One at a time
I love my family, but would they please just shut up! begs Karin.
Number Three says: ‘But whyyyyyyyyyy can’t I have cornflakes now?’

Number Two says: ‘And the floor of the dungeon used to be covered with peach pips and they would slowly lower the prisoner...’

Number One says: ‘What’s this video?’

They are all speaking at once. As usual.

I throw my hands up dramatically. ‘Whoa!’

They regard me suspiciously. A short, loud ‘stop!’ sometimes is just that, but sometimes it blossoms into a full-blown mother tantrum. So we can all hear the clock tick while we wait to see what it will be this time.

I point at Number Three: ‘You can’t have cornflakes because you’re about to get dinner.’

I point to Number Two: ‘I’ll listen to your story about the outing after dinner.’

I point to Number One: ‘That’s the video you forgot to drop off this morning.’

What is it with this ‘altogether now’ thing? It drives me nuts.

I fetch Number Three from school and on the way to fetch Number Two I ask the sort of carefully constructed questions one asks taciturn children so as not to get monosyllabic answers. I don’t get monosyllables – I get silence as she stares out the window lost in thought.

As I pull alongside Number Two on the gravel in the school parking lot, I can see his lips flapping. He starts narrating his day before the car door is open and doesn’t stop talking until he’s in his underpants playing with a ball in the back garden. (Stripping down to underpants is a compromise between modesty on the one hand, and heat and comfort on the other. We’ve whittled his wardrobe down to school clothes and drawers full of underpants. Whenever he is required to wear anything other than those two, we generally find he’s outgrown his casual clothes.)

But back to the car. Number Two hops in already pouring out heart and soul in minute detail. It is at this point that Number Three perks up and starts responding belatedly to those clever questions I asked when we were alone in the car. I try to mediate turns to talk, but end up turning the dials in my brain till I get white noise. Then I zone out and count lamp poles until we get home and we can open the doors to let the noise disperse into the universe.

Number One walks in from a busy day at the office. The kids are outside in underpants with makeshift swords strapped across their muddy chests. They haven’t said a word to me in 45 minutes. I ask Number One how his day was and he begins a story. I love his stories. They are rich in detail and emotion.

Well, that’s how I remember them anyway. I haven’t heard him tell a full one in almost 10 years.

Number One: ‘Do you remember that woman who used to work with us at...’

Number Three runs in: ‘Today’s the day the teddy bears have their peeeeek-neeeeeek! Do you want to see my dance?’

Number Two hovers on the threshold: ‘Papa, do flanks have to do a lot of running on the field?’

I submerge my head into the colander draining the spaghetti. It’s so nice and quiet in there.

*The people in my family are numbered according to the order in which they arrived in my life.

Is communication in your family chaotic too?

Read more by Karin Schimke.

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