HAVING raised my first son to the semi-independent age of 16, I had gradually adapted to having things my way again. Primarily, as Alyosha became more self-sufficient, the pace of my life began to quicken, until I was moving as fast as I used to before there was a child in my house. I didn't like living a breathless existence, and I often found myself wishing I could slow down.
There's nothing like a new child, a young child, to cure one of certain bad habits. A couple of months back, I adopted a 5-year-old boy from Ukraine. More than one friend immediately commented that now I was in for it, that my life would proceed in a blur of activity again. Exactly the opposite has occurred.
It's true that at first, when Anton proved intractably obstinate, I felt something akin to annoyance. At some level I must have assumed that he would adapt to my pace, my schedule, and step lively, lest we be late for something on my calendar.
But 5-year-olds know nothing of calendars. They share no sense of an adult's urgency. They have no long view. This came home to me in spades when I told Anton that he would be starting kindergarten "tomorrow," to which he replied, "Is that today?"
It was an interesting first day of kindergarten. School started at 8, so I thought rousing him from bed at 7 would give us plenty of time for getting dressed, eating breakfast, and leaving the house. How naive of me.
Not so long ago, his big brother was a little boy. Yet already I'd forgotten the capriciousness with which the young child moves through his day. I had not, for example, anticipated that Anton's milk would be too cold for his liking, that he didn't want to wear his hat, or that he'd insist on wearing two different color socks. And why wouldn't he leave the house? Ah, he wanted to walk through the door first.
I once had a friend who confided to me that his two young children frequently exasperated him. "I just don't understand why they're not rational," he said.
That, of course, is the whole ball of wax. Young kids are not rational, they're whimsical. And so, reassessing my relationship with the new member of our family, I decided to throw rationalism to the wind, invoking it only when life and limb were in the balance. Instead, I had to reacquaint myself with the adage of Mary Poppins: "In every job that must be done there is an element of fun."
I WAS amazed at how easy it is to get things done when one is willing to let go a little, investing a modicum of time and creativity for a wholesale return of cooperation. On the second day of kindergarten, Anton awoke in a cheerful mood, but once I indicated the tasks that lay before us, he mounted his defenses.
I suppose I could have forced his socks onto his feet, but this would have made a bad situation even worse. However, once they became flying socks that could be captured only with one's toes, they didn't stand a chance. Shirt and pants followed suit - once I had described them as "Superman clothes." Within a few minutes, Anton was sitting at the kitchen table.
But this didn't help his waffles go down. Although waffles were exactly what he had asked for, he decided to stare at them and cry instead. No amount of pleading or cajoling could get the waffles off the plate - until they became flying saucers and the only way to eliminate the threat they posed to our planet was for me to fly them into his mouth at the end of a fork (the oldest trick in the book).
There still remained the struggle of the yellow knit cap. When I held it out to Anton, he rejected it out of hand, for reasons unknown. Then, recalling one of my favorite musicals, I thought of Don Quixote's mistaking a wash basin for the "Golden Helmet of Mambrino," and I burst into song. By the end of my passable rendition, Anton seemed honored to allow me to lower it onto his head, crownlike.
All of this takes time, of course, but herein lies the great boon for me: My life has largely reverted from a series of hurried goals and destinations to a string of moments, each with its element of interest, passing in due course, in its own sweet time.
The other day, I told Anton that we would drive into town for some hot chocolate and cookies. He didn't want to get into the car. He wanted to walk. So hoof it we did, through a brisk, bright, and windless day recently adorned with a heavy snow.
Suddenly Anton cried out and ran over to a snowbank, where he pointed to a line of rabbit tracks. We followed the tracks until they disappeared into a stand of firs.
Rabbit tracks. Imagine that. I'm told it's hard to spot them from the cab of a fast-moving truck.