car cart, no banging each other, no screaming and being crazy. Just sit, drink your complementary juice box, and be quiet. They both nodded earnestly, and with that, we stepped out into the parking lot.
In the store, the boys were good to start. They stayed peacefully tucked inside their police car cart while I deliberated about the number of bananas to buy, and even endured a long conversation with the meat clerk about the best substitute for Andouille sausage (we settled on chorizo). Things frayed a little in the yogurt aisle, when both boys suddenly jumped out to lobby for their favorite flavors (raspberry for Jay, maple for Wally). But with some stern, eye-level words and a pointed finger, I reminded them how important it is to stay composed while food shopping.
That pep-talk was enough to get us to the checkout line, which is where things fell apart. While I was unloading the cart and handing off our reusable bags, Jay climbed out of his seat and stood on the front of the cart. That would have been fine, but then he stuck his foot through the mock windshield and tried to nudge his brother, who was still sitting inside. Wally squirmed out of the way and grabbed Jay’s foot. There was a lot of jostling, a fair amount of squealing. “Yes, that’s a navel orange,” I told the cashier. “No, it’s not a debit card,” I told the pinpad. Off to my right I had the sense that a swarm of monkeys was moving in on me, and I realized the best thing to do was to get out of the store as quickly as possible.
Back in the car, I was exasperated, with Jay especially. “Do you know what it means to act wild? Do you like it when I get mad at you?” I asked him. He nodded his head yes, then no. “Then why do you do it?” I said. He looked down at the floor between us and shrugged his shoulder to say that he didn’t know.
At home, I told Caroline I didn’t get why Jay, who seems capable of so much, and so mature a lot of the time, can’t hold it together for a thirty minute shopping trip. We often take turns convincing each other that an event, which seems like a big deal in the moment, really isn’t. This time it was her turn to convince me. “Eventually Jay’s going to put it all together,” she said. With that, the boys started afternoon quiet time, and I took a nap.
Some time later I woke up to find that the afternoon had moved on, and the boys were sitting at a table in the playroom making Halloween crafts with Caroline. I walked in, still groggy. Jay was using pinking shears to cut out what looked like a pumpkin from a piece of orange construction paper. He put the paper down and told me he wanted to show me what he’d done during his quiet time. He led me upstairs to our bedroom and I prepared to praise whatever it was he’d made out of Legos.
Instead, I walked into the room and found him standing before the bed, which was topped with neat piles of folded clothes. I didn’t understand what I was looking at. Caroline had come up behind me. “Jay did this,” she said. “All by himself.” Apparently it had been a surprise to her, too.
I took a closer look at the piles, and slowly began to make out Jay’s handiwork. Each individual sock had been folded in half and the socks had all been stacked on top of each other, rather than balled in pairs, and instead of creating a pile for his clothes and a pile for Wally’s clothes, which is how Caroline and I normally do it, Jay had grouped their clothes together by item: a pile of neatly folded little boy polo shirts, a pile of little boy shorts, a small stack of underwear.
I looked over at Jay, expecting to see him beaming, but he had a more reserved expression on his face. I tried to imagine the moment when he’d decided to turn his attention from his Legos to the pile of clothes. I pictured him withdrawing each item from the pile and folding it, one after another, all alone in the room, with our experience at the grocery store reverberating in his mind as he worked. Maybe he’d done this to show me he was capable of more than he’d displayed in the checkout line. Maybe though, he’d done it to prove the same thing to himself.