We had house guests over the weekend- a soldier friend of Keith's who came up to take a three week military class and brought his family with him.
He thought the military provided a hotel for them- but what the military really provided was a room in the barracks. So when he, his wife and two small children arrived after driving through the night from Texas, what they found was a small room with a cot.
Several times before they came up, Keith asked him, "Are you sure it's a hotel? What military class provides a hotel room? We have empty barracks here; they will probably put you in the barracks to save money."
Only he said it staff sergeant Indiana-style- that's my toned down version.
They will most likely have to get a hotel room in the long run, but in the meantime, they are with us. I learned this on Friday, when I thought they were only coming for dinner, ten minutes before they arrived.
"Our house is not baby proof," Keith said to me, Saturday evening, in this exhausted, alarmed tone of voice tonight.
This we knew. But the extent to which it was not- that we are just now learning.
There is one eighteen month old girl with chubby thighs and snub nose and one girl about to turn six with curly blond hair. In action, they are multiplied and everywhere at once.
On Saturday, we had two dry cereal spills, multiple drink spills, one fall and all the electronics have born the brunt of a blundering but determined full scale invasion.
Friday night we had grilled chicken wings, mashed potatoes, baked beans and mac 'n cheese. I had a small helper. She used to help me before they moved to Texas, and though they've been there a year, she remembered everything.
She stood on her chair, watching me with bright, shy blue eyes.
"This is your work space," I said, making room for her beside me, knowing how children delight to have their own space.
We made everything together. She industriously chopped butter into small pieces so that it would melt into the macaroni, chatting away under her breath. She poured milk into the measuring cup, keeping an eagle eye out for the one half a cup mark.
We consulted on the ingredients in a companionable way; she frequently felt the need to add more of anything, but especially water.
"If we add more water, the mashed potatoes won't come out right," I told her.
I saw how this clicked in her head, as she paused to consider. She realized that we actually had a long term goal in mind- that goal being edible potatoes- and that in pursuit of the goal, the pleasure of water must be postponed.
Things were spilled and things were cleaned and eventually, dinner was accomplished and eaten.
Then she remembered the joy of washing dishes and in particular, the spray nozzle. Never was someone so eager to wash dishes. However, when my blouse received the full wash of warm water in one moment of misdirection, we decided together that we would stick with the faucet, which was less fun but probably more accurate in aim.
"How do you like being a big sister?" I asked her, during the dinner preparation.
At that point, she was still too shy to talk much, so she shrugged.
"I know how it is," I said. "I have three younger brothers; they drove me crazy."
She looked up at me, unable to voice her delight at this unexpected sisterhood of the eldest child- the one expected to look out for and mind and be patient with and entertain the younger ones, who have no natural feeling for beauty, but most always be destroying or assimilating the lovely things, the captivating activities.
The next morning while their mother took a shower and the men were out helping another soldier, we played "Run Wildly Away from the Vacuum Cleaner While Making Sounds Like a Chicken." We played this until someone fell down, which I see now was inevitable, in retrospect. However, we all survived.
This afternoon, we spent a lot of time in the pool, working on learning how to swim. The little girl was so eager to learn, to stretch past her fears.
She wanted to learn how to float, after she saw me do it. "You have to trust the water," I explained to her. "You have to let your head fall back and your body will float on its own. It will do this naturally."
Almost, she managed. She floated with just my one hand at the small of her back, her eyes closed. But her fear of falling in kept her neck stiff, and the more afraid she was, the faster she sunk.
I kept pointing out the things she was doing. "Look how much farther you are able to swim now," I told her. "Look how calm you are, out here in the deep end."
Each time, her eyes lit up, to realize this. It made her hungry to try again, to try the next thing, to keep practicing. She was filled with plans and purpose.
"You go there, wait here, come closer, over there, now wait there, while I swim to you," she said, eagerly. "Go deeper. Go all the way out and I'll swim out there."
We showed her father and Keith, when they came back to start up the grill. When alerted to these exciting developments in swimming, Keith immediately sat down and paid attention, which made me love him very much.
The little girl swam under the water from one side of the pool straight to my outstretched hands and then emerged, just beaming with pride and sparkling with water.
"She can swim underwater just like a fish!" I cried, so excited for her.
Her father looked stunned and then grinned.
They are now in an actual hotel, but it's likely that they will be staying over the weekend with us for the next three weeks, in order to save money and to keep from going crazy.
Already this morning, I feel like something that crawled out from a rock; I feel about seventy-five years old and the house is in a state never seen before. Life is going to be pretty interesting around here for a while.